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When the World Turned Color

At a Glance:

Title: When the World Turned Color (#1-4 respectively)

Surface: Cradle panels (wood)

Medium: Oil paint

Music listened to: We Banjo 3, “Sign of the Times”

The Concept:

This collection of colorful portraits is the second installment of my final series for Intermediate Painting. The first part was covered in my previous post The Bearded Man. For this second exploration of portraiture I wanted to move away from realism of form and color in favor of a more stylized technique inspired by a specific work in pastel by Elizabeth Peyton. Her work, Andro, represents a young man through a larger-than-life use of color that is at once subdued and vibrant. I find the piece compelling and wanted to explore its possibilities, but with my own twist.

The title When the World Turned Color stems from an amusing childhood anecdote that my parents often like to reminisce about. At three years old I was introduced to the classic movie The Wizard of Oz and was particularly taken with the iconic cinematic change from black-and-white to color. Thinking I was witnessing a momentous event, I turned to my parents and asked, “When did the world turn color?” I still hold that this was a pretty sophisticated query for a toddler to pose, but perhaps that’s just me trying to repel the embarrassment of naivety. This story was rattling around my brain near the end of my painting process and I thought I would dedicate the series to my three year old self. This is what the world would look like if Dorothy began in an already colorful world, and stepped into an even more vibrant one.

The Process:

This style didn’t feel natural to me right away, and I think that was because I was focused too much on emulating Peyton’s style. While I admire the first portrait I created (read them #1-4 from left to right above), I feel that it looks like I was trying too hard. The colors feel a little too random and at times muddy, but I still feel it has a charm about it. After I moved on from #1, I started to make the style my own.

In portrait #2, I wanted to lean into the vibrancy of colors and play off of their acidic appearance, something vaguely inspired by Mariah Robertson’s chemical treatment series. I also played with composition in this piece, leaving the traditional, centered pose for something more dramatic.

Portrait #3 felt even more authentic to myself, especially in its simplified line work. I used the graphic black lines even more boldly here which strengthened a narrative-editorial-comic book vibe that was slowly building in the previous portraits.

Portrait #4, which is a self-portrait, reads to me as the strongest of the four. It was in this one that I feel I really hit my stride in the style and made it my own instead of trying to emulate another artist. The painting process was much more intuitive and I didn’t second guess myself and much as I did with the first three. Because even though it would seem to be easy laying down fun color in the foreground on top of a white background, its actually really hard to compose it in a pleasing way! I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Fauves.

Overall, I had to alter my goal of completely painting these portraits from life as I originally had planned for when conceiving the series, and only ended up painting two of them from life. Paintings #1 and #4 were done from photographic reference, and I found the process more prone to time delays as account of me getting too caught up in detail (although this occurred mostly in #1. By #2 I was motivated to finish the assignment). Portraits #2 and #3 were painted from life and I found that I had a breakthrough in this process when it came to laying down color. Because I only had the models for a certain amount of time, I lay down color in larger areas and moved quickly from one to the next.

I found this mini-series to be a great exercise in stepping outside of my comfort zone and plan to take up this style of portraiture again. Check back soon for more art!

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