LOOKING AT STRANGERS TO FIND MYSELF
Over the past year—while searching for my next project—I’ve spent at least one day a week painting observationally from a live model as a way to keep my hand, eyes, and mind sharp. Each time I sat down with a model, I chose to view the subject through the filters of one challenge or another (finding subtle volume in darker values, pitting warm and cool colors against one another, or sometimes simply chasing a likeness for 90 minutes, for example). This observational work was rather unlike much of my routine image-appropriating studio practice, and it quickly became a valuable opportunity to expand my visual vocabulary and perceptive abilities.
Regardless of any given week’s challenges, I kept the format, ground, and medium consistent – miniature, acrylic paintings on paper. Having those variables remain consistent gave me more confidence to explore the unfamiliar people in front of me.
After the first few dozen paintings, I began to see the amalgamation of these portraits and body parts as surprisingly autobiographical. The choices presented in each piece seemed to embody a specifically temporal mood or energy; seen together in a linear arrangement, they felt like an archive of my past emotional and mental states. These tiny records of other people became an unintended presentation of myself.
Of course, there were some weeks when the challenges I gave myself were too much for my current abilities or my available emotional or mental reserves, and there were some weeks when the painted product felt as though it’d successfully addressed my self-imposed trials.
These 25 pieces represent a sample of the successful weeks.
Certainly—when taken individually, each painting is still intended to capture something of the sitter, their context, their time. But as a group, this series of paintings gives the viewer a clear sense of my priorities as a painter, of the lenses through which I view my world, and of the degree of scrutiny that marks my interactions with strangers.
Ultimately, this project has shown me that if I take the time to reflect on how I see those around me, I stand to gain a much more thorough understanding of my own prejudices. I have to challenge myself to see my communities more deeply, to appreciate even the strangers around me more totally.
-Adam Mysock, October 2019