Face Making

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

Portraits of covering, portraits of flaunting

2013 . 08 . 24 - Comments / Commentaires (15)

- -—[version française]—- -

Not too long ago, I was chatting on the phone with a potential client about the timeline for a project. When I suggested we meet sooner rather than later to further discuss the work, the client responded with: “woah, wait now! Do you have children?”

His question threw me. For one thing, I was confused at first about why he wanted to know this, especially in the context of making plans. For another, I not only don’t have kids, but it’s very likely that I can’t. 

I took a breath and put the conversation back on track. “I work for myself, so my time is my own.” But that wasn’t enough for the client. Again: “do you have children?”

For a heartbeat, I wanted to cry at him over my infertility. I wanted to make him deeply uncomfortable. I wanted to make sure he’d never again ask that question of someone he was speaking to for the first time.

Instead I simply told him “no.”

drawing of an African American woman

drawing of Blue

The intrusive question. The “where are you from?” and the “why are you in a wheelchair?” as well as the “can I touch your hair?” that are part of living in society. 

I know I’ve been on the asking end of such boundary-crossing inquiries even though I’m aware of how hurtful and annoying they can be from the other end. And I’m fascinated by the natural human curiosity that prompts them as well as by the lengths we sometimes go to in order to avoid them.

So I’m going to paint about it.

drawing of a black woman

drawing of Molly

My upcoming series, Cover/Flaunt (which I renamed Empathetic Magic in March 2017), explores the way we minimize or emphasize different facets of our identities in order to navigate mainstream culture. It’s a series of portraits of individuals or couples who each have an aspect of their appearance or their selves that tends to be perceived of as a disadvantage.

And all the subjects will be painted twice: once how they feel they cover, or how they feel they should cover, or how they have been asked to cover; and once how they flaunt, or how they wish they could flaunt, or how society thinks they flaunt. Participants will include a disabled person, an elderly person, a fat person, a hairy person, someone who struggles with mental illness, a person of color, an asexual person, a gay couple, a lesbian couple, a transgendered couple, a very feminine woman, and a single mother—and these identities often exist within the same individual, since we are, after all, complex creatures.

drawing of two lovers

drawing of Blue and Molly

The series is meant for those of us who believe we are accepting of others, while at the same time maintaining that fat means a person is unhealthy, that a hairy back is gross, and that mental illness is just people overreacting. This work is for the judger and the judged in each of us. 

Cover/Flaunt is about understanding why I don’t make a scene when people ask me if I have children but instead I flaunt my infertility in my art. These portraits are about searching for an authentic expression of self while participating in society.

- The fat nude model
- “We don’t want to talk about it.”
- Disability and my sense of self

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Drawing - Empathetic Magic - Endometriosis - Feminism - Portraiture - Practice -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(15) Comments / Commentaires: Portraits of covering, portraits of flaunting

-- Theresa -- 2013 . 08 . 24 --

What’s the rest of the story? Did he only want to work with you if you did have kids? Or didn’t? Did you ever learn the reason behind the question?

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-- kate powell -- 2013 . 08 . 24 --

yes.  is there a rest of this story?

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 08 . 24 --

Sorry!  I guess I should have specified: kids make scheduling difficult for him in the summertime when they’re out of school…

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-- Virginia Belt -- 2013 . 08 . 24 --

You know I don’t have children either, and like you most likely couldn’t have them, but my first thought when your client asked about children was scheduling- not literally have children? It’s so interesting how we filter. On another day I might have taken it as you had….I love humans trying to communicate! I love this project go go go go…

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-- Jessica -- 2013 . 08 . 24 --

This is fascinating. I’m really intrigued at how you will be able to paint mental illness; of all of the ones listed, it’s one that is “unseen.” And you know, with the endo thing as you’ve talked about before, it’s always a challenge to have a disability that is “invisible” (and it’s an advantage as well, of course). Really looking forward to seeing your interpretations!

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 08 . 25 --

@Virginia: Thank you!  It is really funny how on different days things hit us differently.  We are such fragile and changeable beings.

@Jessica: I’m looking forward to seeing how I’ll paint mental illness too.  It never ceases to amaze me how much the participants in my portrait series lend to the project.  It’s so much more than a likeness!

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-- Jeanette House -- 2013 . 08 . 29 --

Gwenn, I’m super excited about this series; I think it’s genius and the how-it-came-about story really resonated for me. Having had ME [CFS] and FMS all these years, I still fight to conceal those inner fury moments when people tell me, “Oh, but you don’t LOOK sick!”... Gah! So yes, Cover/Flaunt: omgosh, awesome. x

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 08 . 29 --

Thanks Jeanette!  A theme for me these days is to really work at generosity—with regards to the motivations of others I mean.  I’m practicing seeing the positive or neutral motivations before seeing the negative.  It’s really hard for me…!

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-- June Osborne DiPisa -- 2013 . 09 . 09 --

Dear Gwenn, friend, artist extraordinaire, woman like myself…. I have enjoyed getting to know you through your blogs. I applaud your bravery in addressing what you have termed, a disability.” This is meant to give you courage to believe beyond the seen. Do not give up hope if you wish to have a child one day. I have seen miracles happen. I once worked in a church school with a teacher who was termed as being unable to conceive. I remember seeing her leave a church service in tears during a service, probably around Mother’s Day, when Mom’s and children were being uplifted all that goes along with expounding on motherhood. My heart went out to her knowing her emotional pain. After many years of life’s destinies, she and I are now FB friends. I was so thrilled to see photos of her attending her daughter’s wedding, and how that child was a perfect blend of her mother’s and father’s looks. See. miracles do exist. I am a strong believer in God with good reason behind me to support that belief- very personal interaction through a vision of Christ meeting me at a crossroad in my life. Gifting you with hope for your heart’s desires-  June Osborne DiPisa

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 09 . 16 --

@June: Thank you for sharing that story!  My partner and I don’t know that we want to have children, but infertility is difficult even without that consideration…

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-- Dana -- 2013 . 10 . 02 --

I applaud you Gwenn. I think this series will strike a chord for everyone (it sure did for me) and I cannot wait to see what you do! I am such a fan of your art! Your mark making is like no other. Add to that the rich stories and meanings behind each one and I am left speechless.

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-- vicki krohn amorose -- 2013 . 10 . 03 --

Gwenn, I so appreciate this concept, your writing about it, and the artwork.

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 10 . 04 --

Thank you both so much, Dana and Vicki!

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-- Sheila -- 2017 . 01 . 20 --

I think it is wonderful that you are exploring this topic with visual art. It is such a visual thing! Looking forward to following along. BTW~ I just(this morning) finished writing a chapter called “Vanity, Mindfulness, Standing Up, and Kaleidoscopes” about some related aspects of these same things. Not trying to spam your comments. So, I will send you the link in an email grin
~Wishing you a low pain day blessed with passion-worthy inspirational moments!

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 01 . 23 --

@Sheila: Looking forward to it! I don’t consider sharing content spamming, unless you’re a company promoting a product or service—different from an artist promoting art and/or sharing content for me!

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