Portraiture Now Series Gets Communal

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“If one paints someone’s portrait, one should not know him if possible. No knowledge. I do not want to know him at all,” German Expressionist Otto Dix once said.  With that kind of detachment, it’s likely Dix wouldn’t have approved of the new Portraiture Now: Communities exhibit, where artist and subject are pals and everybody seems to know everybody, and in fact, a whole town, from the mayor to the fireman, hangs together like the neighbors they are in the museum's gallery.

The exhibit opens tomorrow, Friday, November 6 at the National Portrait Gallery.

The three featured painters, Rose Frantzen from Maquoketa, Iowa, Jim Torok from Brookland, Brooklyn, New York, and Rebecca Westcott from Philadelphia, offer up a mix of portraits of family members, friends and neighbors.

The figures in the late Rebecca Westcott’s full-length portraits of her fellow Philadelphia twenty-somethings are slinky and elongated. There is an urban edge to her style, despite the slightly muted colors. “I think of my paintings as separate parts," she has said, "that make up a whole world when exhibited together.”  Westcott  was  struck by a car  in 2004 at the age of 28. This is the first showing of her work in Washington, DC.

The painstakenly-created miniature portraits created by Jim Torok may be small, but the intense sharpness, color and lighting that appears almost photographic in nature entices the observer to look more closely. “Scale matters,” as curator Frank Goodyear explains. Torok’s portraits, one of which can take up to a year to complete, depict fellow New York artists like Trenton Doyle Hancock, as well as the portraits of three generations of a family from Colorado.

Rose Frantzen takes visitors back to her hometown of Maquoketa, Iowa, in both sight and sound. With her series of 180 oil portraits of fellow townspeople, she brought portraits back to the common man, literally offering her neighbors a chance to have their likenesses painted for free. When one enters the exhibit, walls full of Maquoketans greet you, their eyes gleaming, while a surround-sound recording of their voices play on a loop, telling you about life in a small town in Iowa.

"Portraiture Now: Communities" runs from November 6thuntil July 5th, 2010 at the National Portrait Gallery.

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