Artwork / Archives / Subjective

portrait of a man painted very close up portrait by Oregon artist Becca Bernstein paintings of Becca Bernstein by Gwenn Seemel and herself portrait of a dad by his daughter and by another artist portrait of the same man painted by a friend and by his daughter Kristan Seemel painted by his sister and by Becca Bernstein a little girl painted by a friend and by her mother two portraits of the same woman by different artists Annie Seemel painted by Becca Bernstein and by her daughter self-portrait Gwenn Seemel and painting of her by Becca Bernstein David Vanadia painted doing Tai Chi Gwenn Seemel’s portrait of her partner

A blind collaboration between Becca Bernstein and myself, this series is a portrait of our two families. For it, Becca and I have painted ourselves and each other, as well as our parents, partners, and other relations. Subjective consists of two views each of ten subjects: twenty paintings of loved ones immortalized once by a stranger and once by their kin. This series reveals that there is much more to portraiture than mere imitation.

Portraits are very good at pretending. They convince you that they are human by inviting you to talk to them as you would their subjects. They call out to be named for the people they purport to represent: a portrait of mom naturally becomes “mom’s portrait” or simply “mom” in conversation. Portraits are deft impersonators, but they are not the person themselves—and not just because they are made of pigment and binding instead of flesh and blood.

A portrait is not a painting of a person because it is actually a painting of two people, or, more specifically, the space between those two people: the subject and the artist. When an artist paints an individual, she is actually painting a complex union of who that person presents to her and who the artist perceives the person to be, all filtered through a kaleidoscope of visual, societal, historical and psychological contexts. In that sense, the subject of a portrait is not actually the subject of that portrait. The subject of a portrait is the relationship between the artist and her sitter, whether momentary or lifelong.

Subjective, a series by Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel, at the Nort View Gallery at Portland Community College
photo by David Vanadia

“[Bernstein and Seemel share] an ability to see their portrait models as more than just flesh and figure.”

- Margie Boulé, The Oregonian, January 2010

Subjective, a series by Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel, at the Nort View Gallery at Portland Community College
photo by Gwenn Seemel

“It’s an intriguing concept.”

- Richard Speer, The Willamette Week, January 2010

“Their blind collaboration captures the subjectivity involved in portraiture, battling its reputation as a mere act of replication, a lesser form of photography.”

- Visual Arts Readers’ Pick, The Portland Mercury, January 2010

Subjective, introductory essay by Richard Brilliant
Subjective the book

Dr. Richard Brilliant, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, authored the foreword for the exhibition’s catalog. The price of the book includes shipping within the United States.


Subjective, a series by Becca Bernstein and Gwenn Seemel, at the Corvallis Arts Center
photo by David Vanadia

This project was made possible by the generous support of the Celebration Foundation. It showed in January 2010 at the North View Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and in March 2010 at the Corvallis Arts Center. In April 2010, it was exhibited at the Pence Gallery in Bend, and a year later it appeared at the Art Festival Museum in Edmonds, Washington.