Homeric Portraits

A couple of weeks ago my studio advisor, David, visited me at my studio. I could tell from his opening of the conversation that he was not interested in looking at anything he had seen online: none of the portraits I have posted on my website. So I showed David the pen and ink drawings that I had taped up to a wall in an adjacent room. I didn’t know yet what I was doing or where I was going with this menagerie of pen and ink portraits, I admitted to him, just that I had been inspired by a book (a comic-like-narrative) that I had picked up at Printed Matter several weeks ago. 

We flipped through the book together (titled Some Monsters Loom Large by ) and David  asked me what I liked about it. “The narrative”, I said. “I like that it’s telling a story; but also that the story is not clear because there are no words—only images—weird images”.

David took a closer look at the wall where I had hung my pen and ink pieces and explained that they were too flat, that they needed texture, differing line weights, and hinted that I was giving myself a break by dabbling in these pen and ink sketches. “I want to see you experiment”, he advised me, “I want to see you create worlds”. We discussed the idea of collage: taking these people on my walls and putting them in other spaces that would contextualize them in a different way. 

David then pointed out the objects in my room; “use the things you love”, he said. He was specifically talking about the Greek and Indian artifacts in my studio. 

I have loved Greek mythology from when I was a child and have been to Greece three times (with a fourth trip slated for this summer). I have always been particularly attracted to Greek pottery where, in dishes, bowls, and urns you can find a story (a narrative) based on Greek myth or Greek history. 

I began to think about ways I could use this 
in my work. 

And so I conceptualized taking portraits of people I know and knew (photographs from my myriad albums) and creating “Greek urn portraits” of those people by superimposing their images into Greek-urn imagery. The idea is to choose an image that really tells the story of that person, match the person’s portrait (painted in shades of Greek-urn-orange) to elements of Greek-urn-imagery (a pair of satyrs, a few warriors, a trio of harpes, the lion skin worn by Hercules) that best suits who they are or who they were, and also provide a bit of text (as most Greek pottery had text on them to identify the characters painted on them) that tells the person’s story as I knew it. A part of their story. The part that has always stayed with me and the part that I believe we can all learn from/ identify with. 

Another layer of this project is an exercise in my ongoing concern about representation; my images are exclusively of black and Latino people. Elevating their images by placing them amongst gods, warriors, and demons—telling their stories in a visually Homeric fashion—I hope echoes the black-figuration-re-contextualizing work of Kehinde Wiley and other Black artists toying with white art history. 

My plan is (ambitious) to make about 15-17 of these Homeric portraits and that each will speak to (as Greek mythology does) an aspect of existence we all share (but not in a hard-handed way): death, love, madness, sex, and so on. 

The material will be acrylic on untreated wood panel (as David advised me to experiment with other materials). The sizes will vary with the smallest being 24X36 and the largest 30X40. So far I have two that I am working in simultaneously and a third I will be starting on Monday.