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Artist of the portrait
Robert Edelhauser says his secret is seeing deeply
Drawing without worrying about how good the work will be can be creatively freeing, says portrait painter Robert Edelhauser of Toms River, who's also a chiropractor with an office in Ocean Township.

When Robert Edelhauser provides care for someone in his Ocean Township chiropractic office, he looks beyond the obvious to determine what's needed.

'In chiropractic, a lot of what you're doing is letting the body speak to you. Chiropractic has taught me to develop my intuitive side. It means instead of thinking logically, linear, you're letting information flow in so you can get the whole picture,' he says.

The Toms River resident uses the same process to create his oil portraits.

'Sometimes you're painting, and you say, 'Where did that come from?' All of a sudden, the painting starts to talk back to you. It becomes a life of its own,' says Edelhauser, 56.

In turn, Edelhauser's large, vivid portraits speak to viewers.

In 'American Dreamer,' a 1930s farmer in New Mexico, a battered hat atop his head, stares at something far outside him. 'The Center' portrays a woman after a mudslide in Guatemala.

'They were pulling people out of the mud, and she was praying. There was something powerful in her presence. That's what I hope I capture in my paintings,' says the tall, stocky, gray-haired artist of the painting, which was sold.

His work is in private and public collections, yet not too long ago, Edelhauser didn't believe he could paint, and once once he began painting, for a while he painted landscapes and florals too.

The passion for portraits arose after a fellow art class student showed him a photograph of a woman in a park in China. The student had taken the photo while on vacation.

'I said, 'Boy, this would make a great painting!' ' he says. 'I'm drawn to portraits because I love to show the connection between us all. The world is too small to think of us as separate.'

He began searching the Internet for photographs of people, studying their faces. Many that attracted him were pictures taken after disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes.

'A lot of my faces I don't try to paint someone having a strong emotion, but I'm drawn to faces of people who have faced challenges and overcome them, who have hope,' he says.

'He's got a real feel for people. He's a compassionate man and relates to the facial landscape,' says pastel and mosaics artist Jackie Chesley, owner of The Paint Place gallery in Asbury Park, who has known Edelhauser for five years. 'He's a very earnest, sincere painter.'

'The strength of his work, I feel, is the kind of direct, human quality not only in his choices of subject matter, but in the way he applies the paint,' says Grace Graupe Pillard of Keyport and New York City, with whom Edelhauser has studied for 10 years in a Monmouth County Park System class at Thompson Park in Middletown.

'There's an intensity of color to the work, which I think echoes the immediacy and intensity of the painting itself,' Graupe Pillard adds.

That intensity includes size: His canvases are 2 feet by 4 feet or 3 feet square.v Thinks big

'I like big,' the low-key Edelhauser says with a slight shrug and a small smile. 'One thing about big is you get more of a gesture. We have years of conditioning from school to print our letters small, to sit down at a desk. But when you're painting big, you stand up. You use your whole arm. You use your whole body. It frees you.'

He starts with a charcoal sketch on canvas, applies a thin layer of paint that reveals the drawing, then applies more and more paint.

'I like to put on a lot of color. I really . . . skin . . . flesh is so alive and fascinating. It has so many colors in it. I try to get a lot of color on it to bring it to life,' he says.

In painting, Edelhauser, who was born and raised in Lakewood, has fulfilled a lifelong dream.

'All my life I said: 'I wish I could draw. I wish I could paint.' I always had the urge to create, but a lot of us believe we can't do it. I never really believed I had artistic talent,' he says quietly.

While studying at Stockton State College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry, he took pottery classes.

'You know, pottery, you need wheels and kilns, so that kind of fell away. You get busy with raising your kids, starting a practice,' says the father of five sons, who has been achiropractor for 25 years.

But the urge to create art didn't go away.

'In my mid-40s, I picked up a book by Julia Cameron, 'The Artist's Way.' It does work. It gives you a 10-week program, and every week you do something. After the fourth week, I went out and bought myself some watercolors. Watercolors are simple to do at home, an easy place to start.

'Around that point I realized, 'Gee, if I want to paint, it would be really nice if I could draw.' So I started teaching myself to draw,' he says.

He used a book to help him learn contour and gesture drawing. 'Like scribbling'

Surprise sales

Edelhauser, who also studies life drawing at the Art Alliance of Monmouth County in Red Bank, didn't think his portraits would sell when he began showing a few years ago.

'I thought it would be the last thing people would be interested in buying,' Edelhauser says. 'But lo and behold, people do respond to them and buy them.'

'They're full of emotion,' says his wife, Barbara, 50, an environmental scientist and a painter. 'At his first solo show, he sold eight paintings. It was amazing.'

'It is so nice to have people respond to your work. But . . . I don't paint with that in mind,' Edelhauser says.

Images and text by Asbury Park Press, USA

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