I am honoured to have been asked to curate this show for the Steven Boone gallery. It has given me an opportunity to find out how artists are dealing with the role of the portrait in the 12th year of this new millennium. With that quest in mind, I decided to base my choices of works in the show on artists whom I feel have met the challenge of making portrait art that is contemporary to this time that we live in whilst also maintaining a strong link to the traditions that have developed throughout the history of portrait painting and sculpture since the Greco Roman period.
We live now in an era that is bound up with identity and the exploration of its role in our ever-expanding world population. Our sense of ourselves is inextricably bound to our daily exposure to our own visage. Until the improvement and manufacture of mirrors by adhering a thin layer of metal to a sheet of glass in 16th century Venice, the ability to see one’s own reflection was limited to polished metal or stone and even then, mirrors were available only to the very wealthy. Mass production of cheap mirrored glass was made possible only from 1850 onwards, so it is interesting to ponder the fact that until that time, the majority of the population did not know what they looked like on a daily basis.
Being able to have one’s portrait painted was also restricted to the few who could afford it. Albrecht Durer’s self - portrait, made in 1500, lit a firestorm after he had painted it and its effect was to change our attitude towards portrait painting forever. Now, after nearly 200 years of photography and the current immersion of the world in computerized and pixelated images from Facebook to Photoshop, I believe the role of the painted and sculpted portrait is more important than ever.
A portrait is usually made over a considerable period of time and is a response by the artist to the sitter on many more levels of perception than just pure observation of the effects of light reflecting off surfaces. Our contemporary and biased belief that camera ‘vision’ provides a true picture of our identity denies the fact that we also perceive each other through our senses of smell, touch and hearing as well as with our eyes. We also sense each other’s psyches as they change with time from moment to moment, day to day. The artist, ever keen to observe the subtlety of these things, will inevitably reflect these sensations in a portrait and thus make it a more complete reflection of its subject.
I have also included in the show a number of works by artists who make what might be termed ‘fantasy’ portraits rather than literal responses to a sitter. These paintings, such as the works by Lea Bradovich Lyndall Bass, and Susan Contreras, whilst reflecting more perhaps of the artist’s ‘inner’ visions of self and the world outside, strive also to come to terms with the concept of identity and its meaning for them. They also inevitably reflect some physical aspects of the artists’ own features.
I should mention also that I felt it important for this show to include two photographers whose work strongly touches on identity and whose work has pictorial affinities to painting. Their work reflects the same intensity of interest in seeking psychic connection with the sitter and capturing it on film.
I hope you will view these works with as much pleasure as I have had in curating them. It is truly a ‘heads up’ of where the portrait is for the moment as we go forwards into the millennium.
Santa Fe, March 17, 2012