Celebrated artist Alberto Giacometti once said, “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.” Giacometti was an artist noted for his abstraction and deconstruction of the human form, which he depicted through a multitude of sculptures, paintings and drawings in elongated shape and scumbled lines. Figurative paintings and portraiture are nothing new, yet subgenres of portraiture continue to emerge, survive and move us. The common phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” aptly applies, and the activation of perception, observation and process are represented in beautiful and intricate ways in the four contemporary artists whose work is featured here. Featured artists include: Karim Hamid, Colin Chillag, Borondo and Angela Fraleigh.
Los Angeles-based painter Justin Bower makes portraiture a glitched metaphor, literally and figuratively, to the present and future of a combined human and computer existence. Bower “…paints his subjects as de-stabilized, fractured post-humans in a nexus of interlocking spatial systems. His paintings problematize how we define ourselves in this digital and virtual age while suggesting the impossibility of grasping such a slippery notion.”
Absorbing different movements and styles (visually one could see a connection to the paintings of Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville, Op Art, as well as early 90′s Cyberpunk and post-Millenium Glitch aesthetics), Bower creates large-scale works that seem almost pained, frustrated or weariness, but with a computer-like void of any tangible, specific emotion. This is balanced delicately by the controlled, digital-referencing malfunctioned backgrounds, combined with loose, painterly brush work, affirming the power and communicability of the paint medium.
These sculptures are made from the bones of dead people. The photographic portraits of these sculptures are made by Arne Svenson. What results is Unspeaking Likeness, a strangely captivating series of death portraits, collected here.
For four years, Svenson sojourned from coroner’s offices to law enforcement agencies allover the country, snapping photographs of facial reconstruction sculptures which were built by forensic artists and molded from unidentifiable victims’ skeletal remains, with the intention of resolving crimes.
The narrative hidden behind each “face” is a mystery, and, as viewers, our own hearts tense with sadness when considering each subject’s lurid last moments of life. It’s almost too much; so, we reject the idea of reconstruction in relation to rejuvenation. It feels psychological, how we need to detach. The “face” in the context of Svenson’s portraits are not representative of an emotional life nor physical body; instead, it’s a mask or doll with a troubling echo, seemingly touched by the hands of Frankenstein.
The saying “home is where the heart is” very rarely relates to contemporary art. And though the works featured here are not directly about home, they are informed to some degree by immediate family,relationships and experiences that stem from it. In a global spectrum of east meets west these five artists come from genres ranging from Chinese Avant Garde to lowbrow painting, from surrealism to contemporary portraiture, to name a few. The paintings, mixed media works and digital media stills of artists: Song Dong, Brooke Grucella, Seonna Hong, Aaron Holz and Zhang Xiaogang exemplify the diversity with which the artists’ loved ones have become not only the subject for the works, but also at times part of the process, as well as a platform to tell a story that becomes increasingly universal.
I recall visiting the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco a couple of years ago to see Song Dong’s massive solo exhibition of works made with his family members as subjects, as well as a massive installation that incorporated decades worth of of family possessions as material. His work is deeply personal, with a strong narrative thread, and truly draw you into his world with their reverence and profoundly flawless execution. Zhang Xiaogang’s works from his series Bloodlines uses other family portraits as a vehicle for conveying the experiences of his immediate family that they experienced as he came of age during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Each piece in this series has a thin red line that weaves throughout the composition, symbolizing the connection of heritage and family.
Alicia Savage captures her life with a surreal twist that pushes beyond the static point and shoot. From absurd flights of fancy to soft reflective moments, each self-portrait conveys an independent sense of travel or transcendence: movement that emphasizes the importance of dreaming in relation to personal exploration and documentation. Conceptually, it’s that simple– but technically, it’s a little more challenging. Her exquisite use of color, light, setting, and digital manipulation curiously compels us to enter these departures with great anticipation.
Emily Deutchman‘s 44 watercolors liven up the genre of presidential portraiture with — you guessed it — boobs. Each take on the president’s official portrait becomes a super easy, lowbrow Where’s Waldo. But, you know, with boobs. While seated portraits can often be elitist, the results here are a great reminder on Election Day: just because you may have held one of the highest offices in the world, your image is still very much in the hands of the people.
Joseph Parra, who received his BFA in Painting this year from MICA, has started his career with a running start. Back in 2008, he worked with famed architect Richard Gehry as part of HBO’s Masterclass, and last year he completed a solo show at Galerie M in Milwaukee, WI. He distorts portraits of absentminded subjects with unorthodox techniques, employing sand paper and collage. Parra’s charcoal drawings, also figurative in nature, are equally of note. His drawings (like his prints) are ghostly. His figures are presented with little distraction, no context or background. This demonstrates a confidence in his image making. He’s showing us exactly what he wants us to see.
Steven Kenny’s portraiture and figure paintings form a vibrant commentary on the nature of balance, sexuality, and that fickle concept: transcendence. Controlling a unique penchant for lighting and surrealism, Kenny has filled a rich portfolio with figures and dynamic echoes that pervade every sense with which we associate being alive.