Mixed media digital portraits:
In the same moment I am captivated by applying paint to the face of one of my models, I am feeling aware of trying to draw away from traditional face painting. When asked by my youngest model whether I could paint her to look like a dog or a butterfly, I explained that she was going to be a ‘painting’ instead. Glad to be experimented on, she did not argue, but there was a sense of disappointment that I was not about to transform her into…something recognizably ‘other’.
Dr H and Family. EBD
I am also in no doubt that I follow a long line of artists who have worked ON and with the body and paint. Yves Klein’s body prints, Keith Haring’s artwork on models and on his own skin, Alexa Mead’s painting on people, and every drag queen, theatrical artist or, in fact, human being. After all, body decoration is effectively part of every culture in some form or another. African tribal designs impregnated into the skin of my mate down the market. Why not?
(L)Keith Haring, (R)Yves Klein
(L)Keith Haring painting Grace Jones, (R)Fabian Bolanos painting model
Using the body as a canvas is nothing new. It is, after all, pretty widely available; interesting to manipulate and alter, effective in transmitting emotion, dynamic to capture, and there is a timescale involved: the process needs to be done and completed in time for the model to continue to function in their normal life – less a blanket of paint. Therefore the process is finite. It is immediate. And it is personal. Each brush stroke literally strokes the skin. One model described them as ‘hundreds of fluttery touches’, another as ‘being caressed’, another as ‘unbearably ticklish’. Mead goes further by bathing some of her models in milk, allowing the paint to disperse, simultaneously hiding and exposing.
I am left considering what it is I am actually doing. What is the point? What is my aim? Haven’t I decided what the goal is?At least three different people have asked “What has this got to do with your MA?” as though painting someone’s face is just a bit of childish fun on the way to developing something academically rigorous. There is some suggestion that I am worryingly close to channeling my creativity through a bit of Millie Brown style vomit painting or that I will be dancing around with a painted face as they cart me off to the asylum. Is this paranoia? Yet, the novelty of working very much in the moment, and with the human canvas that also creates restrictions (I’m happy for you to paint down to my shoulder, or, please don’t get paint in my hair etc) is exciting. The movement of paint across the skin is powerful, intense and just occasionally it becomes like weaving a blanket around the model.
Top L: Dr H, Top R: H in Pink, Bottom: Twins all EBD
The work of Vera Lehndorf and Holger Trulzsch is really intriguing and is leading me to think about whether the painted faces are just a starting point from which I can develop.
Lehndorf and Trulzsch
Painting and placing models into scenarios adds a new direction. I had been contemplating using various sites and painting models prior to using them in particular spaces. Finding artists who have already done something similar is both frustrating and reassuring. My subjects are very much carrying my work on their skin; emblazoned across them; the opposite of a blank canvas. The paint is emotional; it can appear as bruising, tearing, burns, tears, scars, decoration, make-up, pattern, or a combination of all of these. It can also be deeply symbolic depending on my relationship with and knowledge of the model – including the self portraits.
Self Portrait EBD
But the artists I have been looking at confirm my belief that this is more than ‘just painting faces’, and silence my inner critic who occasionally shouts loudly and obnoxiously: get on with the ‘proper art’, Emma.
I am very conscious of the connections between my body canvas paintings and the sculptural work I was doing a few months ago. Perhaps I am trying to express similar emotions; something which the body is unable to show externally whilst the face remains neutral; thought, feeling, psychological well being. I am aware that the paint can be quite brutal; that it can appear a very ‘damaging’ mask. There lies an inherent problem with exposing, that in doing so, one is also simultaneously concealing. The paint, which should be expressing something inner, perhaps darker, inevitably also hides. It is both a canvas for expressing my painting, and a cloak, disguising the model. How interesting though that all the models I have used so far have been delighted with the results. As in my last post, I remain interested in the dynamics of the model becoming the object; in this case a canvas. Not a blank canvas, of course, but then that is what makes it so interesting!
I have lots more volunteers lined up waiting to be painted. This is becoming something slightly addictive.
This started with my interest in how people project themselves via social media. I was focused on the portrait and the self-portrait; how it has evolved and what it means in contemporary society being so easy to ‘snap’. The fact that everyone can take a photograph does not make everyone a Photographer. In the same way as the contemporary artist does not necessarily need to meet previously expected standards of technical proficiency and identifiable skill, the contemporary photographer may build a portfolio from appropriated imagery and images recorded on a low resolution digital device. My interest is more in how and why people record themselves and publish these images. In exploring this I have been painting on volunteers. The deal is that they volunteer and I will paint them, but they have no control over what I paint on them or how they look in the final image. It is interesting to see how many people have volunteered and I wonder whether this is in part due to a reliance on my being ‘kind’ in using them as a human canvas. It is also interesting that every subject thus far has really liked the results. I wonder again whether having been metamorphosed into MY vision, they see themselves as a subject, even on object, rather than viewing it as documenting ‘them’. The self remains in tact, unharmed. They are a performance, a character. This reminds me a great deal of Ways of Seeing by John Berger in which the very nature of how we see and what we understand about what we see is explored. How our culture affects the systems by which we ‘know’ ourselves.
My plans and ideas will be presented on ceramic tiles. Having made a selection of hexagonal porcelain tiles I paid specific attention to the development of incomplete pieces. This is deeply symbolic for me in terms of discarded ideas and notions, as well as artists I may or may not use. That everything does not have to be perfect; that ideas may link, but avoiding creating too many pathways is important. My ability to rearrange tiles is equally something that will help me to track the journey. I can add and take them away easily; new inspiration, a new direction etc.
My honeycomb planning will map the ‘territory’ of my work in progress.
Notes on a lecture by Gerald Deslandes
This interesting lecture was significant in that we are constantly surrounded by visual imagery intent on accumulating wealth via advertising. The concept that there is no ‘inherent value’ in objects for sale, only a social order of worth was explained given the example of milk being cheap in relation to other products, thus changing its’ ‘value’.
Deslandes cited some specific examples including the suprematist painter Malevich, referencing the world and Christianity in his abstract works. Deslandes commented on how language consists of signifiers which need a code to make sense of them; that systems enable us to navigate meaning. Therefore an image in one community can have distinctly different ‘meaning’ in another.
In Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass the artist is exploring and investigating materials and processes, but, claims Deslandes, Foucault would say that our understanding of the work is within the representation of the nude; our experience of this and exposure to classical models. This is specific within our culture, thus redefining the interpretation of the painting within each set of systems.
Manet. Luncheon on the Grass
Richard Serra’s sculpture questioned not only how we use materials but how we use their properties; weight, balance, rusting etc. I have often walked past this sculpture, Fulcrum, at Broadgate alongside Liverpool Street Station, London. It’s dramatic scale and apparently carefully balanced panels create a dramatic piercing through the square; dynamic and powerful, the epitomy of a poignant mark in sheet metal.
In Susan Hiller’s work, the relationship between image and value is questioned. We are asked what we understand about the world in terms of the way we present it. In my own work I often reflect on this – what does it say about my perceptions and understanding of the world, and how confined is this to a particular set of constructs; my upbringing, global location, gender etc.
Hiller at the Tate
Warhol’s images of celebrities depicted as screen prints using different colour schemes described as ‘curiously inane and empty of meaning’ by Deslandes are possibly some of the best known images of Modern Art, certainly a popular choice to create pastiches from in the classroom. Again, the language is a set of meanings which depends on a framework. Society creates this framework and teaches it, thus meaning is taught in quite a structured way, and does not transcend globally.