Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Creativity and limitations

2010 . 06 . 07 - Comments / Commentaires (0)

Ever since I started out, I have made work in conceptual series. The resulting bodies of work always had more appeal than a disparate group of unrelated paintings, and it was more fun to improvise on a theme than to create without direction. The focus of each series stimulated my creativity by limiting the scope of my exploration.

In 2003 I opened my first professional show, Critics Critiqued, portraits of Portland art dealers, and a series reversing the power dynamic on the so-called gatekeepers of the art world.

In 2004 I opened Snow Days, portraits of television news anchors and meteorologists, and another series about power.

In 2005 I opened twin series Public Faces and Private Masks. The former consisted of portraits of Oregon public officials; the latter was made up of portraits of death workers. The two series intersected where the government must be involved in the most private moment of our lives—Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act.

In 2006 I opened Mutually Beneficial, portraits of men I met online juxtaposed with their personal ads. The series includes my partner.

In 2007 I opened Swollen, a series of “before” and “after” portraits of women undergoing physical transitions.

In 2008 I opened Apple Pie, allegorical portraits of mostly first and second generation Americans, and a series which addresses what it means to be an American.

In 2010 I opened Subjective, my collaboration with Becca Bernstein, and a series that reveals how relationships affect portraiture.

In all of that, the pattern is obvious. While I may be addressing wildly different themes, I always do it with portraiture. The first question I ask myself when beginning a new series is this one: whose portraits will I be painting? I may be interested in a particular topic, but I have to figure out what group of people will best help me to explore that topic. The subjects are the boundaries within which I stretch and search and find new nooks and crannies and entirely undiscovered territories of creativity.

In the past, I have photographed subjects for each upcoming series as I finished the paintings for my current one. It was a frenetic pace, but one that was good for keeping me focused and moving as well as keeping me from losing my momentum and my nerve. With Subjective up and toured to three venues already, I should be diving into another series of paintings.

yellow flowers on blue ones

Instead, I’m taking a few months to choose my next project. In a sense, I’ve given myself a new limitation: thinking before moving. It’s the opposite of my usual way of working, and it’s forgoing momentum in favor of a fresh start. It’s a little scary, but I’m pretty sure I’m beginning to like it.

- Art in a series / L’art en série
- Why portraiture is different
- When does repeating oneself become a style?

CATEGORIES: - English - Practice -

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