The strength of the portraiture tradition, and what separates it from documentary photography, lies in the skill of the photographer to attach meaning and the essence of the person in a simple image. Using metaphor, subtlety, and open-ended but vaguely familiar narrative, photographer Shelly Mosman is able to imbue an intensely personal and soft-spoken beauty to her photographs. Drawn to subjects for reasons she says she often cannot immediately describe, Mosman spends a great deal of time with her subjects, waiting for key moments when their personality is revealed through action, or the subtlest of looks or gestures. “Portraiture relies on the smallest mannerisms and expressions to offer narrative,” saysMosman, “I rely on the spontaneity of circumstance.”
The Minneapolis-based portraitist continues:
“In my photographs I negotiate and characterize the balance between my own vision and the unknown and often powerful potential given by each portraitâ€™s subject. I am drawn to certain people for the simple reason that I know shooting them will give me an image I could never have created on my own, and because my camera can reveal something they may not have known was in themselves. Â It becomes a synthesis of us both, captured in a single photograph. These connections with each subject areÂ often too straightforward and immediate to be conscious, but rather they are something that is felt immediately, coming straight from the gut, which is the home of our instincts.”
The artist Amelia Harnas creates dazzling portraits from spilled wine, using embroidery thread to trace and refine her crimson-faced subjects. Like delicate watercolor, the wine has an ethereal texture; the artist admits a certain unpredictability and instability in her unique process. Using wax resist on soft white cotton fabrics to set the images, she cannot determine how long the delicate images will last, and the transient images float like ghosts across the page while thread guides the eye.
Art historically, wine is associated with the god Bacchus, the god of drink and sexuality who inspired mortals to drink to the point of confusion, a state where the lines of identity and gender are blurred. Here, the spilled wine soaks the fabric in such a way that only the slightest mark provides a hint into the distinctive temperament of the subject. It is the thread that defines personhood, outlining the divisions between eye and flesh, hair and scalp. Without the meticulous embroidery, men and women become murky, drunken figures.
The miraculous tension between accident and purpose heightens the drama of each face. The cotton foundation is seemingly drenched in reds and pinks, the colors chaotically spreading throughout the image and creating serendipitous halos around the portraits; in stark contrast, the embroidery is distinctly rational and deliberate, forming complex geometric shapes like concentric circles, squares and triangles.
As the volatility of wine stains collides with the reason and order of human craft, Harnas presents a startlingly complex vision of the human condition. As illustrated in this work, art, like man, is governed by both passion and sound intellect, doled out in equal measure. Take a look. (via Colossal and Oddity Central)
After her decades’ long work exploring androgyny, the photographer Bettina Rheims saw a shift in the way cultures view gender, and she was inspired by transgendered youth. As transgender issues are only recently beginning to receive the attention they deserve, her 2012 project Gender Studies aims to give voice to the most intimate thoughts on the gendered self. Using Facebook, she reached out to any and all people who “felt different” in regards to gender; with responses from those who identified as male, female, both, or neither, the diversity of her subjects is staggering, and they serve to remind us that feeling “different” may be the only thing that unites us all, regardless of our genders. In the series’s original show, the artist played audiotapes of her sitters, allowing their own voices to inform each work.
The portraits reveal strength in vulnerability; the bareness of the nude form does not speak to intrusive questions about specific physical characteristics but rather to a more meaningful revelation of selfhood through movement. As pure white clothes melt from bodies, each subject reveals bandages, tattoos, freckles, and other marks of universal human existence. All definitions and judgements give way to ethereal and blossoming beauty, elevating the spirit of the body and deeming theoretical, academic, or impersonal definitions of gender irrelevant. Simultaneously humanizing and worshipful, this is portraiture at its most powerful, lending the human form and soul a more murkily transformative sexual and emotional authority. What do you think of the images? (via Bust and Slate)
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.