About the Paintings of Heads

One of the first things I ever drew was a face. I haven’t held onto the sketch, but it was probably an oval with two ovals with dots in them for eyes, two dots for nostrils, a horizontal line for a mouth, and some wavy lines representing hair. I’ve been making pictures of faces ever since. 

The only time I ever stopped painting faces was when I was midway through a picture and realized I was just assuming where everything should go. I mean, I was no longer making a unique face but was just painting from memory every other face I’d ever seen. I was making a nose the way I remembered to draw a nose, and I put it between two eyes drawn the way I remembered to draw eyes. It turned out to be less a face than a symbol representing one. There was no longer a human presence in it. It was about a year before I painted another portrait, or human of any kind.

I only came back to painting faces because I couldn’t go without it, but I decided, that if I were going to allow myself to depict them again, I couldn’t take anything for granted. I’d have to really see them. This meant prolonged scrutiny and study of the same few faces from various angles and under different lighting conditions until I could capture something of the presence of a living human.

The resulting pictures are mostly small, rarely larger than my hand. ( I once fit an entire exhibit in a suitcase.) They are designed to be seen up close by a viewer who has a few moments to spend in silence with them. I often display them in shadow boxes so that the glare from the glass makes them more difficult to see, requiring the patient viewer to get up close, peering at them through the dark reflection of their own face.