Artist Louis Briel shares with GSN why he painted a portrait of Dustin Lance Black

'I wanted to capture the guy under that killer smile and the seemingly boundless energy'

Artist Louis Briel shares with GSN why he painted a portrait of Dustin Lance Black
07 August 2012

To artist Louis Briel, Dustin Lance Black is a hero.

The 38-year-old screenwriter, director and activist stepped onto the world stage in a big way when he won the Academy Award in 2009 for writing Milk and used the occasion to assure the LGBT kids watching that they are ‘beautiful, wonderful creatures of value’ just the way they are.

Black has kept writing movies (J. Edgar) but has also become a highly-visible activist in the fight for marriage equality.

He is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights and wrote the play 8, a staged reenactment of the federal trial that led to an appellate court’s overturn of California’s Proposition 8.

Briel, who has achieved international recognition as an American portraitist, got in contact with Black through Facebook last year to propose doing a portrait.

‘I wanted to capture the guy under that killer smile and the seemingly boundless energy for screenwriting, directing and advocacy for LGBT rights,’ he tells Gay Star News. ‘Lance is very modest and self-effacing about such things, but eventually agreed to meet me for photographs.’

Briel, who divides his time between West Hollywood in California and Richmond, Virginia, says it took a little longer to get together with Black than originally planned.

‘Our plans for a session were repeatedly thrown off course by life events,’ he says. ‘Lance’s beloved brother, Marcus, was fatally ill and needed Lance’s attention and care.’

They finally met in early in February 2012 so Briel could shoot photographs of Black to use for painting the portrait.

‘Looking back, this was a really tough time for Lance,’ Briel says. ‘But he showed up to help with the painting while circumstances promoted a vulnerability and gentle transparency that gave me access to just what I was looking for.’

Black is the latest high-profile subject to be painted by Briel. His portrait of tennis great Arthur Ashe was acquired by The Smithsonian Institution In 1993 for the National Portrait Gallery and two years later, the US House of Representatives added his portrait of Rep. Thomas J. Bliley, chairman of the Commerce Committee, to its Collection. Briel’s haunting portrait of Princess Diana accompanied Elton John on the singer’s 1997-98 World Tour and is now part of Elton’s personal collection.

Briel senses that Black is pleased with his portrait.

‘Lance still is a little embarrassed, I think, to have been painted,’ he says. ‘But when I was finished and the painting was signed, I could tell he liked it. I think it tells the truth about a really courageous guy.’

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