Portraits of Self as Other
Curator: Thomas Drymon for doris-mae
Hosted by Studio Gallery
Over the past year, I have looked at hundreds of Instagram feeds and other sources of social media sharing. In doing so, one can easily acknowledge that as people “curate” their online choices, they reveal much about themselves. Among many things, social media sites are established to do just that—allow average people to collect (or curate) images and video they like and build an audience of like-minded followers or fans—and make social connections based on similarities. Instagram is fantastic in its ease to share these images and videos throughout other applications, making it an originating source for a user’s identity, if you will.
As I thought about identity and continued to peruse social media applications, I began to think about portrait painting and pictures artists make of others (much like the photos people share on their pages). Each artist makes unique choices about medium and materials to paint their subjects. Is it an effort to understand themselves, their practice or their world? If you look at an artist’s body of work, can you glean a sense of identity from it much the same way one can do with social media apps? In selecting the six artists in the exhibition, I sought to find individual viewpoints within the context of the work.
For over a decade, the subjects in Laura Elkins’ work have been first ladies of the United States. Laura’s work is also self-referential. Despite the obvious, her practice is more about performance and, I would add, contemporary America. The three paintings in the exhibition were done in plein air and attracted an audience of onlookers at the locales in which they were painted. Her portraiture as performance allows her practice to expand as she investigates new ideas such as the Dressing Table series and America Povera. Her positioning of the first ladies in various settings continues to challenge our notions of portraiture and presentation.
Joren Lindholm’s pieces have an ambiguity about them that relies on tension and scale. His source materials come from images he’s taken, saved or collected from traditional photography, publications and the internet. His assemblages of these images onto an environment, which in itself toys with perspective and balance, enforce in the viewer the uncertainty of the figures themselves. We’re not sure what we’re making out, which is the point I believe. The works in the exhibition reflect ambiguity in a simpler format. Isolated groups of two, three or four people of whom we cannot discern a relationship nor even determine the same vantage point upon which they seem to be focused.
Kanchan Balse’s work is the most narrative of the works included in the exhibition. In each, she examines herself, her family and community in which she lives. From looking at the works, you can see that there’s a complexity to her depiction that reflects the conflicting emotions she has. Her palette is influenced by her father’s heritage, and its inclusion adds another layer to the examination of family that is subtle and powerful at the same time.
Paul Pietsch’s portraits are done over the course of a few hours with live models. In each session, Pietsch pays close attention to the subject and the atmosphere and acts responsively while addressing the formal qualities of painting. Aware of the time constraints of daily life and the short hours the model sits, Pietsch’s portraits become a raw picture of the moment. While similar in tone and style, they are also attractive because of the emotional distance the models seem to maintain from the viewer.
The sole work by Amanda Kates in the exhibition contains a figure dead center of the large painting. He might be difficult to find because he is surrounded by color and line that vibrates and shifts. Her work is anxiety-driven and illustrates, for me, the nature of modern day existence. For Amanda, though, the paintings that include figures are about creating challenges and obstacles for herself to get in the way of painting. She experiments with a bold stroke to see how if influences everything around it, edits it out or leaves it in. She’ll use brash, vibratory color and then create a place later for the eye to rest. These formal challenges are what her work is about, she explains.
Luke Alexander Atkinson is a traditional portrait painter in many ways. He is concerned with the subject and the experience of painting live models in the moment. His practice isn’t limited to the portrait studio session though. In the two works on display, Luke has taken quick snapshots of his subjects, friends at a party, people on the street, hoping to capture spontaneity and fleeting moments. After developing the film, he uses it to paint with the same goals in mind. How does one create that sense of the ephemeral on such a tangible object? He does so by addressing scale and paint-handling in a way that reminds us that that time can not be captured with the same integrity but can exist nonetheless.
During a studio visit with Joren Lindholm, he articulated my thoughts best when he stated that the figure is the medium in his works. So is it that with each of these artists, the figure is a starting point, but each are concerned with formal issues of painting. That they’ve managed to take their works with the figure in such diverse directions and styles is impressive and speaks to the nature of curiosity and inquiry within each.
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