Portraits are tricky. At a minimum, a good portrait should look like the person being depicted, or at least capture their gesture or something characteristic about them. Portraits with a photo realistic quality concentrate on exact likeness, and frequently are duplicates of a photograph. (And I admit to being biased against many works like this. Producing an image that is an exact duplicate of a photo is not very interesting.)
When I created this portrait of Lillian -- my grandmother -– I was intrigued with trying something different. I wanted to create a portrait that suggested something of her life story. It helped that I created “Lillian’s Expectations” to submit to the SAQA “Balancing Act” exhibit. (It was juried into the show and it traveled for two years.) The concept of depicting balance – or an attempt to balance things – gave me a starting place.
I have a photo of Lillian seated in a wicker chair like the one I depicted. She is the essence of a strong and self-possessed woman –- completely confident and assured. I was really drawn to the gesture of the single finger supporting her head. The colors closest to her are also calm and soothing.
But, all around her, things are off balance and chaotic. Two large rectangles are askew. The patterned squares across the top are on an angle. The colors are hot. Knowing Lillian’s story, I knew she had to balance strong and opposing forces in her life. Her ability to stay in command in the face of that is the point of the story.
Well, and then there are those birds flying out of the jar. Some things are beyond being controlled. Forces become unleashed. People’s stories and events can just spill out, tossed about like a small bird the wind.
I rediscovered this artwork today as I was going digital through images of my work. Much like discovering a faded family photo in an album, finding Lillian’s portrait caused me to remember. I remember the process of creating this piece. I remembered all the sketches I created before I began, working out the relationship between idea and composition. I remember printing these fabrics. I remember drawing the figure.
And I remember Lillian. I hope my work does justice to her interesting and complicated story.
For more information about this work,
visit the stories-and-journeys gallery of this website, HERE
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