Restless Portrait: A Disappearing Painting

The impulse for this video “Restless Portrait: A Disappearing Painting” stems from the realization of the static nature of traditional portrait painting.  The half-smile of the Mona Lisa is frozen forever, and Juan de Pareja gazes out at us, as nobly as the day he sat for the portrait.  I realize that I will never see Juan de Pareja blink, and it seems to me that that is the power of these paintings- their enigma and steadfastness.  In painting myself, I have a sense that I am an altogether more neurotic person, living in a more unstable time, more twitchy and jittery.  The video captures the painting of a self portrait on single canvas, as the image is painted and repainted continually.  There is a sense that a painting is never finished, that the act itself is somehow futile and that the end result is a blank canvas, simply more pock-marked and scarred than at the beginning, but just as uncommunicative.

The world simply does not need more self portraits from me, and yet I am compelled to make them.  My solution is to recycle the paintings, to paint over them once they are finished.  This all-paintings-on-a-single-canvas policy proves exceedingly economical and perhaps lessens my carbon footprint.

There is a grand tradition of this searching, reductive style of portraiture.  We know that Giacometti painted and repainted his portraits endlessly.  The stalagmite encrustedness of the canvases tells the tale and if we use our imagination, or squint at the palimpsest-like brushstrokes on the canvas, we can envision this gloriously existential process.  Lucian Freud’s canvases reveal heavy pentimenti, where limbs, flesh, and sometimes entire bodies are moved around after having been thickly painted.  We can see these ghostly appendages and wonder at what caused the artist to change his mind.  Finally, Susanna Coffey paints self portraits endlessly, in unceasing variation, and evinces this urge to continually recreate oneself in paint.

This video simply aims to make all of that painting and repainting, all the searching, corrections and dried paint visible and explicit.  We can see the process before our eyes, and draw our own conclusions.  Using the medium of video, it is possible to capture the blinking of the subject.  It is possible to capture the shifts and tilting of restless human beings and there is a sense of animation, where once all movement was only implied.

Although painting is thought of as a medium which celebrates permanence, and paintings live in museums and attics for hundreds of years, we are living in altogether more uncertain times and this painting video speaks of an era where paintings are destroyed immediately after they are created.  I still have the canvas that is visible in this video, and I continue to paint new paintings on it.

The audio heard in the piece, a work entitled “Rain On the Motherland” by Kazuki Mishima (used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License) was selected because the instruments used, including the sitar, reference my Indian heritage.  The syncopation of the frenetic beats mimic the pitter patter of the brushwork as the canvas is covered in a drizzle of paint strokes.

Still from the video: Restless Portrait: A Disappearing Painting

restless portrait video still