By Allison Hersh
Savannah Morning News, July 20, 2013
Irish writer Oscar Wilde once observed that every portrait painted with feeling is "a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."
The human visage serves as the focal point of "About Face: The Narrative Portrait," a provocative new exhibition on display at the City of Savannah's Gallery S.P.A.C.E. The exhibit showcases portraits by 11 local artists who use the face as a place to project hopes, dreams and fears or to explore complex issues relating to the mutable nature of identity.
"As painters, we see in our subjects something of ourselves," says Melinda Borysevicz , a talented Savannah artist whose work is included in "About Face." "As viewers, we might see our own stories in the faces before us and, possibly, wonder how a stranger could know us so well."
Borysevicz exhibits three related vertical panels in "Trinity," a portrait of three different women on dappled slate blue or crimson backgrounds. Young or old, black or white, these women hint at the multiplicity of expressions that, together, comprise female identity. The artist adorns each figure with talismanic objects, like a clutch of eggs, an animal skull, seashells or peacock feathers, suggesting the deeper, primitive, invisible web connecting women across national or cultural boundaries.
Jeff Markowsky takes the multiplicity of identity a step further in "Temple of Steve (Totem #5)," a multi-faceted portrait of a bare-chested, tattooed man with long hair. Exquisitely painted in at least nine different poses on a single canvas, Steve seems to symbolize the universal complexity of the self, with our mutable moods, hormonal rushes and ever-changing psychological states.
"If the body is in a constant state of change and movement, even when visibly â€˜still,' then why not allow the portrait to convey this change?" Markowsky asks. "My work is an effort to convey the figure in its spiritual and emotional evolution through the vehicle of gesture and the life force."
From Troy Wandzel's stacked "Face on Face" painting, with its dense flesh tones rendered in thick brush strokes, to Adrienne Stein's "Harvest Moon" elegant portrait, with its haunting Victorian elements, each of the artists offers a deeply personal perspective on portraiture, utilizing oil, acrylic and encaustic to examine issues of transformation, relationships and memory. The faces of family, friends, muses and the artist stitch together the stories that together create a life.
The narrative aspect of portraiture fuels Christine Sajecki's large-scale encaustic self-portrait, "terribly terribly lovely," which focuses on her struggle to quit smoking. She depicts herself in a white dress, exhaling a swirling cloud of smoke as she navigates a gorgeous landscape crafted from beeswax and Georgia red clay.
"To continue smoking is to promote and accelerate my own death, the end of my body on Earth," she muses. "Nicotine is one of the most difficult addictions to break. Stopping is hell, but not stopping is worse."
In an era when iPhone cameras can document everyday experiences, portraits might seem like an unnecessary extravagance. However, as "About Face" suggests, portraiture still serves a vital role in reminding us where we've come from and who we really are.