‘If your residency application is successful, what do you plan to work on‘ … over the ninety days you’ll share a large studio with another working artist, in a building full of artists and arts workers, in old industrial Hamilton, Ontario?
‘Well,’ say I to me, while writing said application, ‘what have we never tried before?‘. A world full of things, I answer. ‘Then what, amongst the world of projects still undone is the one you most resist? The one you don’t want to consider because you fear to approach it?‘
The answer leaps into my mind like an outrageously dressed bugaboo jester, finger pointing exactly where I don’t want to look…
I’ve resisted commissioned work for two decades now because the whole business is rife with potential misunderstandings: client has a clear and fixed idea in their head about what they want – which has little to do with what I might envision or choose, which means that each step in the development of said painting will compromise both the client’s idea and my artistic integrity. It’s an old problem – it’s so easy for the artist to be perceived as a ‘stand-in’ for the client, who would paint the painting they see so clearly in their mind’s eye but cannot, because they’re not an artist…
The only way it works is if it’s collaborative, from the absolute beginning. Client/subject likes my work and approach, and together we build an intersected space of trust between us. This begins with a very clear confidentiality agreement – as an artist I will not share any information about my collaborator, other than what has been approved.
Client shares what he knows about themself – images, memories, traumas, insights, events, symbols, music, books, choices, yearnings, rages, curiosities… and I/we find imagery that resonates with these things. The resulting portrait then becomes partly the client, and partly my understanding of them: collaborative.
It’s intimate, this process. Relational. A respect for and a reaching across differences, to form a new understanding of both self and other. The resulting painting reveals an essence that’s both client and artist, if we’ve done our job right. It’s more than possible that it will be less about faces and heads than hearts and souls, though overlapping symbols and figures will be recognizable, or at least I anticipate.
And so, because following the thing I fear most in my artistic work always bears the most interesting results, I wrote “Collaborative Portraits” in my residency application.
In three months, with Christmas and a Masters capstone in between I think I can get ten portraits done at Cotton Factory. Four large ones (4’x4′ or the equivalent) at a $1500. entry fee, and six small (2’x2′ or the equivalent) at a $500. entry. By ‘entry’ I mean that I expect the final cost of the painting to be equal to that fee, but if the collaboration takes us down rabbit holes and onto a longer journey I may need to adjust for the final piece.
Folks who do not want their portrait painted may pay the commission fee for someone who does but cannot afford it – this might then become a 3-way collaboration.
These paintings will be shown together at the end of the residency, in Hamilton and in Owen Sound. I hope we’ll all be present to talk about the process, which I’ll also write about on this blog under the title “Portraits”, (with all confidentiality agreements firmly in place). I’ll produce a print and an ebook as well, which will be available on this blog and likely other places.
Since I began to talk about this last week I’ve received three commissions – two smaller ones and one large. That means four small collaborations are available, and three larger ones [I can’t do this with family or exes – that’s my only rule. This is not because I don’t love and value these friendships, it’s because my story and yours are too entangled for me to have any real objectivity – make sense?].
If you are interested in working with me on this December to January project, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Portrait Project” in the subject line. No questions are dumb questions – all are welcomed, so ask away!
I’m also planning an artist talk to introduce this in person on November 24, 2018 in Owen Sound. Some of my existing work will be on display there as well – I’ll be posting photos of those pieces on instagram and facebook in the days leading up to the artist talk.
In some ways I can see that that this project has the potential to build a human equivalent of the forest I lived in this summer. We share stories as trees share soil and sun. I have a growing suspicion that art for us is like mycelium to them – a connector across species that nourishes and enriches.
This is a good idea – I can feel it in my bones. Fun, challenging, intriguing – and fast. Three months begins on December 1 and ends February 28. I encourage you to consider coming with me to Hamilton, as one of ten collaborators.
Woot! More to come in the days that follow!