Obfuscated portrait

I have a concept rattling around in my head I’m calling a “denied portrait” - where I obfuscate a portrait with something.

I worked on the image below over the 4th of July weekend.

I fished a Uniqlo ad from my email and found a face and an expression that I liked and began with a sketch and a color palette.

In these sketches I’m trying to map out the major planes and shapes of the head, trying to find that line where volumes change and light falls off.

When I get into painting, I usually display the reference photo on my television while sitting on the couch. Or I may stand at my desk with the photo up on the monitor, with my iPad in hand. I keep a small reference on the screen while I’m working to check color and quickly compare things. Sometimes I’ll sample colors out of the photo to help me nail down a color.

When I was done I had an image I was pretty happy with, not a dead likeness but a good interpretation.

From here I pulled the painting into Sketch to begin playing with collage elements. With this particular painting I realized I can just have my big, Instagram grid collages be a separate line of work from my portrait studies. They satisfy different parts of my brain, so I don’t need to force them together every time.

Inspired by John Baldessari’s numerous works with dots over photos and possibly Magritte’s Son of Man, I find it fascinating when a picture of a thing refuses to show you the full thing. I like obscuring the subject with a shape or object. Part of this may be influenced by where I find my references. In an ad, the subject of the photo is often hidden by bold text with a call to action like “All new for summer”.

I think it creates a small bit of mystery and subverts expectations just a little bit which is fun.

I like to iterate on an idea - so I exported all the parts and pieces of this portrait as individual layers so I could build an interactive portrait - still obscured, but one where you can drag the obfuscation around the image, revealing just a little bit more.

The best part of working iteratively is that little surprises show up along the way. I saved the background as a stand alone image, and I like it. I am imagining making large paintings with barely visible photos peeking through.

I imagine this on a large square canvas with thick paint. I could imagine all sorts of colors. Big decorative squares with hidden images lurking inside.

I made some prints as well (for the permanent record) and I’m quite tempted to try the above with one of these at a small scale.