Portraits of Paintings
Portraits of Paintings was a series of works I made from 2009-2013. Looking back over the previous decade at the time, I began thinking through the transformation and abstraction of human relations that was underway—the status of the physical body had become increasingly unstable. Smart phones and social sites enabled one to speak from multiple places at the same time, and I imagined this newly dispersed and augmented body we performed as a ghost, a shadow of its former being.
Scrolling through the dauntingly rich history of painting hyperlinked by Google Image just a few years earlier I doubted the possibility of critiquing or even ‘expressing’ myself through the medium anymore. I chose rather to try and use paintings of the past as raw material upon which to ground and compose spectral models of what I thought a contemporary body might look like.
Each work in the project was allegorical: a staging of the act of painting and depiction itself. I began by choosing a painting from the 16th to the 18th centuries—a time during which the only way to make an image was to sit before your subject and record them directly, in person. I traced the contours of each figure in the historical picture on acetate and superimposed them into a vertical stack (or what I called the ‘script’) that I would hold in my hand as I worked to search for a single new body in paint…which was also a ‘no body’—as it resembled no one in particular—but functioned as a portrait of the former painting. Each painting was improvised quickly, often in just a few hours.
I made portraits of still lives and landscapes as well. For the vistas on nature I collapsed the three elements earth, the sea, and sky—that I took to form a ‘figure’ of the pre-modern earth—and when fractured and isolated on the ground perhaps presented an allegory of the world in 2010.
Each portrait in the series assumed the form of a chimera—a singular, often biomorphic vortex floating amidst a monochromatic nowhere space. This hybridized mass was built through the compression of multiple layers – an amalgam of their figure’s being, both on the ground and in the cloud…like an ephemeral, vaporous memory of their representation in the past.