When a person walks into a room and sees a six foot face looking them in the eye, it is unsettling. This experience happens for many reasons. Firstly, the scale, cropping, and realism merge to create a believable and unrealistic reality that is disorienting. Then, in this disoriented state the viewer is struck by the intensity and complexity of the emotion in the face. Finally, because the painting’s eyes are at eye-level, the face looks directly at the viewer instead of down or up at them. This placement allows the viewer to relate to the face as an equal. The face engages the viewer to feel something without forcing the feeling upon them.
the first of many
These faces are my first finished paintings on canvas. I began the series during an intro to painting class at the start of my undergraduate junior year. I photo-documented a series of intimate one-on-one conversations with students. I requested that they not wear makeup or jewelry, and to tie their hair back. I asked them to tell me their stories. The dialogues went on for days, and by the end and I had hundreds of photos documenting a myriad of emotions. I looked for the overlapping expressions. Each painting became a hybrid of three or more people expressing a similar emotion.
The faces are about the emotion expressed instead of the person expressing the emotion. At the time I called the paintings universal portraits, and that still resonates with me seven years later. I have exhibited the faces in so many spaces and the response is always the same. Without discerning features or gender signifiers, the viewer is able to create her own story, often projecting personal experiences onto the portrait. I like that--how the painting isn’t finished until the viewer gives it a story.