Figurative + The Uniquely Human Project
This work is part of a series of portraits honoring individuals that live with physical or neurological differences. They include alphanumeric documents or other background imagery that contribute to the story about the unique person depicted. These can be medical records, recorded data or medical images. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to develop this work during a Chalk Hill Artist Residency in California. By choosing traditional portraiture, I chose to spend many hours truly seeing my subjects. I found the sustained deep observance of another person transformative.
The genesis of the project was my strong bond with my son with severe Autism and Cystic Fibrosis. The first portrait sprang from my need for my son and our life circumstances to be seen by others. I felt that he had no voice in the world and was not fully understood, even by close family members. He cannot speak in the ways one needs to in order to participate in our culture. I saw the light in him, as mothers do, and wanted others to see it too. I also felt that our family situation, being outside the norm, was overlooked and not well comprehended by our community. I wanted to be seen too, it seemed. I was overwhelmed by difficulty of the situation and angry that I had no choice but to take it on. As I turned to painting as an outlet, my son soon became one of my frequent subjects.
Painting and exhibiting formal portraits of an individual with disabilities began a dialogue with others on the subject. When I showed the work in my studio, visitors would share the stories of their struggles with difference in their own families. During one of these conversations, I was moved to ask another mother if I could paint her son with autism and also eventually asked permission to paint some friends and acquaintances living with other types of differences.
During the years it took me to learn to paint portraits and execute these works, our national conversation on differences of all kinds became louder. At the same time my own focus began to shift outward, movements were springing up all over the country calling for changes in how minority groups and other people with differences are seen and treated in our society. The morphing of my own anger into empathy was accelerated by the events unfolding on the national stage.
I offer these works as a small individual contribution to that conversation by honoring these people walking their paths with dignity and grace. It is my hope that the small drop of my depictions of difference will flow into the much larger river of reckoning that is flooding our current collective moment.