In 2017 I first started working on my portrait series ‘the Legacy’. The portraits are based on photos of unknown people, which I found in a recycling/thrift shop on a CD-ROM titled ‘oma Jansen 100 jaar’.
I started painting the first portrait without any particular plan in mind, driven by my need to continue to paint during moments when I wasn’t working on larger paintings; it was a means of filling time with a smaller project. As a figurative painter and ‘portrait’ lover, this was a natural course of action for me. As I progressed, the idea started to take shape of setting a goal of completing 100 of such portraits, with every portrait numbered (in the order of creation) and named. These names are fictitious, and based on a likeness to a celebrity, or the work by a particular artist, performer or filmmaker. The likenesses only emerged after the paintings were finished, giving rise to the idea that the person portrayed is related to a celebrity.
Likeness plays an important part in portrait painting. This is particularly crucial in portrait commissions: a poorly painted but recognisable likeness is often still considered to be of a good standard. But when I look at portraits of people I don’t know, which includes most portraits in museums or online, I
find other aspects far more important. A good portrait moves me with its brush strokes, its colour, its style or a facial expression of the person portrayed. Sometimes I sense a personality and see a likeness with a member of my own family, or I feel empathy from a glint in the person’s eyes, or the atmosphere of the painting as a whole moves me. In addition to that I don’t see the challenge or the adventure in copying a photographic image in paint; trying to capture someone’s likeness can be a
significant hindrance in painting freely. I experienced that in 2016, when I undertook to paint a portrait of my mother.
In contrast, the unknown people on the discarded photos were a continued source of inspiration over the years. They offered me the space and the freedom to experiment with technique, shape, colour, exaggeration or abstraction.
The series is characterised by the different styles that emerged naturally: they vary, just like colours can. The series has also given me insight into the different ways styles, the atmosphere and signature of a work are interlinked.
I chose the title ‘the Legacy’ because the photos, found amongst recycled goods, form the starting point for the series. Finding personal photos amongst goods that have been discarded raises all kinds of questions in my mind, for instance where my personal legacy will eventually end up. But I also think
that the choice of title and the names of the individual portraits are a reference to coincidence, which has been a recurring theme in my work since ‘the Lucky Star Gallery’, a spatial artwork that I created in 2015.
Displaying all the portraits together also triggers the imagination: the viewer will try to establish a connection or an underlying concept, which I leave to the viewer without further explanation.
Now that I’ve completed over 100th portrait, I intend to continue the series.
(translation Nigel Hubée)
Note from the artist,
Jan 2022 - I ran out of photos that I found. For the new upcoming portraits , nr 100 to 200, I decided to use the photos I took of passers-by at the Tilburg fair a few years ago as inspiration. My plans to make a book dedicated to all the portraits in the legacy series are still alive.
Early 2016 I found a collection of photo albums in the garbage. They used to belong to an unknown lady who apparently lived in the apartment building next to my studio. While leafing through her albums, these memories from a stranger recalled my own memories. I decided to use these found pictures as a starting point for my new paintings.
While painting, I gradually release the photographic image and give more space to my own interpretation. Memories, frustrations, fascinations and actualities enter the painting to evoke estrangement from the original scene. I want to force coincidence by adding new layers and painting techniques . I interact with unexpected picturesque changes and emphasize or reduce what shapes, lines and colors evoke. In this creative process I recognize a cat and mouse game in which the brain and intuition are intermittent. The ultimate image is the result of an exciting creative process and tries to attract the viewer , and especially myself, to the world of imagination
In 1990 I graduated from the art academy. During the academy years it was dogma that everything happened for a reason and that coinscidences don't exist. I felt like I was constantly analysing and controlling the creative process. I tried to work with different media and in different disciplines to find spontaneity in what I was doing without immediately asking 'why'. Finally I concluded that this approach of creativity didn't work for me. It took more than 20 years to leave the academy indoctrination behind me.
In 2011 I started creating ceramics sculptures, which where combinations of ceramics and trash and I gradually managed to let intuition became an essential factor while creating. The creative process became more and more an interaction between ratio and feeling, The inexplicable became my fascination, a powerful factor of great expression which challenges imagination.
Slowly I became aware -and accepted- that the concept became nothing more than a good starting point that could be waived for the benefit of the visual art.
In 2016, 26 years after graduation, I reinvented painting.
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