This is the preliminary sketch for my next Selfie. I wanted to push myself and create composed image with a character, costume, scene and mood. I wanted to push beyond mere likeness of a sitter on a static background.
Body: The Profile and the Public Self
For this picture I wanted to create a dialogue with the historic practice of the profile portrait from the early Renaissance . The profile was the preferred mode for representing a Nobel Lady (to read more on this you can read Understanding Madame X). Because she looks away from the viewer we don’t get a sense of her internal world and any judgement of her is base slowly on appearance. Representing the wrong expression was risky because it could call into question the sitters virtue. Best to avoid the lady’s thoughts all together.
The profile also suggests her nobel lineage. From this angle we can most easily read her facial features and , for example, recognize her nose that resembles that of some important Duke. Underscoring her nobility, she would be dressed in her finest and positioned by a window overlooking the land her family owns.
What got me excited in all of this was this idea of presenting a public self. What is my identity within the society? I’m sort of tempted to leave it at that. I spent a lot of time thinking about the pose for this image and hopefully that expresses how I see my role as an artist.
Another key element in this drawing was expressing a sense of light. In those early profile portraits the treatment was flat or graphic. Although the subject was often in front of a window they were shown in full light. For my profile I wanted to signal our evolution as a society by showing my subject in natural light. This meant showing the sitter in shadow set against the bright light of the window.
Mind: A Secound Image in the Mirror
To do draw yourself in profile you need two mirrors. You face the first mirror in profile and you angle the secound so that you look into it to see the reflection of the first mirror. Looking into that secound mirror you also see yourself looking directly into the mirror. Working on #Body I couldn’t stop noticing the secound image of myself in the mirror. I was struck by how utterly different it was to the carefully construction of public persona I was trying to capture with #Body.
In the secound image #Mind the sitter looks directly at the viewer. It’s extremely psychological. You can’t help but try and guess her thoughts. The open mouth, that gives the first image a sense of naturalism, comes off as a provocation. Is she about to say something? Even the composition feels more intimate. In the first image the sitter is seen from across the room. Our main attention goes to the ‘thinker’ pose. The secound image crops into the face, positioning the viewer only inches from the sitter. All of this intimacy invites the viewer into the sitter’s internal world.
Two Drawings About Truth
#Body #Mind are two completely different images. Yet they capture the exact same person, in the exact same pose, at the exact same time. With this drawing I invite the viewer to consider the complexity of truth. In #Body I build up a very composed image filled with references to art history. In #Mind I present a more candid and psychological image that seems to call into question the authenticity of the more composed image.
My aim isn’t to make the viewer takes sides (#TeamBody or #TeamMind). Instead, I invite the viewer to view the work as an expression of an external and internal self.
Because we all have an internal and external self, I think it’s easier to understand these two conflicting ideas as true. But I challenge my audience to take this idea a step forward. We talk a lot about fake news and how technology allows for the manipulation of images. What I’d like to suggest is that truth is a bug concept that is hard to pin down in any one image. We should always consume images critically. We don’t have to write everything off as fake but we should always be considering how the image could look from a different perspective.
In the past year I have become completely obsessed with podcasting!
The internet is revolutionizing education and making it more accessible and democratic. I’m blown away by the generosity of people who choose to share their passion and knowledge through blogs, vlogs and podcasts. I have a particular love for podcasts because I can listen to them while I paint. Podcasts have been a great way for me to investigate different areas of the art world.
In this blog I want to share with you three of my favorite podcasts which look at art from three different perspectives: the artist, the critic and the market.
Suggested Donation on the Artist
Hosts: Artists Tony Curanaj and Edward Minoff
Tony Curanaj and Edward Minoff are working hard to change the face of academic realism on their show Suggested Donation. Both are former graffiti artists who got their start making animations for MTV. They are also founding members of the Water Street atelier under Jacob Collins. Now teachers at the Grand Central Atelier they interview contemporary american artists working in the classical realist tradition.
The podcast has a casual, conversational tone. The two have been friends for years and have a natural chemistry. You can expect the conversation to jump from Bouguereau to Star Wars and back to Tiepolo. Each episode is structured around an interview with a guest artist. Both have an impressive knowledge of art history and their conversations explore a guest’s process and artistic influences.
Episode to start with :
Episode 21: Robert Simon Back before “Salvator Mundi” smashed auction records, Suggested Donation sat down with Old Master Dealer, Robert Simon, who was a central figure in the discovery of the painting by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s a fascinating story!
Episodes I hope they do :
I’m waiting for them to interview Colleen Barry who just took on the role of director of the Grand Central Atelier! I would also love to hear them talk to Nicolas Uribe about self publishing and his live demos on instagram.
The MAN Podcast on the Critic
Hosts: Art critic and Historian, Tyler Green
Tyler Green is reviving the lost art of the interview in his show the Modern Art Notes. His questions are well researched and each interview has a structure. His knowledge of what seems to be any subject puts his guests at ease and allows for a truly in depth conversation about art. At least once an episode, his guest will say (in ernest), “that’s a great question.”
Each episode is broken into two separate interviews. Guests include artists, art historians and authors. There is a nice mix of historic and contemporary art. While he does cover the major Getty and Met exhibitions there is also an an effort to look at small shows across the country.
I would have love to hear his interpretation of the show Women Artists in Paris curated by Laurence Madeline at the Denver Art Museum.
The Art Newspaper Podcast on the Market
Hosts: Art Newspaper features editor Ben Luke
A weekly round up of the top stories in the art world cover by the The Art Newspaper. This podcast is journalistic in tone. The main host is Ben Luke but interviewing duties are shared with other contributors to the newspaper. Stories are presented through interviews with artists, critics and dealers. A really nice mix of historic and contemporary art. Although their London home base gets quite a bit of the coverage, there is an effort to look at international stories.
What’s fun about this podcast is that it looks at art from a conceptual and market standpoint. Almost every episode will include a review of a current museum show with equal attention given to market issues.
Episode to start with :
Episode 13 : The dark side of the art market. In this episode former editor Jane Morris interviews Georgina Adam about her book Dark Side of the Boom. In this episode they look at big issues like the impact of art fairs on the market, auction prices for contemporary art and the disappearance of mid-range galleries.
Episodes I hope they do :
This year the Berkshire Museum was embroiled in controversy after they announced they were going to sell 40 works from their permanent collection. One of those work was Norman Rockwell’s Shuffleton’s Barbershop (for more info see my post). The sale has now been approved and many are speculating that George Lucas has purchased the work for his new museum. I would love to hear what this story means for museum policy and what impact all of this could have on Rockwell’s market.
Do you ave a favorite art podcast? I want to hear about it!
“I regret very much that I have painted a picture that requires any description – The subject of this picture is comprised in its title and I will refer these inquisitive School ma’ams to Lieut. Maury [author of the Physical Geography of the Sea] – I have crossed the Gulf Stream ten times and I should know something about it. The boat and sharks are outside matters; matters of very little consequence – they have been blown out to sea by a hurricane. You can tell they ladies that the unfortunate hero who is now so dazed and parboiled will be rescued and returned to his friends and home and ever after live happily-” Winslow Homer in response to a request from his dealer, Knoedler, for an explanation of The Gulf Stream.
Refusing to give any explanation, Winslow Homer forces the viewer to come up with his own interpretation of this painting.
In his new show In search of the Miraculous at the Stephen Friedman Gallery, the artist Kehinde Wiley offers his own interpretation of the work of Homer and invites the viewer to revisit a seminal moment in history.
In this show, Wiley also takes inspiration from the work of JWM Turner and Hieronymus Bosch, but I was particularly intrigued by his reference to the fellow American painter.
In 1988, curator Peter H. Wood, Karen C. C. Dalton and Richard J. Powell mounted a traveling exhibition of Homer’s work entitled “Winslow Homer’s Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years.”
According to Christopher Kent Wilson’s review of the show “Through the perceptive eyes of the artist, we see how Homer perceived many of the critical issues facing Afro-Americans, including emancipation, discrimination, military service, and education.”
Building on the show’s thesis, Wiley seizes this opportunity and uses this narrative to contextualize his discussion of contemporary politics surrounding uprooted cultures.
Art on Life after Slavery
Homer left a prominent illustration career to pursue painting in the 1860s. He first came to fame as a war artist capturing scenes from the front during the Civil War. Hailing from the North, Homer was a Unionist and supported the project to abolish slavery and build a more democratic America.
In his early work he seems to celebrate the modern democratic values of post war American life through happy paintings of country children going to school, women’s participation in the public sphere and the life and culture of African Americans.
In the 1870s he took a trip to Petersburg, Virginia, and produced a series of paintings that portray the lives of an African American community after the Civil War. This series was produced around the same time that Reconstruction was effectively ended. Some scholars have suggested that embedded in this work is a social critique of the Union’s failure to see through the Reconstruction process and “the slow but insidious renewal of black servitude” (Wilson).
Like Wiley, Homer uses costume to express the complexity of African American identity. According to Nicolai Cikovsky, in his painting Dressing for the Carnival, “these figures dressed for a carnival – the older man as Harlequin in the European comedia dell’arte tradition, but, like the taller boy, with torn strips of cloth that derive from the African ceremonial dress – and the two boys who hold American flags, all describe the complexity of its uprooted culture” (Cikovsky, Winslow Homer)
Wilson takes this interpretation a step further writing, “The artist may have been raising questions about black independence after Reconstruction: In the future, will blacks celebrate and truly participate in national independence as symbolized by the American flags, or will they have to revert to their former celebrations of temporary independence as embodied in the Jonkonnu costume” (Wilson, The Journal of American History)
There is a very obvious shift in mood over the course Homer’s life. As if retreating from society, he moves into a cabin in the woods and his main focus becomes landscape. The figures that do make it into his later work are fisherman and hunters (also living outside of modern society).
In 1884 he takes his first trip to the Caribbean, visiting the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida. Over the next 15 years he makes several trips to paint Caribbean fisherman at work. This project culminates in his painting The Gulf Stream.
Like the United States, the Caribbean islands abolished slavery during the 19th century but the region was also facing challenges in their campaign to build a new democratic society. Weather or not it was the artist’s intention, the painting The Gulf Stream evoques the uncertainty that was facing this newly freed population in the Americas.
It is this analogy of the sea as limbo that Wiley transports a century later into his latest body of work In search of the Miraculous.
Kehinde Wiley’s New Series
Wiley is best know as “a man on mission to make blackness visible in a history of art that has ignored people of colour for centuries” (Spence, FT). In his portrait art he replaces the nobility of old Europe with young urban men (and more recently, women).
But this new series is about a lot more than visibility. In this series Wiley gives his subjects a specific geographic location and asks the viewer to build a relationship between person and place.
In an interview with the Financial Times Wiley says, “I am asking the question: is the sea friend or foe?”
For this series, Wiley used a group of Haitian men as his subject. In nine paintings Wiley shows various scenes of his sitters on the shore looking out to rough waters or navigating their boats through a storm.
These images easily evoke hurricanes and issues of migration in the Trump and Brexit era. But by connecting his work to that of Homer, Wiley asks the viewer to step back and consider the whole history of the African diaspora.
“Others might see maritime painting as a really wonderful way of looking at gentlemen’s leisure, or a certain aspect of Western ingenuity and know-how,” Mr. Wiley explained to the New York Times. Yet to him, “the genre evokes an age of exploration that gave rise to sugar-cane fields in Jamaica, cotton fields in South Carolina and rice fields in Georgia,” he said.
In this series Wiley is asking a question about the nature of progress. Weather it be the French Revolution, Haitian Revolution or American Civil War the nineteenth century was defined by civil movements fighting for social equality. Wiley’s new show reminds us that the image portrayed in Homer’s The Gulf Stream can so easily evoque contemporary issues – calling us to question our progress on issues of social equality.
“My work is a contemporary call to arms. It is time to get our mojo back. To rediscover our true north” (Spence, FT).
Kehinde Wiley and Beauty
Wiley is taking on some weighty issues. Yet, in spite of the gravity of his subject he remains positive.
“I stand on the shoulders of those who survived slavery and colonialism. Of those who created jazz, the blues and hip-hop from the most perilous situations” (Nayer, NYT).
Wiley’s work has always been defined by a belief in beauty. His work is sometimes criticized for his idealistic portrayal of his subjects. This series is no exception. Despite the disastrous conditions surrounding the figures in this latest series they maintain their idealised beauty.
In a Guardian review Sky Sherwin comments “Instead of the mad outsiders evoked by Foucault and Fanon, Wiley’s sitters are a sanctioned physical ideal. They seem to have fast-forwarded over any trauma implied by their isolation and those dangerous waters, offering instead the aspirational vision of luminous young black skin that has always obsessed the artist” (Sherwin, The Gaurdian)
But consider how the artist discusses his own upbringing:
” [I had] an amazing childhood, despite what you might think about black struggle and poor neighbourhoods and the ghetto. My mother was an educated budding linguist who really inspired us” (Nayer, NYT).
With this biographical insight we can understand physical beauty as a metaphor for inner strength and the nobility of his subject. Adding yet another level by which to understand these paintings.
One key difference in the painting of Wiley and that of Homer is the subjects response to his situation. In Homer’s work the sitter is portrayed as victim. He is portrayed motionless, presumably awaiting his fate. In Wiley’s In search of the Miraculous series his subject are seen battling the storm. Homer is guilty of a paternalistic view of his subject. Wiley corrects this and shows his subject ready to fight the elements.
In this new series Wiley offers us not only an image of the hardship of a people trying to overcome a colonial past, he does something revolutionary for painting. He breaks the voyeuristic gaze that has defined western painting and asks us to view his subject as they wish to be seen.
Sherwin, Skye. “Kehinde Wiley review – black souls sail between empowerment and exploitation.” The Guardian, Friday 24 November 2017.
Spence, Rachel. “Kehinde Wiley’s contemporary call to arms.” The Financial Times, December 1, 2017.
Nayeri, Farah. “Kehinde Wiley on Painting the Powerless. And a President.” The New York Times, November 27, 2017.
Wilson, Christopher Kent. “Winslow Homer’s Images of Blacks: The Civil War and Reconstruction Years.” The Journal of American History 77, no. 1 (1990): 246-53. doi:10.2307/2078659.
Cikovsky, N., Kelly, F. and Homer, W. (1995). Winslow Homer. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art.