What happened to your face?

Pawel Sliwinski
Pawel Sliwinski

I love portraiture – painting portraits and looking at portraits. I never tire of the human face and the complex nuances that our cognitive faculties allow us to interpret. Though Picasso and Braque broke with the conventional portrait decades ago, there is a growing number of contemporary artists that are deliberately distorting, manipulating and warping and even eliminating the facial construct.

Sascha Braunig, Self-portrait
Sascha Braunig, Self-portrait
Marco Grassi
Marco Grassi

What I find interesting is that this direction is the polar opposite of what the media is feeding us. The artistic trend expresses a creative push-back against idealism and a conscious rejection of flawless complexions, perfect feature ratios, homogeneity. Artists are mutating the face to almost alien proportions and merging human and animal characteristics. 


I believe that these works also convey a sense of chaos and unrest in response to a world that appears to be falling apart and spinning out of control. Other than the intellectual drive to break the boundaries of painting, perhaps similar tensions and uncertainty in Europe prior to WWI played a role in influencing artists like Picasso to experiment with faceting and breaking up the face, where all human emotion is communicated.

And of course, digital tools have added a whole new spin to re-constructing and re-inventing the face, pixel by pixel. Perfect example is Dutch artist Tim Coster’s self-portrait (below) of which he says:”This self-portrait is about digitizing my own appearance. The next step is to upload my ghost in it so I’ll be able to live on digitally after I die”.

While musing about the direction and future of portraiture I did a small painting (3.5″ x 3.5″) of five sisters based on a photograph from the ’60’s. I used watercolor and acrylics over a print transfer of my photocopied sketch applied to Aquaboard with acrylic gel medium. Any thoughts?

'Five sisters', Lilianne Milgrom
‘Five sisters’, Lilianne Milgrom  $50

NB: Four months after writing this post, ARTSPACE MAGAZINE wrote an article about the same trend (I beat them to it!). They have put a name on this phenomenon – Figural Non-Objectivity!

4 thoughts on “What happened to your face?

  1. KRYSTLE. March 16, 2015 / 10:21 pm

    Excellent read Lilianne and great points made and taken.
    Your painting feels very nostalgic and highlights a sense of devotion between these woman across the generations – all neat, tidy, and well dressed for their outing together, (though the focus not being the perfection of their faces) plus being sure to capture the time shared through a photo.

    • liliannemilgrom March 16, 2015 / 10:28 pm

      Thanks for such thoughtful feedback. Always appreciated. Gracias!

  2. Angela Muller April 9, 2015 / 5:39 pm

    I love this technique. It enters your mind much like a dream…..an illusion…….a long ago memory, foggy, yet still live! Just beautiful!

  3. Alan Jackson June 8, 2015 / 12:16 pm

    I think one of the faces in the top painting is me but can’t decide which one. Good on you, Lilianne !!

I'd love to hear your comments!!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s