For the past few years the Art and Design Department at Queensborough Community College has organized a juried exhibition to showcase the exceptional work of our students across artistic disciplines. Looking through past catalogs and at the work selected for this year’s show, the numerous portraits and self-portraits are especially striking and relevant. As our lives are increasingly shaped and presented online - through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. - it can be suddenly refreshing to look at what may appear to be a tired art school standby; the traditional portrait. Instead of the fractured persona that emerges in timeline form from our digital posts, these portraits present a clear perspective, with definitive features and idiosyncrasies, which produce empathy in addition to "likes."
Naomi Paul's Les Infant De Derunnet, is a clear example of this ability of art to move beyond depiction. Paul’s black and white photograph shows two young girls crowded at the end of a hallway leaning into each other against a closed door. Their facial expressions and body language conflict slightly, clearly expressing the shy excitement of these girls. The strong perspective felt in the cramped hallway works to heighten this effect, formally containing them, but allowing their emotions to be clearly conveyed. Using the casualness of a snapshot, the photographer deftly presents the girls' surely fleeting response to being photographed.
Conversely, Fei An's portrait of a woman shows what can be revealed when an artist looks closely at their subject over a long period. An's pencil drawing is carefully rendered emphasizing highlight and shadow over precise line to describe the sitter's face. The artist focuses on the face and hair, only suggesting the neck and shoulders. Although the subject's expression is direct and almost stern, there is a slight asymmetry around her eyes that seems to soften the entire portrait and allow the viewer to connect with the woman depicted.
Harry Kelminson's photograph of a young man in a nondescript backyard further shows the ability of these works to extract emotion from a seemingly inconsequential moment. Using a formal rhythm of light and dark, Kelminson places his subject standing in front of a white fence, only a basketball and broom in the background. The man in the image has his shirt off and poses slightly turned from the photographer, his hands casually and confidently resting in his pockets. As in the other portraits, the artist has chosen to allow the body of the subject to speak clearly - describing complex emotions directly to the viewer.
Self-portraits are also well represented in the exhibition. Employing a form familiar to all art students, Tracy Leung's self-portrait painted from a mirrored reflection handles this type of self-expression by using color and humor to reveal her personal sensibilities. Presenting herself in three-quarter view on a yellow background, Tracy smiles slightly. Her loose brushwork, especially in the blue highlights in the hair, provide a sense of lightness and openness in her chosen portrayal of herself.
Less familiar, and more fantastical is Diego Chafloque's digital self-portrait. Here, the artist has taken a portrait and through digital manipulation in Photoshop transformed himself; adding feline features and a glowing moonscape behind him. By seamlessly adding multiple layers of fur, nose and eyes Chafloque has left only his hair, lips and shirt apparently untouched. Creating a hybrid depiction of himself, he has taken away many of the cues we use to recognize and know another person, but in their place he has created new ways to read his decisions and methods of self-presentation.
With their portraits, these artists represent the dialogue of all the artists in this exhibition with their community at Queensborough. They are a generation deeply shaped by and participating with the digital technologies of our time, but they are also engaged with a longer artistic tradition. Merging these influences, they successfully communicate and frame their experience of our world and place within it in as many ways as possible.