Saturday, May 23, 2009

See-Through Surfaces

I want to paint a series of portraits. Nobody you know – just friends, acquaintances, and one or two people I've slept with (less than friends, certainly not lovers).
I've wanted to before but I've been put off by artists like Elizabeth Peyton, Stella Vine, and countless other near-contemporaries of mine (actually, they're much older). They all focus on easy-to-recognise faces and fey, conventional poses. Some images are copied straight from magazine pages – a publicist's dream. High-priced photographers like Annie Leibowitz or David LaChapelle create 'artistic' publicity party-pieces that are simply a heavily contrived expression of the individual sitter's heavily mediated brand. There's no elemental truth to be found in any of them. Daniel Edwards' mash-up of celebrities and public figures in classical, traditional or cheesecake poses – for example, his bust of Hillary Clinton or Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug – are different only in that they have brought the artist a modicum of celebrity, too.
Despite a plethora of conceptual explanations, I've yet to see any of these works "hold a mirror to our times" or "subvert popular culture", as their fawning gallerists claim. There's no real insight into the sitter – and zero intimacy. Even the sitter's celebrity is left untested, unexplored, uninterrogated. The portraits are just another form of viral marketing for the sitter's 'brand promise' – replicating and distributing a constructed persona (actually a carefully refined product) masquerading as art.
I prefer portraits of non-celebrities: real people not product. Their unmediated, imperfect personalities, marred by shyness (or lack of it), imperfect appearance, unpracticed personalities and eccentric tics are infinitely more interesting. I love observing people's unconscious, natural expressions. One reason I've made pictures of people having sex or masturbating is that it's hard for them to mask their faces of their raw responses, even when those responses are boredom, pretense, discomfort, or vulnerability. Not even professional porn actors manage it. We are all somehow 'unmasked' by sexual acts and our real selves seep to the surface like artesian waters.
I don't pretend that my own portraits will delve deeply into their subjects. My interaction with my sitters will be fleeting. However, I am unlikely to let them hide behind their assumed personae. I am also unlikely to let them remain dressed. If nothing else, the results should be unsettling and certainly less 'safe' than the glib, trite, formulaic portraits-as-press-photos that elicit egregious critical praise before they're absorbed into the over-stuffed image bank of consumerist pop culture.
Any volunteers?


Rachel said...

Sounds really interesting. Are you planning to go all Diane Arbus (as described by Germaine Greer) on your subjects except with paint instead? That would be wickedly fun.

Imani said...

If only I didn't live on the other side of the planet, id be happy to.

Mona said...

Not quite the other side of the planet but melbourne is far from you...pity there is no real 'beam me up scotty' machine available now as it would be a priviledge to be painted by you (even if it meant taking all my clothes off...tho' I imagine you would quickly tell me to put them back on!!!)

"Monochrome" Sue said...

Next flight out is...oh wait, first your checklist (loving journaled through the years by my mom):
1) Doesn't play well with others.
2) Never learned to share.
3) Insatiable.
4) Too independent for her own good
5) Does things on her own terms.
6) Not "gettable." (Is that a real word?)
7) Mysteriously quiet,speaks with her eyes
8) Driven beyond the norm.
Humm, now you have to make the call. ~GRIN!~

animadi said...

Honestly I wish I could volunteer.
Yet I am in Mississauga!
Boo.. :(

Kellie said...

I thought you might like to read my latest blog entry, a self portrait which you did help to create:)
with gratitude, kellie

simone said...

maybe we can paint each other one day. i'm thinking of doing a series of portraits of female painters.
hope you are well hazel.