I’ve been really interested in faces lately, and I’ve been drawing/painting them… in my head. It doesn’t sound very productive, I know. Stay with me.

I’m trying to see where colors are warm and where they are cool. Where the lightest values reveal themselves (the whites of our eyes are far from white!) and what shapes are formed when one value meets another. So many artists handle these subtleties with a grace I’m still just dreaming of. I’m currently fascinated by the portrait work of artists Jennifer Balkan and Ray Turner.

Jennifer Balkan

Ray Turner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But for me, right now, it’s pretty much like air guitar but with paint. Yet even with the strokes just in my head, all this thoughtful attention to looking at both familiar and unfamiliar faces, all these beautiful discoveries (purple shadows and orange highlights to name just a few) I’m left wondering: What else have I been missing by not looking closely? What do I continually overlook because I don’t really look at all, I just affirm– yep, that’s what I thought. Yep, yep, yep. Nose, hair, chin, face. Yep.

I love art for reasons too many to name, but I believe among its highest virtues is this: It forces us to question the simplicity of what we think we see in favor of complexities that might actually be there. I can’t tell you how many times, after some focused observation, I see that a line actually moves up instead of down or that a nose is both bizarre and beautiful.

As I study faces, surprised and delighted by unexpected beauty, awed by the grace and harmony of color, I realize it would be wise to look more closely at the other things I take for granted, other things I think I know.

In a year with news cycles that have often left me in rage, tears, or just scratching my head, I’m trying to see the “us” in the fractured “them” that seems to frame all our discourse. I’m looking for subtlety and thoughtfulness in places I’ve often assumed didn’t have either.

Brene Brown writes that “people are hard to hate close up.” I’m finding this true, quite literally, as I squint at strangers in coffee shops trying to understand the contours of their faces– imperfect, compelling, beautiful, human.

 

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