I’ve been doing portraits lately using a system of scumbling opaque, high-intensity color over contrasting color to hopefully achieve neutral tertiary color worlds that are also vibrant. Before the person comes to sit for the portrait I paint the room, the chair, and other objects. Eventually they come to sit for a portrait and I paint them in the rocking chair. After they leave I continue to paint the space and the objects. As objects move and change in the space, the figure or parts of the figure might disappear as I gradually paint the chair and the floor behind, around, and beneath the chair.
A few years ago, my mother was my first portrait subject. While I was painting them I would record the audio of our conversations, and with each sitting I would overdub a new soundtrack of our conversations to create a sound collage of the different conversations. The paintings that resulted from this process were a by-product of these conversations. In one of the paintings (Fading Mom) the figure is almost completely submerged in the other information in the room and in the interaction of the high-intensity colors, but it is still visible. In another (Rocking Chair) she is completely erased, or buried, in the process of painting the room after she was gone. Up until a month ago, these paintings felt like portraits, but since she died, they feel more like threnodies to me—remembrances of how she specifically inhabited the space, and how her presence informed all of the objects and spaces in the room.
I do love how when a painting is made with a person in the room, when the figure is painted out, the space of the painting still holds the sense of the person. This is one of the elements of the process of painting that feels like magic to me: the painting is made over time, and each mark and brushstroke indicates a moment and a decision made by the painter, but all the marks work together to create a unified image which can exist in an instant. The combination of multiple or thousands of moments into one moment creates this sense that a painting exists outside of our experience of time.
Image at top: Gideon Bok, Fading Mom, 48 x 33 in., oil on linen, 2022.