I have never been drawn to portraiture as an artist. I mean, of course I’ve drawn faces but mostly as part of a nude drawing. I just have always been drawn to figurative work as a subject because it is the most beautiful and difficult subject matter to study. To me portraiture seemed to be a dance of egos, both of the artist and the sitter. And it just didn’t appeal to me. The Tate Museum’s description of the portrait is perfect and demonstrates perfectly why I portraiture has been completely uninteresting to me:
But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Portraits have almost always been flattering, and painters who refused to flatter, such as William Hogarth, tended to find their work rejected.
I am not someone who flatters, who cares much about individuals of status or power or importance. So it didn’t occur to me to do portraits. It wasn’t until August 2020, the year of our pandemic. I was watching the faces around me change to masked ones and I was watching the suffering, anxiety, fear and frustration flickering in the eyes above the mask. In the new movie Val Val Kilmer talks about the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet that says actors (artists) should “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” to capture everlasting truth through an illusion. Val says, “What we strive for as actors is a performance so true that the audience can see themselves in it: good, bad or ugly.” This is what I, too, am striving for with this series. I’m trying to capture the truth of the pandemic so a future audience can see themselves in it: good, bad or ugly.