Here, I have curated 9 of my portraits from 2017. Subjects range from the roommate that I have lived with for three years, a newborn niece that I have not met, actor Gary Oldman as George Smiley from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and even myself.
Drawing someone’s portrait is at once both a mechanical and emotional exercise for me. There are hundreds of technical choices being made in each stroke – hardness, darkness, texture, color, form – but these choices are influenced by my own feelings towards the subject. Sentimentality manifests itself in bright, vivid colors – I’m trying to compensate for the gray of fading memories as if a synthetic re-coloring would somehow enliven a subject I can only access in the past tense. Expressive strokes or mark-making indicates my comfort with the subject. They are the folks whom I do not feel a need to be neat and orderly with, whom I love taking risks with, in-person and on-paper.
So what happens when I draw strangers? What technical choices do I make with a subject that I have not yet met?
The ease in which I rendered each portrait was greatly affected by my intimacy with the subject. The challenge in representing people that I had never met was driven by a fear of inaccuracy. With a celebrity face such as Gary Oldman’s came the pressures of accurate depiction, for any distortion of his highly recognizable features would effectively ruin the whole portrait. I consider his portrait “tight” – unexpressive mark-making and rigid adherence to the original stock photo.
I’m still grappling with questions surrounding my portraiture work – do I prioritize facial accuracy over a more abstract ‘mood’ of the person? What are the representational differences in a portrait that only used a photo reference of the subject versus a portrait informed by the idiosyncrasies of meeting the subject in-person? What are the boundaries between caricature and expressive interpretation? I hope to answer these questions with further experimentation and reflection on my art.