The Gift of Life
With a cliché title like that, this post could be about anything, right? Blood donation? A pro-life political rally? Gratitude? Nope. It’s about portraiture.
Next time you are conversing with a friend, observe all that makes that person unique. It’s much more than just the shape of her eyes, or the wave of his hair. It’s the way she talks out of one side of her mouth when she’s being funny. Or, his gait when he walks. Or, the way her eyes drill through you when she thinks you are about to make a bad decision. The uniqueness of an individual is evident as she is moving and thinking and feeling.
Therefore, portraiture is a much greater task than finding the ‘likeness’. Finding the likeness is measuring the distance between the eyes, measuring how much forehead shows between eyebrows and hairline, getting the exact shape of the ear. But portraiture, whether in paint, mosaic, or photography, is capturing the essence of the person. It is finding and portraying what makes that person alive.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of sitting there as a person’s life drains from her body. When life is gone, the eyes are still the same distance apart that they were before. The eye color is still the same, as is the skin color for a brief stretch of time. But, the essence is gone. That stuff is life is absent. That stuff of life is what the portraitist captures in paint, in stone, in pixels.
This is why some portraits are completely abstract. It is the artist’s way of trying to capture the gift of life without the distraction of likeness.
One time I attempted a portrait of a friend, not as a likeness, but as a caricature of how her husband might see her through his own interests and bent of mind.
This is certainly one way of looking at someone.
Most often, when I include people in my art, or when the subject of my art IS a person, the art isn’t so much about capturing a likeness, or about catching that specific person’s essence as it is creating believable characters for the drama I see unfolding around me.
When I did this study, I used the likeness of a friend, and I tried to capture her sparkle. But, I was also using her radiant face to reflect the radiance of the person with whom she was starting to dance.
And when I’ve done my glass portraits from the models I have found at UPLIFT, I am making specific features, but not necessarily from the same face, so that anonymity is possible. I see my models as unique people, but also as representatives from the cloud of society’s forgotten ones, the ones who star in the silent daily drama of survival and meaning in God’s world.