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Q & A with Dede Young

DY:  Why do you make this work?

MM:  To express what it feels like to be alive today, in twenty-first century America.  That is the immediate catalyst.  But it is also a response to the history of painting, an awe-inspiring intellectual inheritance.  Of the traditional genres of painting – history, portraiture, landscape, and still life – it seems to me that portraiture is still full of possibility.  People are the focus of our day-to-day lives, particularly in urban centers.  And to distill how it is that I perceive them – visually, socially, and emotionally – seems a worthwhile endeavor.  My hope is to capture the psychological depths of each subject and render them in such a way that the viewer can empathize.  Also (due to the mediated nature of the images) there is a sense of detachment.  These two opposing feelings are experienced simultaneously, reflecting the way in which, in our increasingly interconnected world, one can feel more and more isolated.

DY:  In what way are your paintings a reflection on contemporary times?

MM: They reflect the visual appearance of today in several ways.  The artificiality of the palette resembles synthetic coloring, LED lighting, and cosmetics.  The stretching makes evident digital alteration. Usually Photoshop is used to make the impossible possible or the ordinary extraordinary.  Here it is calling attention to itself in an uncomfortable, unnatural way.  The paintings also react to the human condition as I see it.  There is a sense of alienation and anxiety in the selection of the socially marginalized.  They have been chosen from a Central Casting of endless mediated imagery in order to be isolated in fields of color.  The focus is on people and how they feel in the midst of constant change. 

DY:  Your paintings show an interest in narrative. If you have any literary sources that inspire the work, what are they?

MM : The initial impetus was to construct a world for the character types in the portraits.  My desire was to create a space in which they could exist.  This could be seen as a novelistic urge and I do greatly admire the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov and Martin Amis.  Each of these writers tends to feature decidedly unheroic protagonists and psychologically complex stories.  They are particularly adept at portraying characters as they unravel. I envy the pre-Modern painters in that they had a shared reservoir of myths and Bible stories from which to draw.  It would be nearly impossible to think of a text which could function in that capacity today.

One book which did serve as a direct inspiration for a painting is 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde.  I find compelling the idea of a fictional portrait, a painting which is central to a story but does not exist in reality.  The picture manages, through the machinations of the plot, to reveal the subject's vanity and complete moral decline.

DY:  How do you determine the source of light in your work, and how important is light to the work?

MM: Lighting is central to the work.  Along with color and the occasional exaggeration of form it enforces a sense of subjectivity.  By this I mean a reality influenced by temperament and individual idiosyncrasy.

The first step in determining the source of light is to conceive the forms sculpturally.  Then a single direction is chosen which will bring the forms into relief and create a sense of drama.  So the light functions both illusionistically and metaphorically.  Light and shade create the illusion of three-dimensionality by following the optical laws of nature.

The metaphorical deployment of illumination, however, is more complex. Light can lend the work a cinematic quality, making ordinary moments seem pregnant with meaning.  Hazy or atmospheric lighting conditions convey a sense of mystery.  Lighting from more than one source (particularly if they contrast in temperature) creates a sense of discord, a jarring feeling.  The light reveals events not only in relation to sunlight, moonlight, candlelight, or artificial light.  It communicates the emotional impact and the perceived priorities- what is most important in each picture.

Copyright © Mitchell Marco 2015