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I rarely paint anyone famous or part of the pop culture lexicon. When I do it’s usually if not always someone infamous, think serial killers, assassins, porn stars. Sirhan Sirhan (shot Robert Kennedy) and Squeaky Fromme (member of the Manson family and tried to assassinate President Ford) are two such people that I have made portraits of. I partly chose to paint these two individuals for the countless conspiracy theories surrounding them.

Bella Donna by Nicholas Harper

Bella Donna by Nicholas Harper

The reason I paint people like this is because I want to depict those who typically are not honored by being the subject of a serious portrait. I do this not to glorify who they were or what they did but to demonstrate that they, just like any of us, are human and have the same potential for good and bad. Whatever situations and circumstances led these people to make the choices they did or led them to whatever paths their world took them on, it doesn’t diminish the fact that they, like us, are all on this planet trying to figure things out and doing the best that we can.

It’s easy to be dismissive and call people we don’t agree with, don’t understand or who do things we wouldn’t as “crazy” or simply think of them as less than. I have a hunch that their lives, like mine and like most, are pretty complicated and dynamic. I tend to believe that because we all carry a spark of creation in us that we have divinity, enlightenment, spiritual potential or whatever you want to call it, somewhere within, and that dignity should be celebrated, or at least not dismissed wholesale.

I recently heard a funny story regarding the portrait I did of porn star Bella Donna. A wonderful woman, a lawyer visiting from Washington D.C., purchased this painting a few years ago from the Rogue Buddha Gallery. We spoke at length about it and who Bella Donna is and why I chose her and how I chose the symbology within the painting.

Last week her and I talked on the phone for the first time since then as she is purchasing a second painting of mine that she saw on my website. During the conversation she related to me her experience with Bella Donna, one she had not mentioned when she purchased the portrait of her.

When she first saw the painting, she had said she was drawn to it but didn’t really know why. It wasn’t until later that she put two and two together. As it turns out she was a prosecuting attorney in an indecency case involving the FBI and a porn distributor. As it also turns out, one of the movies in question starred Bella Donna and so she had to watch her work to familiarize herself with it for the case. The levels of irony and serendipity here make me smile even as I write this. Knowing this now I can’t think of a better home for this painting and I know she would agree, the lawyer that is. I don’t know what Bella Donna would think.  If you read this Bella Donna, shoot me a message. 😉

To me this story reinforces the fact that we are on a small planet together and that our lives are all somehow inexplicably connected.  I find solace and beauty in that thought and also a revived sense of obligation to help those I can and to care for others regardless if I understand them or if they think or live differently than I do.


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