Artist Jon Imber painting up a storm



Photo by Jeff Dworsky

Artist Jon Imber surrounded by portraits in his studio.

STONINGTON — Last summer painter Jon Imber was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a devastating affliction that slowly paralyzes the body.

In the year since the diagnosis, the 63-year-old painter has lost much of the use of both his hands, and now walks and speaks with increasing difficulty. But the adversity has not set back his creative spirit. If anything it’s made him even more determined to paint. And paint he does: 80 portraits of friends and family encircle his Stonington studio, all created in the past three months or so, nearly one a day.

Imber has adapted to the increasing loss of mobility, first by shifting to his left hand to paint (he is right-handed) and then by using both hands clutched together to hold the brush.

The portraits are a direct result of the ALS. Unable to make his way to favorite landscape vantage points to practice the energized version of plein air painting for which he is best known, Imber has been mostly confined to his studio. So when somebody walks in to pay a visit, he says, “Hey, sit down, let’s do a portrait.”

Despite his new limits, Imber has managed to achieve a new lyricism.

“If I make what I would have called a mistake, like the hair kind of wild [in a portrait],” he explained, “it’s not the way the hair looked, but what I was capable of painting — better than the real thing.”

Watch a video featuring the artist at http://www.pressherald.com/news/Learning_to_paint_anew_.html

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