Portraits of Petersburg


My name is Lisa Mistry and I am an artist.

(Ok, maybe I should explain. This sounds like the beginning of an Artist Anonymous meeting.)

I had an idea. It formed over long hours painting Christmas decorations in an old warehouse for historic Old Towne Petersburg in Virginia. The warehouse was old and had no electricity in the beginning. I had to paint during daylight hours, bring my own coffee and food, and dress in layers as the space was in turns too hot or too cold. The city bought the paint and provided the supplies; I provided some creativity and the muscle. Electricity was restored. I could run saws, a coffee maker, a drill. Later volunteers, interns, city employees and work release inmates showed up to help.  The Department of Cultural Arts and Tourism provided food and drink and everyone worked hard to finish in time for the Christmas illumination on December 11. Everyone asked who I am and what I do for a living. Somehow Petersburg’s Christmas ‘artist in residence’ didn’t satisfy, prompting an exchange something like this.

Person: “What do you paint?”

Me:”Portraits, mostly, but anything really.”

Person: “Portraits? Can you paint a picture of me?”

Me: “Sure. Come by my studio and I will paint one.”

Person: “How much that cost?”

Me: “It depends on the finished size. If you–”

Person: “Are you any good? I want to see some painting you did.”

Me: uh oh. “I have some painting at the studio.” (I rented my studio space in July 2015 and started working on Christmas decorations in September. Only three months into my nascent art career after burying my ‘drawer’ novels.)

This idea started to take shape. I wanted to paint portraits again. I wanted to paint all kinds of real people from all walks of life and give them the chance to see it up close. I wanted to practice a type of alchemy, where I take paint and canvas from a 2 dimensional surface to a fully formed believable person looking back. I wanted to be challenged, forced to work quickly and move on, relying on muscle memory honed in figure drawing class and studio painting, so I can work quickly yet accurately and still give life to my subjects.

So I came up with #portraitsofpetersburg and asked people in the gallery on a cold day in January to trust me to paint their portrait for a future exhibit. Sandhi Gold convinced her friend Fawn Talbert to pose for me first, on faith that I can paint a portrait.

In the corner you can see our very first flyer.



She brought her friend. More people signed up. In February I had even more sign up. I now had 48 people. Time to figure out how this would all work out.




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