I am engaged in an ongoing project that reinterprets the genre of portrait painting in order to speak about ideas of personhood in our current moment. By stretching the parameters of the genre and magnifying certain elements beyond their typical roles, I make portraits that investigate our rapidly changing sense of ourselves as forces such as technology, media, capitalism, and globalization present new challenges and possibilities.
My current series, titled Interpolators, focuses on the process of constructing public persona at a time in which our likenesses have become increasingly malleable, fraught, and self-searching. In these works, signifying objects collide and disperse to build portrait subjects which appear hyper-performative yet are in a constant state of flux. These objects, symbols, and patterns both attach and remove themselves from the human form at such a dizzying pace that they often seem to evoke unpredictable weather patterns to which the subjects must adapt. The smaller works describe this construction at a more embryonic stage; formulating the elements and fragmented subjects that become solidified, however precariously, in the larger portraits. Ultimately, I view these works as a depiction of a moment in which the presentation of public persona, once a phenomenon only engaged by a select few, is now as ubiquitous, relentless, and increasingly mercurial as the weather itself.
During a time in which we are increasingly inundated with mediated images, digital representations and virtual relationships, a sense of disembodiment can emerge. Our physical forms, once the primary source from which our individual identities arose, have begun to feel tangential. We can now construct ourselves in realms that seem no longer determined by our physicality, and in some senses we can transcend our natural abilities and characteristics. This new notion of self-determination can feel at once exhilarating and unnerving.
The works comprising this series seek a form of portraiture that describes the departure of its subjects from their physical entities. Rather than focusing on traditional portrait elements of likeness, anatomy and contextual surroundings, these portraits are concerned with more abstract characteristics such as cognition, motivation and transition. The predominant forms in these works are sourced from abandoned painting stretchers, suggesting an armature that can be both deconstructed and liberated from its previous incarnation. These brightly colored and patterned elements collide and break apart to suggest subjects that correspond to a physical body but are not bound by its limitations. While there is a celebratory component to these forms, their fractured and precarious nature also suggests what self-psychologist Heinz Kohut called “disintegration anxiety,” describing the fear of a cohesive self breaking apart irreversibly. Ultimately, I see these works as neither portraits of our physical forms nor the illusory selves we construct, but rather of the mercurial bodies that exist in between.
We all experience moments in which the roles we play in our daily lives come to define us in powerful ways. In the pursuit of survival, prosperity, leisure, social status, and personal meaning, we often assume identities that both define and fail to define us. My current body of work explores the possibilities and limitations of our daily occupations at a time in which we frequently change jobs, balance multiple roles, and cannot easily delineate between private and public life.
Traditionally, the portrait has sought to convey both the individual characteristics of the sitter and tell us something about their role in society. In particular, the genre of occupational portraiture has described its subjects through the lens of their daily working lives. The portraits in this body of work seek to reinterpret this genre by deemphasizing the sitters’ individual characteristics in order to create images of figures entirely consumed by their given occupations. These works concentrate on tools, uniforms, ephemera, and other signifiers that both define the sitters’ roles and obscure their identifying qualities. Inevitably, despite the attempt to faithfully translate each subject’s position, this unwieldy process of piling on and covering up results in a certain degree of incongruity, perhaps offering a reflection of the rapidly changing nature of our daily roles and practices. I view this body of work as a kind of group portrait; one that is both intensely descriptive and curiously elusive.