The portrait of Khadra painted by my spouse Pamela has inspired me lately. It's painted using a technique by which the tan paper becomes the color of the model's skin. It's Asian in practice but Lautrec copied it the technique in both lithography and painting. It lends a theatre like mood to a piece. It's a cheap trick when done badly but when done well it's magical as here in Khadra a Somali friend of Pamela. The pursuit of the exotic was a big idea in the Romantic painting in France at the time of Delacroix. He and his comrades went to Tangiers and North Afrika. And seeking exotic music or food or just cultures unlike ours became a signpost of adventure in art. And it so it remains ie. the pursuit of the exotic. the unlikely images of other visions. I have thought lately about the term outsider artist which is applied to artists like Henry Darger who work without any acquaintence with advanced visual art. Outsider does sound exotic and it is on several levels but it also suggests a sort of coherence in the field of visual art that I can't discern. It's a great age of difference; of diverse views and change great change hence the art resists categories though a myriad exist. Certainly Somalia is an outback far from the centers in Europe and Asia and North America. But trouble there in the Somali homelands has dispersed thousands of Somalis all over the world. These cultural and social dispersals create new homelands as the Jews did a hundred years ago creating a new home on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. These shifts of populations and cultural change and become new artistic elements in the host culture's life like Hmongs coming here from Southeast Asia decades ago.
It's this painting of Pamela's that brings the beauty and dreamy magic of this new culture into our home and unto the wall. Yesterday a young model was quite taken with this portrait of Khadra, whilst she posed I saw her looking at the portrait several times at times and she inquired about it and about Somalis here in the T.C. The model a young bright college student from Wayzata (her mother had prepaid for the painting of her , something I've never experienced in 30 years of painting portraits from life). Anyway I think putting that portrait in the studio has helped the models stay still and think. And anything that makes the model focus is good and the conversations that ensue also bring the sitter into a more thoughtful mood which appears in their gaze. The painting is beautiful and seductive. It's exotic sure but it's also right here in this room in Minneapolis. So it creates an opening about portraits and this odd habit of leaving pictures behind as part of our self and others combined. Compare Pam's Khadra with my collage and painted version of my friend Stu Mead with a red background and blue glowing T-shirt and I think you'll see I use a similar technique of leaving the silkscreen print of my painting of Stu open and unpainted but paint around it and reopen the composition. Exotic, I joked that it made Stu appear darker like a Turk ( hence like the people Delacroix painted in Morroco a century and a half ago). The influence we have upon each other most especially artist who live together is profound even if often in an unconcious manner. This re-paint piece is a response to paintings where the underlying areas are left unpainted. Maybe with different results but still exotic. Out there beyond the everydayness which can be numbing. The other picture is the Yo Ho Potato Chip Box design that I started appropriating in the mid-1960's as a sort of emblem of identity. The Yo Hoy Boy I made in many permutations in silkscreens and paintings and even in the Artpolicecomics. I remember the seeing campy images as very exotic and perplexing, even gender bending images like this Yo Ho Boy portrait. For me I think it was a point of origin for my fascination with images of heads , portraits I guess. And this portrait of Pam's has had a similar effect on me on a concept of beauty as an otherness. Like watching an old movies where all the actors are long dead but their images are still frisky and alive on the screen.