Last weekend (6 & 7 April) I took home the Vitamin P and P2 books for a bit of picture gazing. It’s a level of research that I notice in my students and something I find myself telling them not to do – I tell them to read the words not just look at the pictures, however I decided that as a holiday I would take a leaf out of their book and just picture gaze, something I haven’t done for a while.
I was flicking through Vitamin P2 and re-stumbled upon the work of Michaël Borremans. I have always admired his work, particularly his portraiture and it’s unsettling, awkward and sometimes uncomfortable atmosphere.
Then I realised that this was what I had been missing from my own portraiture and why I have been avoiding and taking a break from it. My earlier and more successful portraits had that slightly awkward and voyeuristic feeling, I had been showing people at vulnerable moments or in challenging poses of direct eye contact with the viewer. They weren’t static. They either made you feel like maybe you weren’t supposed to be looking at them, or they were looking back at you.
My later portraits (most of last year) had fallen into ‘flatness’, they just didn’t interest me for long. Although they were well rendered I didn’t find them arresting enough, they weren’t doing anything. They were just pretty, finished. People just drawn as portraits, they were missing a Borremans-esque awkwardness; a thing that doesn’t sit right or that questions your right to look at it.
While I don’t think I am going to rush back into a series of portraiture anytime soon, I am happy that I realised what it is that I like and don’t like about my portraiture. I think that this will help me to gauge it’s usefulness as a tool to convey meaning and an idea of when it should be used and what for.
Sometimes there is value in just looking at the pictures.Thoughts on his work: → Aspects of the familiar when taken out of context and placed into awkward negative space become unfamiliar, strange and haunting. →The awkwardness is what is beautiful, the un-comfort is more interesting than a beautifully rendered smiling figure. → Strange can be more interesting/beautiful than available. → Think about (in my own figurative work) turning things around – upside down or sideways, truncating the figure or leaving out aspects like their hair or mouth, make them unfinished and awaiting completion. →Empathy? When portraying people in their vulnerability but rendering them finely, does it evoke some kind of empathy? Is that what I want to do with them?
His paintings deal with the nature of the digitized image, the flaws and faults in the digital image are captured as beauty in his paintings.
” These are literal pictures of a screen; they are also pictures of a screen as a mediation filter, as a proposition about the act of perception itself. As such, the mimicking of illegibility through accident – the out of focus, a third generation “original” – is tantamount to a kind of new found legibility, resonance and meaning” ( David Bussel 2002, p.137).
What I think about when I view these works is how technology has brought about an acceptance of a ‘poor’ quality image. Often we see a pixellated photo, a distortion as a screen or video loads, or in the case of my digital T.V., a few seconds of visual mayhem as the wind blows the satellite dish around. What I find interesting is how often it happens and how we hardly even acknowledge it happening. We just take the image at face value and look through the fault. I think there could be much room to play with an image in these distorted areas.