Weekly Webb: Portraits beyond the 'selfie'

2014-04-18T03:30:00Z Weekly Webb: Portraits beyond the 'selfie'By JACI WEBB jwebb@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Having a portrait painted of you or a family member used to be commonplace. Who does that anymore?

In an age of “selfies,” where everyone armed with a phone becomes an instant portrait artist, the Yellowstone Art Museum set out to focus on seductive and thoughtful approaches to contemporary portraits. The exhibit, “Face to Face, Wall to Wall,” redefines portraits.

So the question is, who should create your portrait?

Visitors may cringe at the life-size sculpture at the top of the stairs leading into the gallery for the new exhibit, which is up through Aug. 24.

The show captures unusual and innovative portraiture and celebrates the thousands of faces behind the YAM, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As part of the celebration, the YAM welcomes portraits from visitors, artists or anyone connected to the museum. You may drop photos off at the main desk or email them to Carly Fischer at membership@artmuseum.org. They will be repoduced on acetate and displayed on the windows on the first floor.

“Reciprocity,” by Mark Sijan, is one of several sculptures in “Face to Face.” It depicts a young man giving a piggy back ride to an older man. The age spots, scaly patches and blue veins on the older man’s skin in the resin sculpture are shockingly realistic. YAM Executive Director Robyn Peterson said at the recent opening reception, a board member let out a yelp when she saw the work because she thought it was real.

Contrast that work to the silliness of the 10-foot tall cardboard and mixed media sculpture, “50 ft Queenie,” by Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor. It has the big goofy face of a monster with sad eyes and a silly grin. Think the characters in “Where the Wild Things Are” made out of cardboard.

Which style would you want yourself depicted in? Silly or painstakingly real? Or maybe the abstract view that Juane Quick to See Smith and her son Neal Ambrose Smith use to find the essence of their subjects is more fitting for you.

Neal’s oil and mixed media on canvas, “Sonny Speaks-Easy” shows a red-faced man with blue hair and four eyes with a curl of smoke filled with words projecting from his gaping mouth. Juane takes an even stronger abstract style on her two submissions: “Buffalo Amulet I,” showing a stylized red bison head on a man’s body; and “Melon Mask I,” which turns three yellow-green melon halves into faces.

YAM senior curator Bob Durden said the exhibit furthers the theme, “Mind, Memory and Image.”

“It celebrates the time in human evolution when our species became self-aware, moving from an existence that was charged with purely instinctual or inherent responses

to the environment to a time when the human brain began forming more meaningful and sustaining associations based upon past and present experiences or encounters,” Durden said.

Leanne Gilbertson, an assistant art professor at Montana State University Billings and curator of the Northcutt Steele Gallery, said portraits aspire to create a likeness that captures the inner essence of the person depicted. In a talk April 17 at the YAM, Gilbertson noted that the exhibit provides a public forum to allow viewers to slow down and think critically about how the self is presented in a culture of speed and easy accessibility of visual information.

“It invites us to join a conversation about what the portrait is and means in a world where we are now almost always virtually there,” she said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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