Archive for Portraiture

Man With a Mirror: Ian Ingram At artMRKT

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager with tags , , , , , on May 23, 2011 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ian Ingram, Forgotten Offerings, 2010
Charcoal, pastel, beads, and string on paper, 82 1/2 x 51″
(Courtesy Barry Friedman Ltd.)

Last Friday at artMKRT, the renegade spin off of the SF Fine Art Fair, I was instantly (and blissfully) seduced by the mighty sirens of Ian Ingram‘s monumental self portraits. The two on display—Forgotten Offerings and Pierrot—are startling achievements in the portraiture genre, technically brilliant and dense with iconography. And, in a truly refreshing turn, these nearly seven foot tall works are drawings (!!), executed in an almost laborious level of detail through graphite, charcoal, pastel. Further, real-world elements—string, fabric, beads, gold leaf and wire mesh—expertly integrated into the drawings add a unique physical dimension to the work. But they also heighten the symbolic meaning of the drawings. Reality and rendered reality play fluidly with one another.

Ian Ingram, He His, Me My, (Seashells), 2008
Charcoal and pastel on paper, 60 x 44″

The artist’s most important tool might just be his high-magnification shaving mirror.

I recall as a child loving the alone time I was allowed in bathrooms. The assurance of a locked door and walls surrounding ones own personal space provided meditative retreats from chattery school days. . .

I have been staring at my face in a magnified mirror for over 7 years now. Patterns emerge and dissolve. . . . .

When I was working on The Geometry of Happy Children, one of the lines began standing out and demanding attention. It was the line that ran along the side of the nose approximately where the bone ends and the cartilage begins. I actually grew annoyed with this line’s insistence, and erased it hoping to quiet it’s demands but it only added significance and so I drew it back in. Paper never forgets though, and that line kept it’s heat and at times I could see little else. Looking back and forth from mirror to paper, the line started taking it’s place on the surface of my skin. When my eyes weren’t on that line, but focused elsewhere, it would begin a trampy little dance for attention in bright magentas and blues until my eyes would dart over to see, and back to flesh it would go. . .

Ian Ingram, Pierrot, 2010
Charcoal, pastel, watercolor, gold leaf, and tulle on paper
82 1/2″ x 51″
(Courtesy Barry Friedman Ltd.)

Forgotten Offerings began with an “insistent line.” Over the period of the drawing’s gestation (Ingram’s large scale works can take up to three months to complete), this line led the artist on a journey through his subconscious, an investigation that had Ingram wrestling with his “judgmental/editorial” self. Ingram’s startled expression suggests being “caught in the act,” as if delving into the subconscious were a secrete and illicit undertaking.

With Pierrot Ingram pushes farther down the road of the subconscious. Infinitely more sinister than Watteau’s famous mime, Ingram’s bust suggests a different dimension of the famous clown. Here, fear is palpable. Greek tragedy (Argemenon’s mask?); medieval armor (the mesh); a disturbing cleaved scull. Pierrot as the reflection of ego and id, the two halves of man. I am reminded of Pogo’s oft-quoted remark: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Says Ingram of the two works:

Pierrot is the companion piece to Forgotten Offerings. Pierrot is vacant and shows the interior space as a void whereas Forgotten Offerings is full of light. The poses obviously mirror one another. They are independent, but polar. The gold leaf in both brings focus to the border—an incredibly potent part of the composition as it is the dividing line between the “real world” and this imagined space of illusion and constructed meaning.

Wider Connections

Ian Ingram—Divining
Antoine Watteau: The Drawings
Daniel Bordet—Les 100 Plus Belles Images de Pierrot

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The Eye of the Beholder: Platon’s “Portraits of Power”

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Photography, Politics with tags , , , , on December 9, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER
© Liz Hager, 2009. All Rights Reserved

Platon—Muammar Qaddafi, 2009, photograph (courtesy The New Yorker).

Since the early 1990s, British photographer Platon has enjoyed unparalleled access to personalities and potentates. Nowhere is his work with the latter group more effectively displayed than in the recent photographic essay “Portraits of Power,” which appeared in the December 7th issue of The New Yorker.  The accompanying blurb provides entertaining background:

This past September, when nearly all the world’s leaders were in New York for a meeting of the United Nations, Platon, a staff photographer for this magazine, set up a tiny studio off the floor of the General Assembly, and tried to hustle as many of them in front of his lens as possible. For months, members of the magazine’s staff had been writing letters to various governments and embassies, but the project was a five-day-long improvisation, with Platon doing his best to lure the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chávez, and Muammar Qaddafi to his camera.

For the few minutes available in this chaotic setting to prepare and capture an image, it was the photographer who held the true power. Absent were the endless preparation, preening and pretense of a more formal studio environment. In these spontaneous moments, has Platon managed to capture the true essence of his subjects? That often depends on the context in which the images have been displayed and the eye of the beholder.

It is not a mystery why Ahmadinejad and Obama occupy the first spread (in the magazine). I didn’t wish to read too much into the obvious difference in their format (the former was shot in color; the latter in black and white); and yet I thought I detected a particular glint in Ahmadinejad’s eyes. Was it bravado or just the germ of a new scheme designed to annoy the West?

In his portrait Boris Tadić (President of Serbia) seems to emit kind-heartedness and benevolence. But he’s been paired in the magazine presentation (though not online) with Stjepan Mesić (President of Croatia), suggesting an altogether different reading. I could not help but ponder their respective faces for remnants of the intertwined and unhappy history of their two countries.

Above them, perhaps as an intended counterpoint, Brian Cowen (Ireland) and Gordon Brown (UK) have been joined in the amicable grin of inescapable fraternity.

Most of the African delegation has been grouped together (again in the magazine presentation), and I wondered whether their individual expressions—laughing, pursed lips, eyes averted, and no apparent emotion—reflected the current outlook their respective citizenry.

As I scanned the online grid, one disarming thought predominated—for all their worldly power, these people looked surprisingly normal. Pretty much indistinguishable from the rest of humanity. Paul Kagame (President of Rwanda) could be an accountant, except that he happens to be Africa’s biggest success story.  Adury Rajoelina (Madagascar) might work as an engineer at Google,  were he not the youngest President in the bunch, having come to power in a coup. Michelle Bachelet might be been someone’s very cool aunt; well, she probably is that, along Chile’s first female President.  In these images once again is revealed the paradox of the human face—i.e. in the countenance of one is reflected the multitude.

Sometimes the most disarmed was the photographer himself. Of Qaddafi Platon notes:

This picture was probably one of the most intimidating moments I’ve had in my life. . . Obama had just arrived with a huge security entourage and then of course Qaddafi chooses that moment to come and sit for me. So as he’s walking towards me there’s probably 200 people following him. It was just like a crazy,  intimidating circus. And then I start noticing that the American secret service guys who are guarding the steps of the room where Obama is, their eyes are darting around really really fast. They’re looking at each other in a very aggressive way, because they see this chaos coming toward them.  And he (Qaddafi) comes up to me completely in slow motion. . . He’s got no eyes, his eyes are so dark, I couldn’t see them.  I felt like I was in a weird dream.

Platon—Silvio Berlusconi, 2009, photograph (courtesy The New Yorker).

And, finally, there was my personal favorite, Silvio Berlusconi, for its perfect readability. No guessing here—the naughty smile of an impudent man!

Wider Connections

“Portraits of Power” Slide show
Platon’s Republica collection of 120 of the photographer’s works.

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