PresenceMarch 30, 2013

posted in portraits

I have begun a new series of portraits – five color reduction screen prints on paper. This ongoing series is called “Presence”. These images were not commissioned. They serve as a personal record of people who have had some kind of significance in my life. They include loved ones, friends and acquaintances. There is also a self-portrait.

I have been taking photographs of people for years with the intention of making paintings or drawings. It is now time to begin turning these photos into portraits. There are rare occasions where I use source photos taken by others out of necessity. I have been working extensively with reduction screen prints – mostly creating ten color landscape prints. This new series is a dovetailing of my black and white portrait drawings with the reduction printing process. I also like to give a print to the person in the image (which was harder to do with the large portrait drawings). “Presents” – haha..

The resulting portraits are kind of like small paintings on paper. In this case, the painting occurs on the silkscreen itself as the direct stencil is painted in by hand for each color in the print. The reduction process, because it permanently alters the single screen used, does not allow for future print runs. These editions run just under twenty pieces.

The faces are at once stylized and realistic. The challenge of building an image of a face with hard-edged shapes is maintaining a distance from both cartoon and caricature. These portraits become an impression of a person – like a memory of someone. And as a documentary-style record, their function is not to flatter, but to exist like a mugshot, (but without the criminal aspect).

Inspiration comes from other art and artists. Recently, while exploring images online, I came across Robert Mappelthorpe’s 1986 photograph of Andy Warhol. It is a black and white portrait within a circle. I know I first saw this image a long time ago, but it was not a conscious decision on my part to mimic this format within this series. Of course, this is nothing new. Circular portraits have existed for centuries and portrait miniatures – both circles and ovals – have been around since the mid 1400’s.

Other contemporary portraits I admire come from: Chuck Close, Alex Katz, Alice Neel, Shepard Fairey, and even Tom of Finland. Artists closer to home include: Karen Schmidt (and the ‘Send Me Your Head’ series), Adam Ansell, Jason Mecier and Timothy Cummings. And going way back, the Fayum (mummy) portraits from antiquity, which I find remarkably beautiful.

I like the idea of viewing someone through a portal or window. I think this, in combination with the gray palette, emphasizes distances or even an idea of memorializing. I am now more than ever aware of the rapid passing of time and this new portrait practice is becoming a way of recording people while I can. Some of the subjects in this series are no longer with us, but by including them in this group I feel like I can hold them close again.

Below are the first four images of the series, begun in February 2013. I consider them preparatory studies. The men depicted are Christoph, Nikos, Ron and Matt.

Thank you for looking.