05 August 2007

portrait distortion

red and green (self portrait)
Arches HP 300 gsm 14" x 10". 1 hour.

this is another painting that i did in the red/green palette scheme. it yields a kind of old man's skin pallor, which i found useful here.

i tried to explain the mixture to my mother, who needed an example to understand it. but when she saw this, she said, "you don't do yourself justice!" what did that mean? "you're so much better looking!" (who can explain a mother's love?)

i like this portrait. but it brings me back to another portrait puzzle:

5. how does a portrait define (or signal) the expectations or perspective that we should use to look at it?

this struck a spark with me. in jenny davis's portraits (linked at right), the craftsmanship is what stands out immediately. even if you know nothing about watercolor painting, you know you are looking at something painstaking, skillful, and achieved. even though you know nothing about the person in the portrait, you know she is reliably and accurately rendered. the representational standard is immediately satisfied, but with an almost porcelain purity. like a lladro figurine, the detail and work transform the image into an almost victorian irrealism.

really the same kind of thing happens in a richard schmid portrait, though it is apparently lossy and modernist; there is a lot of experience and skill necessary to look so casual and impromptu. but that style makes us think we have an unbuttoned and personal view. the style shapes our expectation of what it is we can or should see in the person. rembrandt was perhaps as ragged as he painted himself, and people as opaque as lucien freud paints them.

somehow the portrait can, through its craft making, imitate a perceived human attribute. how does that happen?

does this "look like me"? something in the technique says, certainly not. but does it do justice or misrepresent? what can it mean, to say a fabricated image does justice?


Nick said...

I think I may have seen this while snopping through your studio - yes? For me, the hair and face are finished...shame on the paper problem...cut it off!...she's a beaut!

Nick said...

oops, posted that comment on the wrong thread...I meant to put it on the girl with the book