One Thing In Common
- Privacy & ownership – Is it ‘right’ to be accessing images of others from Facebook? They may be public but does that give me the right to take and use them for my own purpose? Am I infringing privacy laws? Who owns the images once they are in the public domain? Having we lost the ability to act based on a moral code – to make distinctions between what is ethically/morally appropriate?
- Judgment – Looking at the way we define our existence using judgment – do we categorise and restrict people as we judge who they are based on our own understanding of the world as compared to finding out about them? Who are these people in the series? What judgements do we make when we take away everything but the face and the name? Are we more responsive and open or do we still have an innate struggle to reduce people to a structure we can understand? (even one as simplistic as ‘I like the look of her’, or ‘she’s fat, thin, ugly, cool’ etc). Will the fact that there is someone convicted of murder and someone who has died in these images heighten the desire to judge?
- Nature of Self – Who am I? How do I define myself if I am not the only ‘Angela Johnson’? What is it that actually makes us who we are? How do we create and define our sense of self? If I am not Angela Johnson (because these women are), then who am I and do I need to define that? And if I am not my name in any way, then who is everyone else in the world?
- Social Entropy – Is Facebook a measure of our disappearing social structures and distinctions? As we place numerous images and views online are we losing our ability to think in a three dimensional way? Is the absence of physical contact allowing us to explore behaviour patterns that would have previously seemed morally ‘wrong’?
- Influence of labels on emotional growth – some of the women here are devoutly religious. What influence has the name Angela had on them? (Root of the name coming from Angel). Does the energy of a word that we constantly carry with us become absorbed into who we become?
Working on these pieces, I found a personal relationship forming with them even though they don’t know me. I found myself looking into their faces and contemplating what challenges and struggles these women might have. That there is somehow a unification through our name, and because we share something even as tenuous as that I then find myself wanting to connect with them – is that human nature? This work is also an exploration of (my) instinctive human behaviour, what is innate in our responses to others, what is generalised and what is specific to me?
The work of Marlene Dumas was my inspiration for this project – I find her work haunting, challenging and edgy – it is uncomfortable and seductive in equal measure. I spent time studying the different mark making and textures in her ‘Rejects’ series and trying out different ideas in my sketchbook. I chose to work in ink a) because I was inspired by the overall effect of ‘Rejects’ and also because I am new to it as a medium.
Aims for myself:-
- to understand tone better (by using different strengths of black ink)
- to start understanding how to leave negative space within the work, making use of the luminescence of the paper for the lightest tones
- to be more sparing with my mark making
- to consider my pace
- to think about my use of the medium in relation to each individual piece – application, mark making etc
- to consider the composition individually and as a whole – and to keep questioning this throughout the process (e.g. how does the next image need to be presented to enhance what has already been done but to also enhance the individual image at the same time)
- to represent each person without judgment
The finished paintings:-
You will see there are a few images that are repeated as I was unhappy with the outcome. I am very aware that some of these I still have yet to resolve. I found some faces incredibly easy to paint and others virtually impossible which felt an incredible labour to produce, and to pretty poor results – if I had more time I could keep working on these images as I feel they let down the group as a whole.
I also felt that I had lost a spontenaiety by the 14th or 15th image. If I had more time I would come back to the project after a week or two to see what other ideas and approaches I could bring to the project. This is something I will definitely pursue in my own time.
Photographed together as a group
(There is only one supplemented image in this layout (column 4, row 4) as I felt the first image looks too messy, too much like she has a bleeding nose!!
This layout works well as there are repetitions of light/dark and some similarities echoed in higher and lower rows (using the central 3rd row as the line of symmetry).
I also like the idea of arranging them in a slightly less formal way and I probably would choose to show them on a wall in two rows, however, for practical reasons I have stuck to the grid system as requested in the assignment brief and the final arrangement is below.
This is layout 3 with two of the paintings changed and a two of the positions changed.
Which paintings are the most successful and why?
1 – this painting worked well as the photograph was indistinct as it was tiny – it enabled me to be more experimental with my brushwork as there weren’t specifics that I felt I had to get down on the face. It was a feeling I was trying to express – this woman had died so I wanted the brushwork to feel ethereal.
2 – this painting is a success because of the subtlety of my choice of inks and brush marks. It is the woman convicted of murder on death row, but I wanted to portray her without judgment so her face is softer than the image I found.
3 – this is my image – I am pleased with the minimal marks – this was one of the quick paintings but I have managed to capture everything I needed to. I was also particularly pleased with the texture of the hair – it is the only piece I managed to get such expressive marks into the ink without overdoing it.
4 – this was my favourite image! I really enjoyed painting this Angela – I haven’t managed to capture the shape of her cheek well and I probably did a better job of representing her in my prep, but this one does succeed as it effectively shows her as quirky, interesting and really brings the eye into the group as a whole.
Which arrangement worked best and why?
It was difficult to find an arrangement that was significantly better or worse than any other. In general I found that trying to balance the light and dark images across the piece, and the images of the mouth/nose or the close up views helped create a sense of cohesion to the group. I tried light on one side and dark on the other, however, the energy felt far too one-sided for the group. If I had to choose it would be the second image in layout 3, although I can still see faults with it, and particular portraits that I feel look too messy and need to be redone.
I would also like to see them displayed in one long row around a room, however, this is impossible for me to do and photograph effectively, however, I do feel that it may be an alternative way to display them so that the viewer moves as they engage with one piece.
How would I develop this work?
To work in a freer way, with more abstract interpretations. To work in layers as Marlene Dumas does, removing eyes/mouths etc to reveal a different feature on the sheet below. I also wondered if I could produce a line drawing by drawing over the top of each image on acetate with a marker, and then making groupings of them, one on top of the other to displace the images from portraits into something else.
I would also choose to work in paint with these images, to further this line of enquiry by experimenting with colour and speed. Using ink was an attempt to pare down my mark making but to be observationally as accurate as possible as that is an area that I have weakness. However, I also feel that my experimentation has been small scale and concentrated as I have limited myself to one medium. I would now like to introduce a limited colour palette, to work in acrylic or gouache and perhaps to set a time limit to each painting to encourage me to keep a fluidity going with the work. The scale is something I would probably stick with for now, I am so blinkered with my view that ‘I can only work large’ that this is a really healthy and new step forwards for me to keep it small!
Another idea to develop the work would be to get in touch with one or two of the Angela Johnson’s that I feel the strongest pull towards to see if I could do some kind of parallel project, painting images of my own life alongside an image of the ‘other Angela’s’ life taken at exactly the same time.
As I was working on this project I also noticed a pull to make the image slightly disturbing, or to be more minimal, or to use a completely different approach, however, I found that this then created a lack of cohesion for the group as a whole. I could, therefore, quite easily produce at least another 5 sets of Angela’s exploring each different idea or technique to see which best represents what I am trying to explore here.
What is the essence of what I hope to communicate?
There are quite a broad range of thoughts behind this project, however, the question of what I want to communicate through the images is more challenging. At this point it would be an exploration of judgement and viewer response to the individuals in the group and also to the group as a whole. I would like people to think about privacy vs being connected, about who or what defines us, and about whether we have a right to judge others. However, I doubt that anyone would get any of this by simply looking at the images – they might question who the women are and why I have done it, but a description of what the project is about is vital to its success. I, therefore, need to think further about how to portray ideas through my artwork as I am not convinced I have managed it particularly well in this project.