“Humans are interested in other humans, whether in images or stories.” –Ira Prussat, Julia Kay Portrait Party (JKPP) member, Germany
Even with advances in digital photography, capturing a person’s essence with mediums other than a camera is still as treasured an expression as ever, and portrait parties, where artists can come together to draw and paint one another, are becoming increasingly popular.
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New York artist Julia Kay had no idea how popular her own portrait party idea would become when she started it back in 2010. After a long period of self-portraiture, Kay realized she was “hungry for another face to dwell on.” Unable to host a party locally, she instead turned to Flickr, inviting a handful of other artists to share photos online as fodder for them to create portraits of each other. Expecting only a few members, her virtual portrait party instead attracted more than 1,000 people from 55 countries around the world. Together they created an astonishing 50,000 portraits. Those experiences and creations are shared in Kay’s new book, Portrait Revolution.
Through the eyes of these portrait artists, we are offered insight into our collective fascination with other human beings. We do, after all, see other people’s faces more than we see our own, and being able to explore the face of another with freedom, and indeed encouragement, creates a chance to explore that fascination. Some of the allure is simply due to evolution, points out artist Lucy Childs who is featured in the book. “We are drawn to faces as we need to read them to survive, understand, love,” she says.
But deeper insights also emerge. Several of the artists in Kay’s book share that during the portrait process, they seemed to merge with their subjects. It becomes a contemplation on identity and on the relationship between self and others. As one artist shares, “Art offers the opportunity to look and be in the present moment.” Art becomes a meditation in itself.
For the subject of the portrait, reflecting on several interpretations of themselves from fellow artists provides its own path of self-exploration. “Each one has a fragment of the truth of me, but all of the fragments are equally real,” shares artist Giorgio Bordin. After spending three years painting more than 1,000 self-portraits, even Kay was surprised by the number of new interpretations of herself by other artists.
Seeing oneself through the eyes of others becomes a gift, and the safe and supportive space afforded by the online community is tangible. By connecting through the internet, geography no longer becomes a barrier. And without having to flatter a paying subject, the artists in Kay’s portrait party have the freedom to explore different styles. A range of techniques are used (oil on canvas, pen on paper, gouache, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, phone and tablet apps, even snow) to create sketches, mosaics, paintings, cartoons, collages, prints and digital art. Without pressure, these portraits become an art practice.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Kay’s portrait community is its ability to inspire. Through their stories, tips, and sharings, the members of the worldwide portrait party remind us of the importance of seeking a regular form of expression, and Kay invites everyone to join the revolution.
Image Credit: Rebecca S., UK by Paul Wright, UK