Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Personality Test: Contemporary Portraiture in the Mikhail Zakin Gallery

Dave Kube, The Secret Guise
February 16 – March 11, 2016
Curatorial statement

A portrait is an artistic representation of a person that captures their likeness, personality or mood. Traditional portraiture flourished long before the telephone, at a time when representations were necessarily straightforward, if not idealized and painstakingly executed. As our systems of communication get more complex, the information needed to adequately represent a person changes. At times, we find we can reveal more by hiding something, or portray honestly through more improvisational methods.

Kathryn Mecca, Andy

Grand portraiture of royal families has aesthetic and nostalgic allure, but contemporary portraiture is a different genre, reflective of contemporary life. A distinguishing category characterizing contemporary portraiture is the question of likeness. With the advent of photography, likeness in a portrait became a snap to achieve. The contemporary portrait subject has a different roster of traits to be considered. One question we can ask of portraits today is what is the degree of cultural alienation of the subject, as in the portraiture by Dave Kube. Conversely, self-portraits by Joe Nanashe reveal a complementary trait of cultural assimilation and parsing out of the individual from the load roar of pop culture definitions.

A likeness can be revealed and concealed simultaneously, as in paintings by Kathryn Mecca, whose portraits from behind subvert the reverence usually reserved for large-scale oil painting. The photographic print by Stephan Jahanshahi also reveals a likeness while it conceals any details, as if representing a faded memory.

Stephan Jahanshahi, Some Wound of Color
Seth Ruggles Hiler, Portraits on Pine Street
Another trait to consider in contemporary portraiture is collaboration. For a portrait to take place, the artist and the subject must be in the same place at the same time, either for the duration of a photograph or a painting from life. Seth Ruggles Hiler utilizes his vibrant sense of color and thorough knowledge of painting to capture likeness from the live subject in his Studio Visits series. In his Portraits on Pine Street series, the community came together to sit and pose and ultimately gather at the opening reception in a celebration of neighborhood friendship and camaraderie. 

Karissa Harvey, Shirley at the Beach
In three paintings by Karissa Harvey, the collaboration was among family members, separated by time and place. The Shirley Series presents a character portrait from photographs taken by the artist’s grandfather, reflecting another aspect of portraiture that connects the viewer to other places and times. Mikhail Gubin connects to the past through his works in reclaimed wood. His portraits give substance to enigmatic characters from poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Marquis de Sade (that liberatory libertine) as well as the more traditional portrait of the artist’s wife.
Mikhail Gubin, Rococo (Marquis de Sade)

These days, a portrait is not just about the subject of the work, it is also a personality test of the artist and the viewer. The ultimate test of our subjectivity and the success of the artwork is whether or not we can recognize part of ourselves in the depiction of the other. When you look at these portraits, what do you see?

-         Mary Gagler, Curator

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