Daphne Confar crafts characters. “I make the story up in my head,” she says. “I love making a painting of someone and feeling how their life must be from the darkness of the room, the way they’re sitting, the way they’re looking nervous, or how stoic they are.” She has been painting what she has dubbed “quirky portraits” for over 15 years, exhibiting her work every year at the William Scott Gallery in Provincetown.
While Confar liked to draw as a child, it wasn’t until she finished school, traveled, and worked, and ended up at the Art Institute of Southern California in Laguna Beach in the mid-1990s that she knew she wanted to be a painter. It was there that she indulged her love of portraiture. “When I was in California, one of my grandmothers passed away. I started making paintings of her from snapshots I had,” she says. “By painting her, I felt like I was getting to know her in a way that I hadn’t. It really gave me a glimpse into who she was—just through the way she was sitting, the way she would glance at something.” Daphne got her MFA from Boston University and settled in Milton, close to her family and where she grew up as a child.
Confar’s portraits are intimate affairs, whether small (her smallest pieces are done on woodblocks, around four by four inches) or large, up to 30” x 40” works on canvas. Each portrait is an individual looking out from the picture plane, usually meeting your gaze. Confar uses old photos. “I usually find snapshots of people that I don’t know. I’ve exhausted family photos by now,” she says. “I figure out who they are. That is what really excites me about painting is just finding these interesting people.” The final portraits are completely her own—inventions of her imagination.
Confar’s paintings are exercises in story making—how much you can infer with a minimal amount of information. While she cherishes the details in her paintings, she is deliberate about what gets in. “I like to just focus in on something—not have a lot of other things in the way,” she says. With often only a blank wall, a single item on a piece of furniture, or a horizon line, Confar invites us to fill the space and create the story from the wrinkles in a shirt, the body language of the subject, or their facial expressions.
The artist does give us additional hints in her titles. “I open up books and look to be inspired by a word. I do like it when there is this little nugget of a sentence. It inspires a story,” she says. “People love the titles—it’s a big part of the painting.” The titles feel like a line of conversation, as if we have settled in for a cup of tea, cookies, and the latest gossip from a favorite aunt.
When the artist has invented the subject, the traditional conversations between painting and viewer and between subject and artist become mixed up. Confar leaves us with the delicious proposition that the subject may be a reflection of herself, of us, or maybe some combination of both.