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!

Contemporary Israeli art at AU Museum, DC

                                 Still from Sigalit Landau’s DeadSee

It’s been about eleven years now since I left Israel, yet my connection with the exhibition of Israeli artists at the American University Museum was immediate. Contemporary Israeli art is out-of-the-box, cutting edge, and in-your-face. Pretty representative of the country as a whole, I would say.

All the works belonged to the Donald Rothfeld Collection of Contemporary Israeli Art, just gifted to the Museum. Many of Israel’s better known artists were represented – Moshe Kupferman, Yael Bartana, Tsibi Geva, Michal Rovner, Sigalit Landau and Moshe Gershuni  to name but a few of the heavy hitters. ( Click here to read my interview of the latter’s exceedingly talented son, Aram Gershuni).

                            A typical work by Moshe Kupferman

The themes expressed by the artists convey the preoccupations of the young nation – the Holocaust that hangs over it like an ominous shadow, the continuous wars, the soul-searching over the Palestinian issue. One gets a sense of a country that is by necessity closing in upon itself yet struggling to claw itself out of its predicament.

One of Tsibi Geva's works from the Kaffiyeh series One of Tsibi Geva’s works from the Kaffiyeh series

TWO MUST-SEE VIDEOS (One of these days I will figure out how to embed videos into the blog…) :

Israeli artists were amongst the first to embrace video as an art form. Two works that left a lasting impression on me were video works: The first was Tamy Ben Tor’s video trilogy of the artist in various disguises spewing verbal diarrhea that is really quite disturbing. Watch this one called Yid. The second is Dana Levy’s lyrically named video Departures/50 ways to leave your lover. Just LOVE this one and hope you do too. Shalom for now!

(PS. Back to the subject of portraits from previous blogs, obviously I am not the only artist fascinated/obsessed with portraits – here is Switzerland-based Chinese artist Qui Jie at his first major solo exhibition in Singapore. Does the grid look familiar…?)

VIDEO: Qiu Jie — Recluse from a Distant Land