One of the biggest milestones in the MFA programme is the first year August seminar. At this point you are evaluated on your academic and artistic practice. This mid-year evaluation is a GO/NO GO decision that will either move you forward into the next segment of your programme, or will send you packing. I squeaked by with a C-.
My artwork was acceptable, but my theory was a bit wobbly. I moved from high school into a production environment, with very little higher education other than a year or two of a bachelor’s degree that I never finished. I was unaccustomed to the depth of the research I would need to undertake, however I am extremely good at the superficial finding of interesting tidbits. One of the things I found along my way was website after website of mug shots.
The mug shot websites collect these images from police stations around the USA. The people who have been arrested have their images taken as part of the booking process. The police arrest the person, take them to the police station, take the photo, take their finger prints and then put them in a jail cell to wait for either a lawyer, or for someone to bail them out. At no point in time is this person meant to be presumed guilty. It is only by the judicial process are they meant to be tried and if guilty, then convicted of that crime. The part that made me a bit uneasy is that these images are distributed throughout the internet, yet no claims of guilt can be attached to these people until that judicial process happens.
I am not naive enough to image that these people are all innocent, but, I thought that perhaps, once that mug shot is taken, the truth no longer matters. The image is mediated, not by interference, but by the context of how it came to exist. Their image, name and alleged crimes are displayed without due process. I was a bit horrified by that thought. The more I searched the more disturbed I became by this practice. I decided to paint some of the people in these mug shots as a way of drawing attention to something that I felt needed to be discussed.
I chose two types of people to paint and I found that my choices has some negative connotations that wasn’t part of my intent. I chose older men, in their 60′s or older, who appeared to be angry by the situation they were in and I chose women who are roughly my daughters age. I felt that these two groups had some similarities which was displaying in their emotions of the situation. They both had a strength and a vulnerability that I was drawn to and who I could have a sympathetic relationship. The images below were the paintings that I displayed at the Pearce Gallery in Auckland.
My artist statement is below:
In my works, I am trying to create a sense of unease, but also a balance between attraction and repulsion. The reference materials used for inspiration have very rigid parameters, beyond my control, that allow me to focus on process and production rather than trying to construct a scene.
The use of mug shots creates a sense of unease that influences my mark, but ultimately the narrative is delivered through the emotions of the subject rather than through manipulation of the image.
Another part of my process is the inventing of details that have been lost through the compression of the images, meant to be a way to store data, rather than to convey clarity and detail. Because of this lack of clarity, I strive to create plausible details that are age and gender appropriate and that don’t add to or distract from the emotional reading of the subject of the mug shot.