September 27, 2013

"Analyzing Portraits: Obtaining A Glimpse of the Self" by Dylan Cullen

Dylan Cullen wrote this essay in response to a drawing I did recently. I like the way he thinks with the image; the way he allows the art to guide his examination of what it means to be alive.

"glimpses no. 1" conte on paper. 22" x 30" 2013

When I think of the self, I acknowledge that it is a process and not a product, an abstraction and not a reality; a developing truth that feeds off of fear and yearning. Straight from the womb we are blank canvases, and yet life experiences, the trials and the triumphs, add strokes of various colors, textures, and intensities upon who we are. Mark Horst, an artist from Albuquerque, New Mexico works synergistically with his paints as a way of pointing towards “the fleeting, the glimpsed, to[wards] the life that is always present and so difficult to touch” (Horst). Through his portrayal of a young man in a drawing entitled Glimpses No. 1, Horst explores the incomplete and dynamic nature of portraiture and, by extension, the self. For Horst, painting provides “an invitation to explore the world and ourselves” (Horst), and his work provides us with the opportunity to capture glimpses of ourselves through the portrayal of others.

As I look upon the piece, I appreciate Horst’s authoritative command over light and dark, his ability to carve the boy’s features and emotions out of nothingness, his choice to convey more than what is conceivable through the omission of color. The pastel drawing appears to follow the progression of a boy’s identity over a condensed period of time. One could argue that Horst began to sketch the boy and became dissatisfied with the portrayal, thus moving over on the page to try again. This correlates to our opinions of ourselves: we hold ourselves to certain truths, grow to find those truths inaccurate in the current moment, and must begin once again the arduous pilgrimage of self discovery. While the two sketches of the boy can be considered very similar, the slight variations in shadow, smudging, and shape suggest that we do not necessarily always change drastically, however, we are forever changing in minute ways as if we are constantly struggling between a comfort with who we are and a desire to be someone else.

By giving the work of art the name Glimpses No. 1, not only does Horst admit that his drawing represents a mere fraction of the boy’s identity, but he concedes a volatility to his work: the boy’s identity will change over time, and so will Horst’s perceptions of the boy. Additionally, the drawing is simply Glimpse No. 1 in a series of snapshots to come and is by no means a definitive portrait. We see this straightaway through the artist’s two drawings of the boy on the same piece of paper, the second portrayal being more complete in some ways and more starved in others. The medium that Horst chose to use for this piece is also very telling about the journey of the self. While Horst mentioned his love for painting in his biography, he chose to draw this piece using pastels. As exemplified by the artist’s use of pastels, some parts of ourselves are stagnant, for example one’s overall sense that they are a continuous entity, while other parts of ourselves are smudged, erased, and altered over time. Horst’s use of pastels, a delicately magnetic medium, symbolizes the depth of identity and its subsequently dynamic nature. Additionally, pastels produce very honest colors: out of any artistic medium, the pigments produced by pastels are most like those found in nature.

The self can be thought of as an agglomeration of shallow pools, each one holding a tiny portion of one’s existence. When brought together, however, these pools form a murky pond whose depth is uncertain and whose terrain is vastly unexplored. Searching for a definition of human identity in Horst’s drawing is vague, transitional, and looks different through each of our eyes. Similarly, searching for ourselves in such places takes time, patience, and a willingness to unearth the unknown. Horst’s artwork lets us know that who we are as humans is not defined by how others perceive us, nor by who we are in a singular moment, but rather by a carousel of selves that we accumulate along the path of life.