Portrait of Vlad by Jill Kneeter
Portrait of Vlad by Jill Kneeter

Solo art show portrays faces of ‘grateful’ elders

Jill Kneeter, 83, has been painting all her life. But after looking in the mirror a year or so ago, she decided that the faces of older people deserved the full attention that a good artist can bring to her subjects.

So for the past year, she has invited dozens of friends to sit for their portraits, completing the paintings in intense 2½-hour sessions that, she said, capture the essence of their character without “overworking the image.”

The result is “Grateful to Reach this Day,” a solo exhibit featuring some 20 paintings and as many drawings of older people who live in the Bay Area. Most of them, including Kneeter, are Jewish — “I’d say about 99 percent,” she said in a phone interview from her San Francisco apartment.

The show is the portfolio exhibition for her recently completed post-baccalaureate certificate program in visual arts at UC Berkeley Extension. She previously studied art at the College of Marin, City College of San Francisco, the Des Moines Art Center and, in her early years, the Art Institute of Chicago. She also holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech pathology, and worked in the field for many years treating elderly and neurologically impaired patients.

For her project, Kneeter chose to paint the portraits of those who are too often ignored in our culture, she said, “to show that these faces are worth looking at. In them we can see vital, creative individuals who deserve our attention.”

Kneeter, who has also done self-portraits, looks with full acceptance at her own 83-year-old face. She says she sees “signs of a life well lived, a ‘me’ I greet with a Shehechiyanu, a Hebrew prayer of thanksgiving for being allowed to experience this day.”

“Grateful to Reach This Day” runs April 3-30 at the UC Berkeley Extension Art and Design campus, 160 Spear St., 7th floor gallery, S.F. Building entrance is on Main between Howard and Mission streets. The public is invited to a free reception for the artist from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14. For information and gallery hours, call (415) 922-4048 or visit jillkneeter-art.com.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s former culture editor.