The greatest artists have always shown a spark of the divine along with something of their subject's character through their portraits.
Basically whether the work was a painting or sculpture, there have been two schools of portraits
The first seeks to immortalize the power, prestige and sometimes god-like qualities of its subject. These are visual PR releases. Even so, there are wonderful works of art in this genre, which includes statues of the Roman emperors and triumphant war heroes, plus commissioned or official portraits of kings, emperors, CEOs, etc. Also within this genre are the sumptuous portraits of women or men who are perhaps not personally famous, but are portrayed for their beauty or fame.
The second type of portrait seeks to show the reality of the individual, including the subject's humanity, flaws and all. Most artists' self-portraits fall into this category. So do abstracted works by Picasso of his wives and mistresses, the Expressionists, Francis Bacon, etc.
Many Contemporary artists have taken to representing the masks, the roles we pretend to be that obscure our true selves. Video and photographic artists hide themselves behind masks of make-up and props to become famous people such as Lenin, Hitler and Marilyn Monroe ( Yasumasa Morimura ) or as characters in movies (Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney.) Yet, through the vision of selectively portraying themselves in roles, the true self is revealed.
Throughout history masks have been used to conceal the identity of the wearer - but also the identity of the unmasked, as in the case of hostages whose eyes and sometimes faces are concealed.
The masks of the shaman from various regions fascinated me. In our society no one wears a physical mask delineate that they have transformed into their role as healer or spiritual leader. The shaman's mask becomes a kind of portrait of transformation, indicating a new identity.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a sumptuous collection of Medieval and Renaissance paintings of the Madonna and Child, by many of the western world's greatest painters, and also by painters who are unknown, but their work gives immortality to their achievements. As a young girl, I spent a great deal of time admiring these works and pondering, for personal but not religious reasons, the mystery of the relationship between the mothers and their child.
Aside from titles that often referred to who the subjects in a work were, there were certain key symbols, like halos, clothing and even expressions that informed me that a painting was indeed of the Madonna and Child. These references were necessary as all the Madonnas and all their Babes are paintings of physically different people. For instance, the works in the Italian Renaissance, including works by Bellini, Raphael, Mantegna and a one attributed to Botticelli all depict physically different women and babies. And these works were created in relatively the same place and time with similar materials and methods!
In the Met, I saw that the great artists were not actually painting the people who were the historical Mary and Jesus. Instead, their portraits depicted what the artists felt was their eternal essence in human form. Understanding the focus on the essence as opposed to the likeness meant that I immediately gravitated to and understood the work of the radical Modern and now Contemporary, especially Conceptual artists.
Twelve years old wandering alone in the Met, without yet any artistic training, I wondered how to show the divine in an individual, in all of us, without symbols, such as halos? How does one show the divine in regular people who are not saints or celebrities? How could I do that?
Yet, those “perfect” Madonnas and Child are very human or even imperfect. Many of the Babes are anatomically incorrect, for instance, the babies are physically too small for their obvious age, ot they are too muscular and developed. Similarly as our perception of fashion and beauty has changed, the Madonnas bear no resemblance to the look of today's models and movie stars.
Fashionable beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but what about divine perfection?
As the founding artist of Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art theory, I continue to fall upwards and stumble forward. Needing a drawing on paper to donate to Artists Space, I found myself removed from my natural habitat of color and paint. I “fell up” into a pen and ink drawing Andy Warhol using Psalm 19 for the strokes in a Warholesque type of portrait.
I realized that I could portray a person using the strokes of a text, usually a psalm that expressed the subject's personality or life. Challenged and inspired by the work of Andy Warhol, hid use and reuse of his portrait images of celebrities, I am planning a “group portrait” of some of the painters I “Met at the Met” as a girl. Plus other portraits.
Scientifically, our bodies are energy that appears as matter. Thought is also energy. We create and manifest energy that we use to inform each other of our emotions and attitudes.
Using symbol-strokes (binary letters) that reference theological concepts and beliefs from the world's religions to symbolically represent the pre-matter energy also depicts The Divine wods theologically. When a portrait is created this way, it depicts The Divine-- that "still small voice", within each of us.
In Post Conceptual UnGraven Image art the focus is on the stroke(s). Although the likeness of a person portrayed in the Essence series is easily recognizable, what is most important is the text or texts that are used as strokes to create the image. Those symbol-strokes are like the energy of thought, which science informs us can alter the way we look and feel.
Psalm 22 (Rembrandt) by Judy Rey Wasserman
Strokes Are the letters of Psalm 22
Learn to perceive every moment of now as a blessing and affirmation full of possibilities along with challenges. See more. Then share the vision.
Tuesday, January 29. 2008