Portraits through Objects
There were two paintings borrowed back from their owners for the show that I particularly wanted to talk about . Both of them are in the category of what I call "Portraits through Objects." Both paintings go beyond a simple depiction of what a person looks like. They include objects that mean special somethings to people as a way to tell stories about people.
In the case of the painting on the left, Portrait of Dorothy, we included objects that she collected over the course of her adult life. All of them tell something about who, how, and why Dorothy is as a person. The objects are pieces of jewelry, a map from Dorothy and her husband's antique map collection, and a 17th century Apostle Spoon from their British silver collection. Dorothy and I selected these objects from the many that she brought to my studio. For each object, Dorothy told me a story that taught me a lot about her, her life, and her family. Watching and listening as she told the stories, I made observations that would provide an important foundation for the painting. We selected objects that carried especially important meaning and that would also make for an effective composition. The story telling and selecting were critical parts of the collaboration that happens between a painter and a model. They helped me see beyond the surface. As viewers talk about the kind of person they see in the portrait, I hear them going beyond the surface.
Other artists have worked with this 'Portraits through Objects" idea. A good example can be taken from the wonderful and not-to-be-missed Museum of the Hunt and of Nature, in the Marais section of Paris. A room-sized installation is an amazingly evocative portrait of Francois and Jacqueline Sommer, the husband and wife hunters and conservationists who were the great patrons of the museum. Mark Dion, the artist, recreated in the museum their hunting cabin and filled it with the couple's possessions: medals and other decorations Mr. Sommer received for his heroism in WWII, in the Free French Army; photographs that document the Sommer family's role in the history of aeronautics; an African reliquary given to the couple as a wedding present; books, including several on hunting and social issues; photographic equipment; many objects of art; furniture; travel souvenirs; smoking and drinking paraphenelia, etc. As you look into the room, it isn't hard to imagine that the lovers of nature and the woods have just gone off for a walk and would soon return. Again, their objects spoke for many dimensions of their lives. Interestingly -- showing all of the layers that a piece of art can involve, Dion's installation includes two other portraits of the Sommers by their close friend, Claude Lepape, from the 1960s. These are small paintings of Mr. Sommer's personal belongings that the painter considered especially emblematic of the husband's personality.