The Eyes Have It
The concept of capturing a personality onto canvas or paper in the realms of portraiture will always inspire the visual artist, many contemporary modern day artists of which choosing to add their own comments on social issues of the past and present with their portraits such as Peter Stichbury. Peter is an Auckland based portraiture painter who has recently been using his work to explore the hyperrealism of glamor and magazine portraiture such as his painting, Liberty? (acrylic on linen, 66×56cm) as well as the personality that shines upon faces from yearbook mug shots. These two types of faces may contrast strongly though along side each other they make a statement on ‘real’ people and ‘hyperrealist’ fashion photography.
Stichbury uses his educated skill and precision with acrylic paints to characterize faces, exaggerate features either to emphasize their imperfections or certain facial perspectives that we as socially conditioned mammals have come to learn to be beauty. He does this to strike the nerve that vibrates when we first meet someone or see a photograph of them that makes us at least subconsciously like or dislike that person. Whether the impression be triggering sexual attraction due to previously mentioned social conditioning, hostile antagonism, empathetic loyalty or dull indifference. These negative reactions are often influenced by alternative personal fashion sense or style or even facial imperfections and has been explored by Peter more so in his recent series than ever, coincidently, these recent works are dominated by more male characters than female and have often and surprisingly been painted onto the surface of lawn balls. This distorted dimension of surface has given these portraits a fish eye effect which emphasis that the face is under analysis of the viewer almost like a scientific research into a hyperrealist portrait such as Cratchley Wagstaff? (acrylic and gesso on lawn bowl, 25cm diameter).
His current exhibition of works titled, ‘The Alumni’, comprising of 30 portraits under the banner of a class reunion, strangely enough, of fictional characters created by Peter to illustrate his thoughts on portraits and physiognomies. This high school yearbook theme could possibly have occurred due to school being a place where we first meet friends and social characters of our own worlds. Where we learn of stereotypes and build as well has have built, our own personality and character. Collectors of his work are attracted so deeply to Peter’s paintings due to their popular culture references as well as their so-called hybrid depictions of physiognomies, which is the art of judging human character from facial features. This deeper than the skin appreciation is something so many passionate artists strive for with their work and to know that clients, viewers and buyers not only understand the thought process behind the work but appreciate it enough to make it their own and treat it like a family member is heart warming.
Stepping away from Peter Stichbury’s exploration of physiognomies and stereotypes, another aspect mentioned by reviews has been the possibility of viewers connecting with Peter’s recent works as an apparent ‘surprising asymmetry that appeals, or an intensity of gaze that seems so utterly special and bestowed only on us.’ This brings us to the popular concept of the eyes being the windows to the soul. This combined with Peter’s exaggeration of features including the eyes, make it no surprise that viewers of his paintings should be so drawn in to the captured gazes and feel some connection to a subconscious impression of a person or personality they may never have met or may ever meet. On the other hand, the viewer could be experiencing a similar experience to meeting or seeing someone they know or have met and at least unknowingly, mentally, making that connection and empathizing with the portrait.
This appreciation and empathy from the viewers towards portraiture and physiognomies is one thing my own practice has in common with Peter’s and along with other concepts such as stereotypes and fashion, is something I am currently exploring in my own work while experimenting with composition, light and shadow to exaggerate the shape and textures of the portraits I draw and sometimes also paint. Similar again to Stitchburg’s works is my interest in glamorized fashion and hyperrealism, though, in my own portraits exploring this aspect, I don’t exaggerate imperfections to stereotype alternative characters but as a chosen reverse, I prefer to glamorize alternative subcultures with features such as obscure piercings and hair styles as well as dramatic make up which often emphasizes the eyes of the character.
While Peter draws his characters from features upon models in magazines he hordes over years before acquiring a computer, I have utilizes my access to publicly available stock images from the internet where artistic sites such as deviant art have a wide range of members sharing recourses including numerous modeling images, from professional magazine shoots to amateur models and photographers. While more often choosing to draw rather than paint portraits of these genuine people, I explore the interests in the subject within monochromatic medias such as chalks, pastels, charcoals, pencils etc, as well as experimenting with drawing upon black paper as well as the traditional white paper, Using these surfaces in accordance with the drawing technique or lighting of the reference images. For example, with a portrait such as Evaporate (white pencil and charcoal on black A4 paper), which a minimal amount of light is used to expose just enough form and features to describe the subject, I will prefer to sculpt the form with a white media onto a black page, describing the light upon the skin and hair as opposed to the traditional method of drawing the mid tones and shadows of and image on a white support or onto a mid tones support and using a media for the shadows and a white media for the light.
My audience of members online, browsing my public portfolio have often given feedback on these portraits, commenting on the composition or details, sometimes viewers have appreciated the compositions of textures enhanced or their approval of the adjustments made to the portraits from the original image while once receiving the remark that it was enlightening to see portraits drawn not of celebrities but of real and on the odd occasion, strange, everyday subjects. As opposed to viewing recreated magazine portraits of hyperrealism models with flawless and simple make up and polished jewelry and glossed lips, people have been seemingly attracted to my portraits of subculture characters with shining lip rings, dramatic Gothic make up styles and outrageous yet drawn to be precise and hyper realistically combed and gelled hair styles such as Nano (Graphite pencil on white A4 paper).
An essay I wrote for TAFE about portraiture, stereotypes and physiognomies.