An immortal sitter at the stroke of a brush

I’ve always been fascinated with drawing others. Whenever people said, Hey, that really looks like me! I always credited some hidden inherent talent.
I carried this pride so closely to my heart until the day I enrolled in an art class. My teacher carefully acknowledged my technical skill but divulged how my portraits lacked personality. Rest assured, eventually, I was able to pick myself up off the ground. But it took me some time to figure out exactly what he meant.
“Defining the Portrait,” currently on exhibit at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery ventures to classify the complexities of The Portrait.
Guest curator Sandra Paikowsky discussed the phenomena of people insisting that their own passport pictures are not reliable representations of themselves.
She also describes the “tension between the two intentions”-of the model and of the artist.
Surely, vanity surfaces and the sitter hopes that their portrayal will highlight (or exaggerate) the natural beauty that they must truly be, while the artist hopes to capture the essence of the sitter’s personality, not always pretty.
Defining the Portrait closely examines the different types of portraits: The Self Portrait, Artists by Artists, the Unidentified Subject, the Identified Subject, the Imaginary Portrait, and the Fragmented Portrait. Each category defines itself by its particular approach to portraiture and how each perspective can alter a viewers’ interpretation of a image.
For example, in the category of the Unidentified Subject versus the Identified Subject, Paikowsky explains that a nameless piece-such as Italian Girl, Boy, or the lovely Cyclist, Pont-Neuf, Paris, 1976 -takes on more of “metaphoric meaning” than a literal one of identity, as is evident in Alice, Portrait of Elizabeth Savage, or the powerful, Napoleon after Canova.
In the Fragmented Portrait, images appear blown-up to project “an incomplete narrative.” The oversized, un-airbrushed, colour photograph of a man’s back (a women’s?) by GeneviŠve Cadieux is aptly called, Untitled (dos).
Another image in simple cont‚ on paper is entitled Garter belt Series #2 – Margo.
Artist Dennis Burton closely examines a women’s open loins (presumably Margo’s) clad in sexy lingerie.
The most memorable portrait of the show is a large painting rich in reds and pinks where artist Bruno Bobak paints himself standing candidly in his living room surrounded by various decorative objects.
Bobak’s slender hands are somewhat luminescent and one can’t help but imagine him lovingly arranging all the knick-knacks within his reach.
The collection as a whole, though limited in overall impact, sends a clear message to the viewer about the joys of portraiture. Despite its engaging text and thematic arrangement, only a handful of pieces stand out in my memory.
A room full of portraits is an experience essentially like a room full of people. As with new acquaintances, ones with little character are easily forgotten, whereas the charmers that oozed personality remain long after the party is over. Clearly, my art teacher knew what he was talking about.

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