One to Another

Project Overview

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The Savannah College of Art and Design Presidential Fellowships for Faculty Development provide opportunities for SCAD faculty to enhance their teaching skills or contribute to professional, scholarly or creative development.

Sandra Reed is one of fourteen fellowship recipients for this cycle.

The fellowship project in brief: To explore the companion portrait format, which bespeaks rigid convention, and in many ways, exclusion; to place contemporary families within this form, such as same-sex and multiracial couples, and other unions that are indicative of contemporary times; of which I consider all to be positive role models in general and in specific.

The goals and objectives of the fellowship project are outlined below. Completed actions are discussed in the pages and categories, at right.

Project Goal 1. Model professional practice.
Objective 1. Renew individual creative practice.
Objective 2. Revisit the subject of human likeness.
Objective 3. Study historical companion portraits.
Objective 4. Explore contemporary themes within an established portrait tradition.

Project Goal 2. Offer related study opportunities for SCAD community.
Objective 5: Offer three Portrait Sessions for SCAD community.
Objective 6. Exhibit one or more pendant pair at the SCAD Museum.
Objective 7: Highlight historical pendant portraits in the SCAD Museum permanent collection, such as Mr. & Mrs. Greatorex by Joseph Wright of Derby ca 1790 through programming (artist talk or other presentation) for the SCAD and Savannah community.
Objective 8: Document work for SCAD Digital Image Database and personal website.

Project Goal 3: Participate in larger community of artists and educators.
Objective 9: Seek opportunity to present related paper at SECAC 2010.

The award is based upon selection criteria including the following:

1. The extent to which the award will enhance the future performance of the individual’s duties as a faculty member.

2. A clear indication that the award will benefit students, the department and the institution.

3. Length of time since previous funding was awarded by the college.

4. Evidence of the applicant’s record of teaching, scholarly or creative activity.

5. Merit of the project as described in the narrative (significance of the project to the discipline, appropriateness of the budget request, project design, feasibility of the objectives, etc.)

Reed received a stipend to augment costs of study travel, studio supplies, model recognition, framing, and documentation. The name of this website, One to Another, is based on the relationship that exists between Reed and the portrait subjects, as well as (more apparently) the relationship between the subjects of the related companion works.

Reed proposed the following evaluation criteria for the Fellowship:

Have works of art been completed and selected works framed? Complete list at right (Inventory). Yes, fifteen works framed.

Has SCAD Museum had the opportunity to plan an educational showing? The SCAD Museum does not currently exhibit the works in its collection to which this project relates. In lieu, two works were exhibited in DeFine Art 2010, one in 2011. Fifteen works were exhibited at DePree Art Center in End of the Line in 2011.

Has the Visual Resource Center had the opportunity to select Fellowship works for the SCAD Digital Image Database?

Have selected Fellowship works been added to the artist’s website? Yes, via this blog, which is linked to sandrareedfineart.com

Were three Portrait Sessions offered? Yes, see Portrait Workshop category at right.

Has a panel and/or paper abstract been submitted to SECAC 2010 (deadline Jan 1, 2010)? Yes, “Companion Portraits and the Contemporary Family” was accepted for and presented on the About Face session at SECAC 2010 in Richmond, VA.

About the Project:

Pendant portraiture historically features a man and woman in celebration of betrothal or marriage. Each companion portrait is a resolved and stand-alone work in itself: unlike a diptych, the works are not physically attached to one another. Each work is visually related to its companion by the pose, gaze, lighting, and setting of the subjects; formal elements such as color and value; materials such as media and support; format (the size and shape of the painting); and frames. Each portrait gains new meaning by its relationship to the companion image. For the purposes of this project, companion portraits will include diptych and recto-verso forms in addition to the standard separated works.

Companion portraits evolved from the tradition for commissioned triptych altarpieces to depict the donors on opposite sides of the central image. They also correspond with the rise of the nuclear family within Western civilization, and are found from the early 16 century onward most frequently in Dutch, Italian, English, and later, American collections. The scale of private residences was a factor in the popularity of companion portraiture, which more readily accommodate two smaller works, for instance, on either side of a doorway or fireplace, than one single larger work. The changing nature of contemporary family structure empowers pendant portraiture as a conceptual form. Pendant portraiture takes on additional meaning when the subjects typify contemporary relationships, such as a multicultural and same-sex couples. Single-parent families reference life expectancy and family size (an only child caring for an aged parent, once rare, is increasingly common) as well as social mores (the acceptance of unmarried or divorced parents).

Tradition places the man on the left and the woman on the right in a companion pair. The left hand side (stage right) is strongly associated with paternal authority. In companion portraits, reading left to right, one encounters the husband first. He is often shown in a pose which gestures toward his spouse or betrothed, as his gaze engages the viewer. The left side is associated with political power as well: when a photograph is taken of a handshake, the individual on the left appears dominant as his/her hand covers the hand of the individual to the right.* Even in burial, the husband is typically placed in the left-hand vault.* Although the husband is situated on the left in a majority of cases, pragmatic or conceptual reasons account for rather frequent exceptions. The man might be placed on the right (stage left) due to the appearance of a particular sitter (to achieve a flattering view); the direction of light in the studio; visual balance; or design (to incorporate attributes or props). An artist might consciously place the woman in the left-hand position, the seat of authority, for any of these reasons, as well as a conceptual statement, to characterize the relationship, or for expressive reasons.

In formal terms, illumination is a central unifying feature of companion portraits. Commonly, the primary light source may be centered between the subjects or be placed on one side. In the standard three-quarter view (angled) pose, the face of both subjects would be illuminated in the former scenario; and the face of one subject would be shaded in the latter. Separate light sources might be placed to ‘push’ the subjects together; the side (rather than face) of each subject would be illuminated in this situation. There are many other lighting possibilities and considerations (e.g., natural or artificial, high or low). The color of light may indicate cultural origins, or serve the concept. For instance, complementary colors may be used to suggest completion through opposites. Fluorescent paint may suggest spirituality.

Many companion portraits have been separated. A striking case in point is the del Porto family pair. Painted by Veronese for their Venetian home, the painting of mother and daughter is in the Walters Museum and the painting of father and son is in the Ufizzi. If a powerful family lineage cannot hold the companion pieces together, then what can? Documentation (such as the project blog), and experts in provenance will help determine the existence of a companion work.

The pendant portrait form is not limited to the relationship of marriage. There are historical examples of sibling pendant portraits, such as a pair of sisters painted by David, and the Spencer siblings by Gainsborough. In Memling’s now-dismembered triptych of Abbot von Crabbe’s ordination, his mother and brother are placed in the side panels (each with their respective patron saint). Diptychs of donor and patron saint abound. Most commonly, a donor would request to be paired with the Virgin and Child. In an early Netherlandisch work, Abbess Jean du Boubais commissioned a most interesting work from Jeanne Bellagambe. A Cistercian monk, for whom she commissioned the work, is seen with St. Bernard on the right facing side; to the left is the Virgin Mary at the moment of miraculous lactation. Her portrait is featured on the back of the Cisterican monk’s portrait. It is believed that the painting is a visual statement of submission to newly-mandated rules governing convent life. Similarly, after a bitter disagreement, Thomas Jefferson commissioned John Singleton Copley to paint Samuel Adams’ portrait, and reportedly hung it in his parlor, side by side with his own earlier portrait by Copley, to demonstrate his renewed allegiance. Clearly, companion portraiture is a powerful statement of familial and political affinity.

In my opinion, the best portraits are works in which money did not change hands: the artist was not paid to create the work and the subject was not paid to model. The creative equation is freed from the restraints of commerce. It seems true, however, that pendant portraits are far more likely to be commissioned works than other portraits. In this regard, my project takes on unfamiliar territory in that I am creating pendant portraits that have not been commissioned. After more than twenty-five sessions with nine couples, no one has asked either about compensation or what happens to these drawings and other works when they are complete. The equation is one of trust and collaboration.

*Thanks to Professor Lancaster for bringing these to my attention.

SCAD community members may access the Visual Resource Center’s Digital Image Database to view several dozen companion portraits by selecting all entries under “Category” and entering “Companion” under “Subject Type.”

3 Comments »

  1. Most artists are trained in traditions so that our own creations may achieve the depth and richness built on the myriad of works which preceeded our own. Without understanding and valuing traditions, an artist will only be able to draw from his/her own intuition to make their work. Traditions offer solutions, devices, and a comfortable place to add one’s own expression. That being said, ultimately, our work reflects our time, our ideas, our world views, our emotions, our abilities both as technician and as poet. Tradition, like everything else must be subject to sacrifice to get at the essence of a concept.

    Pendant portraits offer the recipient of such works a window into a communication between the souls and characters of the portrayed as seen and felt by the artist. Ideally, when a painter paints a portrait, as he/she paints anything, his/her mind must be free to capture the essence of that moment, free from the weight of history, from expectations of the end result and payment schedule, so that the work may reflect the honesty of its time and thus have a chance to hang along side the works of the artist’s heroes. No standard of measurement can exist from conception to final strokes except those of the artist’s own ability to make magic with paint, brush, knife, and hands.

    The relationship forged between the artist and his/her subject cannot be undervalued. The artist, trained to nurture their already hightened sense of empathy, sees beyond the surface of the subject, noting posture, gesture, facial expression, and surroundings to find a poetic concept they can capture for the benefit of all. The model, amature of painting, vulnerable to the creative pursuit of the painter, surrenders to the moment so that the artist can see his/her real self. To an artist, there is no purer passage of time than when painting a subject from life; sexual, primordial, yet refined and temporal. The journey through a portrait is defined by the layers of paint, the marks of agony covered by discovery and triumph. An artist arrives at the end not by formula but by exhausting every opportunity to make the work better.

    To me, the successful pendant ensemble is more like a dyptich in that a dialog exists between both works which cannot be expressed fully were they not together. The artist lives for the opportunity to create this dialog, the underlying message not necessarily revealed to the casual viewer. As important as it is to understand and nod to tradition, an artist has to be able to pierce the fabric of all the corruptive forces surrounding him/her to get to the essence of the idea, in this case the depiction of a dialog between two souls.

    Paint!

    Comment by Andrew Petrov — September 14, 2009 @ 4:33 am

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your well developed and recognizable style ported over to portraiture.It was a rewarding tour and I shall return often and encourage others to do the same.

    Edward

    Comment by Edward — October 14, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  3. I was not at all aware of pendant portraiture before this. And yet it has some significant connections to the direction my work is going in. I am interested in researching it further and already considering ways I might incorporate it into my future work with landscapes and images from nature instead of people.

    Comment by Bernadette Waystack — January 11, 2010 @ 3:20 pm


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