I have been working on these over the past month. I think I would like to add a bright background for the figure, but I am enjoying it now in its imperfect state.
The portrait show opened yesterday at The Arts Council of Princeton Paul Robeson Center for the Arts The other artists in the show are Kim Alsbrooks, Mary DeWitt, and Jim Doherty. Maria Evans curated the exhibition.
I am challenging myself to create group portraits. It is a continuation of expressing the notion that that those who are prisoners, whether criminals or victims are connected to us and we to them. I did some drawings of groups when I was exploring images of my father as a child during World War II. These drawings led me back to the whole painting surface, as I am using negative and positive space to bring the picture into harmony. This was influenced by a talk I gave at the George School, when I spoke of how I was breaking the rule I learned in school of covering the whole canvas with paint. I rejected this in my series of fighters; now I am returning to it. My reading of the finely researched and brilliantly written David Park: a painter’s life by Nancy Boas also contributed to my thoughts about this painting. Park is my role model because of his ability to convey the universality of people. He did it with amazing technique, energy and integrity.
The past in the present. The present seen more powerfully and clearly through the past. Archives have long been controlled by the anointed few, and used by scholars who had the inclination to view their contents. With the advent of digitization, many archives have been opened to anyone with a computer and access to the internet. Personal pictorial archives can also be found on blogs, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, among other sites. In my series of painted portraits of Olympic Club fighters, taken from a photo album found in the Rare Books and Special Collections Department of Princeton University, I began the exploration of a particular photographic archive of mostly anonymous athletes. Their faces are a vocabulary I read and interpreted through the application of paint on canvas. To communicate emotions, I roughly built up the surface of the paint, and created color combinations that were jarring to the eye. I used dripping and rapid brushwork to create movement. Through these painterly procedures I was symbolically bridging the gap between past and present. With my recent portraits painted from photographs from public and private collections I am continuing my desire to connect the present to the past while adding my imagery to the flourishing archives of today.
One of the most heinous things we have done for the sake of fashion is to bring species to the brink of extinction. I began to think about this as I looked at a Library of Congress photograph of a woman wearing a “Chanticleer” hat of bird and feathers. This reminded me of the atrocious fox stoles I have seen-imagine the whole baby fox wrapped around a woman’s shoulders! Yikes. But, of course once we are in the throes of being fashionable and leading with our vanity, none of these things seem absurd. So I wondered if at the time Teddy Roosevelt was killing hundreds of animals while on safari, (perhaps still fashionable among some?) it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to see human anomalies worn for the sake of fashion. Certainly our curiosity concerning such “wonders” was high in the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. And, this gave me an excuse to paint a person with hypertrichosis while I reflected on all of those fashionable women Manet and many French impressionists painted. I also love to lose myself in various shades of black, brown and gray. The woman’s features are a combination of my grandmother’s and my sister’s.
I wonder if many other people feel a longing for a past that never existed. I focus on portraits because I have spent so much time wishing to be seen, and having another’s eyes to look at feels like a sort of recognition. Not big-time recognition like the women in Bling Ring, but something simple, on par with a person saying hello at work. I also gravitate to old things more and more. Simple ephemera, books, or photographs. The old movies my sister and I watch give a wonderful serenity that was unavailable in our past, and really appreciated in our lives now. The woman’s face was just grand to see at the Gay Pride Parade in New Hope this year. Finding the color lithograph bread advertisement and the tintype portrait of a sad young man were both joyful experiences for me, and I thought that putting them together would provide a nice balance of emotions. All of these things take up a lot of my thought process while I am painting, or thinking about painting, these days.