Portraiture is a time-honored expression in any medium, but I find that using cut paper collage to be especially challenging. For me the gaze of the subject is key to capturing the soul of the piece. Not every artist would agree with this assessment. One only had to think of Van Gogh’s quickly rendered portraits of the townsfolk of Arles (I am thinking especially of “La Berceuse” and the woman’s averted eyes): the lack of engagement with the artist, and thus the viewer, tells its own story about the subject, and can be powerful. On the other hand, in his self-portraits, Van Gogh fixes his gimlet gaze on us and compels us to engage with him. His expression may be confrontational or melancholy, or simply at ease, but his gaze, rendered in those powerful rapid brushstrokes, demands we engage with him as a fellow human.
I have created only a handful of portraits, but I find them to be profoundly rewarding. My first collage portrait was of John Lennon on his wedding day. Dressed in his signature white attire, he stands with his hands on his hips, letting his jacket tail behind him. To my eye, he looks nervous; not the confident performer, nor the cocky activist, but a bridegroom contemplating a significant moment in his life; no family and few friends surround him; perhaps he is thinking about the press waiting outside the door, and what controversy his marriage would create. I used copies of newspaper clippings about the wedding to create the collage, keeping to a monochromatic theme.
I belong to a James Joyce reading group, and we celebrate “Bloomsday” every June. On this day, Joyceans around the globe gather to commemorate the day that the fictional Leopold Bloom lived life in Dublin, on June 16, 1904. I wanted to create a portrait for our Bloomsday event, but Bloom is not described much in Ulysses. However, while I was in the Joyce Museum in Trieste, Italy, I glimpsed a drawing of Bloom - a scribble really – that Joyce himself made while visiting an artist friend in Montparnasse. The drawing showed Bloom in a bowler and overcoat with absurdly large white buttons. I based my collage on this scribble, incorporating slivers of the text, both the 1922 and the 1963 versions, in the background.
Another portrait in which I used text as the background was the one of Abraham Lincoln, “So Costly a Sacrifice.” I wanted to depict a leader who understood the cost of the people during a war. During my research, I found a facsimile of the original condolence letter that Lincoln wrote to Mrs. Bixby of Massachusetts, who lost 5 sons in the war. This was a treasure to me, and it required careful slicing of the letter, line by line, and arranging the minute fragments around the head of the President. The title of the portrait is taken from the text of the letter. Three of his generals are to the left of his face. This portrait was on display in the White House for a few years.
My latest portrait “Mr. Googly Eyes” is more whimsical than the others, and is pure fantasy. I wanted to render this one in swirling carnival colors, and yet convey a sense of uneasiness. Sometimes people ask me what is the meaning behind him and his ambiguous gesture, and I reply, with a wink, as Shakespeare might, “Oh, what you will.” At this point, Mr. Googly Eyes is not telling.
I recently brought these four portraits to the Market one Sunday, and had them on display together. It was fun to see visitors interact with the portraits.
These collages are available as originals and as giclee prints; click here with your inquiries for these or any other pieces.
I would love to hear from you.
You will find me at the Railyard Artisans Market most Sundays, although some days I play hooky. And with the change in the weather, the blooming of the chamisa, and the glory of the aspens emerging, I am thinking of going on a road trip. Hmmm. We shall see. I’ll let you know. Till then…
Love and Peace,
D E C O
Art, news and thoughts from Santa Fe, New Mexico.