Thursday, March 31, 2011

Subject Confirmed: Arthur Wicks

After some serious umming and ahhh-ing I've decided on a subject for my portraiture project Everything.    Which means I can make some actual meaningful decisions about what I produce.  The length of the process of finding a subject was probably due to being in a new community and trying to find someone who is someone that people would want to look at and have the patience to participate in the project.  I needed someone who wasn't expecting a traditional portrait at the end of it.

The traditional portrait is a depiction of someone important like a royal or aristocrat, but these portraits seem to serve a kind of publicity for the person it portrays.  There are exceptions to the rule such as the work of Marlene Dumas, late paintings by Elizabeth Peyton and documentary portraiture.  This idea of publicity seemed to me to be the antithesis of a project about producing a work which would create an intimacy between the audience and the subject.  PR portraiture controls the engagement of the audience so that they can have only a one dimensional relationship with the subject - relationship often heavily controlled by the portrait subject due to the "customer's always right" mantra.  Though I don't have a patron, I want my work to reflect portraiture in general because it's a research project about portraiture.  It's been so difficult to decide on a portraiture subject, I was even considering making one up in the superfiction tradition of Peter Hill.  Even submitting it to the Archibald Prize next year which fraudulent qualifications of the make believe subject.  It would have at least made for a good scandal.

I kept hearing about an artist in Wagga Wagga.  The first I heard of him was at Richard Goodwin's most recent exhibition at Australian Galleries.  When I told Richard I was moving to Wagga Wagga he informed me that Arthur Wicks was the man that I needed to meet.  Once I moved to Wagga Wagga, most conversations I was having with people in the arts sector would mention his name in conversation.  Who is this Arthur Wicks?

Arthur's an artist who has worked across photomedia, animatronic sculpture and is still working today.  I went to his house yesterday to meet and greet and tell him about my portraiture project.  I had hoped to meet hi once a week for an hour at a time to do drawing studies from different angles in a kind of participant observation voyeuristic style of working which would mirror the kind of contact a psychotherapist has with their patients - a model which is based on intamcy, empathy and understanding of the psychology of the subject.

This psychological aspect appealed to me also because psychologists keep records of their interactions with patients as a confidential psychological profile which contains all the nitty gritty pathological suspicions of the subject.  This profile or dossier nicely mirrors the portrait, though it is a portrait in a language owned by a different profession and discipline.

I noticed a bit of hesitation on the behalf of my subject for such regular and intense contact with me, however, I've been given access to his studio to come and go, to find bits and pieces that help me in constructing his character and understanding him as a subject.  What he sent me home with was something way more interesting and valuable to the project.

In the 80s Wicks made this bust of his own head, from which probably all of his figures are cast.  Not only is this a bust of Wicks' head thirty years ago it's also a key ingredient to his practice as an artist.  I've been using this as a reference to depict Arthur.  I'm at a cross roads about whether I should be depicting the bust or depicting Arthur.  If I depict the bust I'm depicting Arthur associatively, but the bust has its own history and story which despite it's facial likeness to Arthur is a product of its own life experience.  Also if I paint the bust am I painting a portrait or a still life?

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