This series of paintings takes that new relationship with portraits, the instant gratification of the “Selfie”, and translates it back into one of the oldest forms of representation: painting. As soon as humans began to paint they painted their fellow beings. The urge to portray and record ourselves is one of the most fundamental drivers of creative culture. The genre of portrait painting is one of the most prevalent throughout history. Until even the recent past only the very rich could afford to commission portraits. With the advent of photography and more importantly the recent proliferation of smart phones, portraiture has become so democratized that everyone has the ability to instantly create their own portrait -- “Selfie” has entered the language.
These paintings take on the significance bestowed upon the sitter as an image frozen for posterity and combine it with the blurring of the movement of actual perception, of flickering video and the degradation of images through rapid transfer. Traditionally, a portrait froze a person giving them and their representation a significance and permanence. This series reverses that hierarchy and creates a world of ephemeral reality that reflects our real interaction with others, in life and in the virtual world of digital communication. The images are taken directly from a smart phone. Through an exhaustive process of creating hundreds of images with the phone a single one is finally selected and viewed on the original phone screen as a basis to work from. Modern, ephemeral and disposable imaging is taken back to an ancient form of representation in which paint captures and gives permanence to the sitter. The new world becomes old world, questioning the value placed on revered portraits and instant photos.
Images of people are still the most prevalent of all photos taken and sent. Our fascination with the human face starts when we first open our eyes as babies and faces are the first image that babies can recognize. We spend a large part of our lives looking at people’s faces and studying them for information and emotion that adds to and mediates verbal communication. It is so ingrained in our psyche that two dots and a curved line below are all we need to recognize a face both as adults and even as newborns. Our minds are so conditioned that we can find a face in a random image, for example clouds, the moon and trees. These images can be abstracted to extremely minimal references and still be recognizable to all ages and across all cultures, in a form as limited as J or :-). This series of paintings breaks down the visual references to what can be identified as a face and explores just how far that “interference” can go before recognition is lost. Living on the edge of this line between figurative and abstract is what this experimental series explores. There are several other ongoing series of paintings inspired by the same investigations: historical figures, pop-culture personalities, cartoon characters, and several others.
On another level, the work portrays the essence of the sitters. It reflects how we really perceive people we know, not as the frozen, high-detail "replicas" of photography or traditional portraits, which capture only the instant of that person, but the living, moving forms that we really perceive: blurred in motion and complex in the way the real people’s characters and personalities are complex and only reveal themselves slowly over time.
The structure of the paintings intentionally shows how they were made, with visible pencil work and areas of canvas showing process and layering. The use of paint and brushstroke is an original technique, which is dynamic and conveys the energy of movement. The work shows a human hand and by displaying technique it contrasts with the clinical perfection of digital images.
I have included one of the series “Mother”. My mother has Alzheimer’s and this painting reflects something of that blurring and transient nature of human character and personality. I started this series while Skyping her in London from San Francisco. I used to leave the Skype on all day while I worked and essentially "kept her company". We are used to thinking of communication by phone and Skype as verbal but I discovered it could be deeper. I realized that the communication was not just verbal but one of almost “presence”, of being there in the room together, keeping each other company. This series portrays the nature of that relationship through a monitor with its distortions and movement – it is the “presence” of a person.