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Black Portrait Series
2020 - Present

What is the Black Portrait Series?

Is an ongoing series of paintings and drawings I began in 2009. exploring how narrative is created through portraiture and the removal and marginalization of the black figure within western visual culture. I'm interested in the effects of colonialism on depictions of African Americans and other marginalized peoples in western visual traditions. My most recent work is derived from the personal, referencing an archive of family photographs, documents, and oral histories. I began working with a richer and brightened color pallet influenced by nature, theater/ film lighting, and artistic styles developed in Northern California like those of Wayne Thiebaud and his former student Fritz Scholder. I apply these influences to familial portraiture using a distinctive range of complementary colors. The variety and complexity of color reflect the diversity of African American skin tones and features.

Addressing a lack of authorship

This series is anchored by a few concepts – 

  • Identity  (the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks, and/or expressions that define how we see ourselves and the way others see us)

  • Culture (the way of life of a group of people)

  • How culture shapes and informs a person’s identity

  • How culture and identity change over time

Black Portrait Series Objects: 

My wife and I love vintage picks below are some paintings based on our combs and some reference images from our collection of picks.

Pick #1
Pick #1

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Pick #2
Pick #2

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Pick #4
Pick #4

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Pick #1
Pick #1

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Muhammad Ali Picks
Muhammad Ali Picks

These are new additions to our pick collection

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Folding Pick
Folding Pick

I used to have one of these as a kid. I haven't gotten a new one yet

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Gold Pick
Gold Pick

3KINGS Legacy Gold Hair Pick (my wife bought me this one as a present)

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Muhammad Ali Picks
Muhammad Ali Picks

These are new additions to our pick collection

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Some important references:

In 2016 the project Next Rembrandt development team analyzed about 346 paintings of the famous artist. They created an algorithm that can accurately replicate the style of Rembrandt as a 3D print.
 

The team decided on their algorithm:

1. a portrait of a white man with facial hair

2. aged 30-40 years,

3. in a black dress

4. with a collar and a hat

Rembrant.gif

Images curtosey ofhttps://www.nextrembrandt.com

The Next Rembrandt is a collaboration between: ING / Microsoft / TU Delft / Mauritshuis / Rembrandthuis

Images courtesy of https:// www.nextrembrandt.com The Next Rembrandt is a collaboration between: ING / Microsoft / TU Delft / Mauritshuis / Rembrandthuis

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Images courtesy of https:// www.nextrembrandt.com The Next Rembrandt is a collaboration between: ING / Microsoft / TU Delft / Mauritshuis / Rembrandthuis

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Images courtesy of https:// www.nextrembrandt.com The Next Rembrandt is a collaboration between: ING / Microsoft / TU Delft / Mauritshuis / Rembrandthuis

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Images courtesy of https:// www.nextrembrandt.com The Next Rembrandt is a collaboration between: ING / Microsoft / TU Delft / Mauritshuis / Rembrandthuis

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“It is worth remembering that when you look at old paintings you are looking through the eyes of men, by and large… The art of, say, the Dutch golden age gives the powerful sense that we are spying on a real-world: but we are spying with male eyes, except for those exceptional women who defied their  culture”

- Jonathan Jones, Men, women and the art of exclusion, The Guardian, published on Fri 27 May 2011

Some books used for reference:

Recovering Identity: Nineteenth-Century African American Portraiture Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw

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Pierre Mignard, Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth

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Example of divide in Justus Engelhardt Kühn, Henry Darnall III  c. 1710  Oil on canvas  54¼ x 44 in

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Recovering Identity: Nineteenth-Century African American Portraiture Portraits of a People: Picturing African Americans in the Nineteenth Century by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw

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 Artists were often commissioned to render portraits by those who had become rich off transatlantic colonial expansion and a new global economy that was based on triangular trade in sugar, rum, and human flesh.

 

Historically black bodies have been objectified in the arts.  In these images for example black bodies are positioned solely to enhance the rarified white body.

Black Male Portrait Series 
2009 - 2011

The Black Male Series initially began as an exploration of iconic imagery of the black male figure, specifically those used in the blaxploitation advertisements that I grew up admiring as a kid. These posters and advertisements were often the only place outside sports that I witnessed black males portrayed as the central protagonist. I relate the bold and stylized color schemes of Blaxploitation posters with the bold color palettes and lines of Hard-Edge paintings. This practice has reference to artists like Barkley L. Hendricks who sought to correct the balance of equitable representation by creating life-size portraits of friends, relatives, and strangers that made up his world. Similarly, I was intent on expanding notions of iconic black male identities. The portraits include but are not limited to representations of gay, transgender, and non-binary representations of masculinity often excluded, even in works of African American provenance.

A few more important influences

Black Caesar 1973
Black Caesar 1973

Artist: George Akimoto

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The Mack 1973
The Mack 1973

Artist: Robert Feliciano

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T.C. Cannon Grandmother Gestating Father and the Washita River Runs Ribbon Runs Ribbon-Like, 1975 Oil and acrylic on canvas, 50 x 40 in. Courtesy of Art Bridges

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Black Caesar 1973
Black Caesar 1973

Artist: George Akimoto

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Some imagery or themes that repeat in my work

Man with halo, 2011 Graphite and Prisma Color on paper 28.5” x 28.5”

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Man with white spots (vitillgo), 2011 Graphite and Prisma Color on paper 28.5” x 28.5”

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Man with Portal, 2011 Graphite and Prisma Color on paper 28.5” x 28.5”

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Man with halo, 2011 Graphite and Prisma Color on paper 28.5” x 28.5”

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I’m really interested how the meaning of Blackness changes over time and space.  In the book Physics of Blackness: Beyond the Middle Passage Epistemology, author Michelle M. Wright argues that although we often explicitly define Blackness as a “what,” it in fact always operates as a “when” and a “where.” 

 

Some Key Questions I’m Considering:
 

If Blackness is not biological in origin but socially constructed how has the Black figure existed within the frame of art and cultural representation.

 

How can I explore the notion of and ever shifting relationship to identity?

Patterns, layers and Outer Space:

I often use layering as a way to suggest the nuanced experience of dislocation that comes with a constantly fluctuating relationship with identity. I want to reflect the vastness of space; either psychological, physical, conceptual that the Black figure exist in.

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