Dirk Guidry is a full-time artist. But his paintings, large-scale abstracts and portraiture don't always pay the bills.
Being a wedding painter allows him to remain one.
“I almost consider it my day job,” he says. “If I have one wedding a month, I can be in the studio the rest of the time.”
He joined this latest wedding trend of having a live artist capture the reception on canvas when a Tennessee friend sent him a picture.
“I looked at it and knew I could do it better,” says Guidry, who grew up in Galliano. “My cousin was getting married in Houma and asked me to paint her wedding. It was quite an experience the first time.”
And a lesson.
“I learned taking a blank canvas into the reception is not the way to go,” says the 30-year-old, who holds a fine arts bachelor's degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Now after more than 30 weddings, Guidry doesn’t get nervous anymore and actually thrives under the pressure, competing against himself and time.
His process is complex. And done quickly.
“I’m trying to incorporate the night into one piece,” says Guidry, whose paint-covered suit is part of the show. “But you have to go early and paint the background first. People love seeing the process unfold, especially when I paint them in. Everyone’s timid at first, except the kids. They’re not bashful.”
Guidry sets up near the dance floor so the painting faces the room and his back is to the crowd. He has perfected his technique through trial and error, although his first few weddings were more trial by fire. He once misjudged the availability of an outlet for his lamp.
“It was so dark, I used the light from my phone,” he recalls with a laugh. “I made it happen and learned I need access to an outlet.”
While some guests stand relatively stationary in his paintings, others are more purposefully posed. Faces are blank — except for the bride and groom, who are offered more detail later — yet they are recognizable, both loose and detailed at the same time. Subjects can clearly find their cousin or their aunt. Guidry paints the room as full as possible while maintaining the classical components of composition and the elements of art — color, line, shape, form and texture.
“The entertainment aspect is what I didn’t realize,” says Guidry. “… I’ll joke and say, ‘Hold that dip.’ It’s the interaction. What would you like to be doing? One grandpa said, ‘Put me smoking a cigar.’”
Often there’s an air of whimsy in his paintings. For instance, the best man with the hole in his tuxedo who lost the ring. Guidry painted him on his hands and knees searching, his wife with arms akimbo looking on. Elsewhere, male guests are sliding down the banister.
He also wields the power of the brush, cutting some waistlines here, adding some hair there.
“As an art piece, I have the luxury of adjusting,” says Guidry. So when a groomsman asked to be painted as a reclining nude a la Renoir, he got his pose, albeit clothed.
“It’s the fastest time lapse ever. Eight hours of continual painting that feels like 10 minutes,” he says. “It’s about four minutes per person, and it helps when groups or couples come in together rather than individually.”
And, while he can usually identify the wedding party due to the nature of the occasion, if some don’t make the painting, he will add them in afterward for a fee.
Price depends on the size of the painting because larger ones take more time. Guidry says his fees are comparable with those of the band and photographer.
He’s been flown as far away as Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to capture a bride and groom's happy moments, although most of his commissions are in the Acadiana area.
His paintings, the artist says, are the best advertising. One wedding leads to another, but he also does bridal expos and The Knot. A newlywed himself of nearly a year, Guidry's retroactively painting his own wedding from photos.
Although some may not see wedding paintings as high art, Guidry has overcome that hurdle.
“I’ve painted my fair share of fleur-de-lis,” he adds with a laugh. “I still take the most pride in my abstracts, and I have patrons and shows. I’m also a business owner.”
Make that a business owner who was booked every weekend in October and is already booked for December except for Christmas, and every weekend in May. He’s recently had to decline wedding commissions due to deadline constraints.
“At first I was skeptical,” he said. “Do I really want to do these because of what’s at stake?
“It’s a wedding, a happy time," Guidry explains. "I’m just glad I get to capture it.”