Let’s face it. Faces fascinate us.
And Artists, they fascinate us too.
Given the supreme importance of understanding and interpreting faces in our social life, our brains are hard wired with an amazing capacity to recognize and read faces. Two-day-old infants can discern and mimic simple facial movements, a five-year-old child is perfectly able to interpret the emotional content encoded within facial expressions, and as adults most of us process the information automatically in an incredibly efficient manner.
Even when there’s just a slight hint of a possible facial structure the brain automatically interprets it as a face. This explains why we sometimes see faces in inanimate objects, a phenomenon called facial pareidolia (pronounced parr-i-doh-lee-ə) involving a psychological stimulus in which the mind perceives a familiar pattern where none exists. To a certain degree, this phenomenon also occurs when we look at a very vague painterly interpretation of a portrait, where a minimum of well-placed brush strokes form a clear image.
Through the neurological mechanism of face perception, we interpret the human face in order to identify not only emotions, but a wealth of other information, such as age, origin, gender, and health. Looking at faces is essential for our social interactions in which emotions play such a large role. In fact, most of us relate to facial expressions on such a deep level that looking at others elicits enhanced sympathetic arousal.
Early attempts at portraiture started in prehistoric times, but few of these works survive today. Our enduring fascination with the human face is especially apparent in our attraction to portraits, in which the static representation of a subject gives us the opportunity to scrutinize, study, and stare without awkwardness. The artist’s interpretation—whether they paint themselves or someone else—gives a fascinating insight into the artist’s vision and intentions. The choice of pose, state of dress or undress, setting, medium, style, and color palette influence the overall mood of a portrait and reinforce the underlying message or narrative.
While the typical intent of a portrait is to faithfully capture the likeness and personality of a person, portraits can deviate into idealized, abstracted, fetishized, or even purposely flawed artistic expressions depending on the vision and objectives of the artist. Whatever medium, style, or method, a portrait is a form of celebration—in some cases perhaps even a memento mori.
This PoetsArtists Portrait Issue presents a visually striking and conceptually diverse range of portraits cataloging artists’ representations of themselves and other artists. In essence I believe a portrait is always autobiographical, to a certain extent, especially when it comes to depicting a person one is connected to on a deep level. One might even infer that there’s a collaborative quality to an artist’s portrait of another artist.
This superb survey of portraits show a strong sense of kin, amity, respect, and recognition. The poignant capture of their mutual influences, struggles, admiration, rivalry, empathy, is a shared understanding of living a creative life. This fascinating collection of portraits expose the artists and their fellow creative—friends, mentors, peers, heroes—in an intimate yet revealing light, and invite the viewer to discover and unravel the compelling bond between artists.
Devon Rodriguez portrays artist friend Irvin Rodriguez in a pensive, relaxed pose set against an abstracted background. While the painterly expression is classical—reminiscent of Diego Velázquez—the subject is firmly planted in today’s world through dress and a few skillfully rendered objects. Rodriguez seeks to touch the viewer by capturing his subject’s candid, warmhearted simplicity in an intimate study of character and emotion. This painting celebrates a fellow artist and hero, someone whom Devon greatly admires and feels deep affinity with. More than merely rendering physical characteristics, Rodriguez seeks to honor his subject by adding lavish, intangible layers of affection—only visible by those who understand the joys of creative connectedness.
Erin Anderson’s striking self-portrait, exquisitely rendered in a detailed yet subtle manner, leans heavily on a classical representational approach. The luscious sheen of the copper support is an integral part of her work, and gives it a distinctive, contemporary look, perfectly juxtaposing contemporary abstraction with an ageless time-honored expression. Through experimental chemical oxidization Anderson achieves unpredictable and visually interesting patterns suggesting an ancient, ethereal environment while still maintaining the metal’s inherent luster. Her tranquil motionless figure exudes a sense of wellbeing tinged with melancholia—she seems to be in perfect equilibrium, beautifully surrounded by the elegant background with its abstracted jumble of chaotic, random branches that, as a whole, come together in graceful harmony.
Gary Justis captures light projections using LED, incandescent, refracted, and reflected light to create virtual life forms. Hovering between complete abstraction and nearly-recognizable imagery, these portraits set themselves apart in an imaginative and highly original way, inviting the viewer to instinctively connect with them on an emotional and spiritual level. Justis expertly validates the viewer’s desire to seek symbolic substance in ethereal imagery and our innate need to assign meaning to conceptualized shapes and unexpected colors. Each of his portraits is inspired by the envisioned persona of an artist friend, in which he seeks to capture the subject’s unique and enigmatic characteristics.
Daniel Maidman’s portrait of Los Angeles-based soprano Delaram Kamareh has a Victorian quality to it, reminiscent of the great paintings of strikingly beautiful women by the Aesthetic Movement. While the subject’s pose is serene, her eyes are watchful and alert, conveying Maidman’s fascination with Kamareh’s overpoweringly vivid presence during her performances. Whilst Maidman is especially captivated by physical beauty, he always seeks to convey a sense of specificity and uniqueness to each individual in his artworks. It is hardly possible to capture the soprano’s spectacular voice and powerful onstage charisma in a motionless portrait, yet Maidman’s skillful rendition invites the viewer to share his admiration of her elegant splendor which, inexplicably, also seems to convey her talents.
Written by Lorena Kloosterboer, realist artist & author © Antwerp, April 2017