Mixed Media Portraits
This series of works combines two interests of mine, tarot card imagery and mug shots, to explore personal questions about various intrinsic forces in the world. I came across a book of old mug shots a few years ago and was immediately drawn to the intensity of the expressions, the way they are portrait snapshots but contain none of the typical constructed grandeur or smiling bonhomie of either. Instead they seemed to me to capture, in one particularly intense moment, a person’s whole history, the current of their life, or at the very least an interesting story. Here are real people, stripped of charade and persona, displaying to the world the raw feelings and emotions of that moment: sadness, anger, defiance, bewilderment, indifference, shame. Mug shots also appeal to the voyeur in us. We love to witness tragedy, to see people brought down or at their worst, to see the face of crime, the feared “bad guy” element of society, looking straight at us but from a safe distance. By painting mug shot style faces I am exploring the face as symbol and the power of facial expression as conveyor of emotion.
Tarot cards represent another type of portrait, but one in which old and enduring cultural symbols are personified to represent the major forces at work in our lives. In the figures of a tarot card deck, justice, leadership, deity, folly, death, fate and so on are given archetypal human form and shown with various symbols of their roles. Historically they were used to identify patterns and help understand how these forces play out in the fortunes of individual lives, as well as to teach and uphold their significance in human culture. This personification of life influences is an extension of a long history of god/goddess portrayal in a similar light: as human-appearing beings that control various aspects of our lives. I am fascinated with the way tarot cards, and other such figures, appeal to the most fundamental archetypes in our psyches and, as such, can evoke strong emotional responses in us.
In part, this series of paintings explores the intersection of these two things by asking what if archetypes were treated as mug shots? What would it be to take the personified influences in our lives and recast them in a suspicious light? Have we made them into villains; are we at odds with our world, with ourselves? But instead of using the classic symbols of tarot cards I am exploring personal archetypes, ideas for symbolic figures from my unconscious that speak from my own meanings and associations. Here, then is The Seed Guardian, The Risk Taker, The Visionary: captivating personifications of protection and potential, chance and control, mysticism and so on. Like Gods that have hit hard times, run through the gauntlet of modern skepticism and mistrust, they are both tragic and magical, damaged yet still commanding. Stripped of pretense and pageantry and placed on visual trial they gaze at us with raw, challenging expressions as if to say, see me: what am I, what have I done…and what might I do?