What is it about faces that compels us to look? They don't have to be handsome or famous to draw our attention. Any face can be interesting, captivating, or intriguing, without celebrity or accepted standards of beauty. Isn't the face what we notice first in others, whether human or animal? There don't even have to be real persons connected to the faces we see in the arts.
That's exactly what struck me about "A Face Explored," an exhibit by textile artist Susan Lane, at Vacaville Art Gallery in Northern California until December 30. The fourteen faces on the walls don't refer to anyone in particular. Lane didn't start out with the intention of capturing the visages of people she knows. Rather, she wanted to explore the process of working in a series because she'd read that it challenges one's creativity: ironically, imposing limitations can lead to expansion. The result is a body of work that clearly expresses her own voice through faces that, because of the cohesive quality of the exhibit, may seem the same yet are entirely different.
As the series evolved, Lane found herself considering the latest iteration to be her favorite thus far. But that kept changing. She started with line drawings, began to fill in shapes with color, then created new shapes and even incorporated text, all to support the mood of the piece. Split images--the two-faced look--also emerged. They're reminiscent of masks, showing simultaneously our bright side--what we want to project to the world--and our shadow side--what we prefer to keep hidden from view.
What proved fascinating is how Lane was able to combine and recombine similar elements to create a new feeling in each face. If you look carefully, you'll see the same nose structure, lips, and eyes throughout, but they don't feel repetitious in a "same-old, same-old" way. Each face is infused with an entirely unique look.
To see what I mean, check out these detail shots. You'll also notice the texture created through the application of thread, yarn, other materials, and stitching.
As I viewed the faces in the gallery, I came up with my own interpretation of emotions that I think they convey. However, I found out that my impressions don't necessarily match what Lane experienced and strived for in creating them. What we bring to or take from a work of art is not always what the artist intends. And that's okay. There are no title cards for Lane's faces because she prefers that the viewer bring her/his own story to it. Her own experience in making the faces was that sometimes there was a story about the face and sometimes there wasn't. But once a piece is completed, a story unexpectedly emerges.
Our brain wants to identify what's going on in another face, for that's part of our crucial self-preservation instinct ever since the earliest humans roamed the plains of the Serengeti so many thousands of years ago. Still, sometimes to our dismay and danger, we don't read expressions correctly. The face we see may not be true or authentic. Actors can put on many faces required in their roles and make us believe what's not actually there.
For centuries, artists have tacitly understood how important our faces are in evolution and social life. In portraying them--from ancient Egyptian renderings to modern abstract paintings--they arouse both our perceptions and reactions. Artists can capture a face as they sense it in a model, presenting it just as it appears or revealing something deeper behind the facade. Lane's faces make me want to learn more about them, even though there's no one there but the artist herself.
[For more photos, www.susanlanetextileart.com/]
Questions and Comments:
What are your favorite faces in the long history of art?
Which artist expresses faces in a way that captivates your interest? Can you explain what the attraction is?
Do you portray faces, realistically or abstractly, in your own artwork? If so, what is it about faces that impel you in that direction?
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