A Face-off with Portaiture Joey Fauerso Deepens the Genre
Wendy Weil Atwell
The most compelling aspect of portraiture may be that the subject can never be completely known. While traditional portrait painters may paint clues that point to the specific character of a subject, Joey Fauersos portraiture is not about the specific qualities of individuals or the details of their lives, which can be measured and defined. Her subject is the irreconcilable housing of the limitless, immeasurable mind and spirit, within the defined body. The formal design of her art intimates the union between the body and these unknowable realms.
Fauersos work, which ranges from oil and acrylic portraits on paper to an installation last spring at Blue Star Art Space, shares one basic format. The artist intimately knows her subjects, mostly friends and relatives whom she paints from varying, unusual perspectives against white voids. Lately, she has painted her subjects from above, which radically alters the observers perspective. We see the tops of heads, and hints of clothing and shoulders. Though the individuality of the subjects remains remarkably intactwe see, for example, a bald head with eyeglasses or the outlined shape of a corpulent figureFauerso does not offer the viewer the typical details given by portraiture. The artist flips her subjects out and away from a traditional, full-frontal perspective into implied other dimensions. The white open spaces bar any clues about the subjects environment. Instead, these spaces suggest the conceptual dimension of Fauersos work, and challenge the observer to break through its two-dimensionality. Fauerso pushes away at the papers planarity. She moves above her subjects, invoking a digital perspective of space.
Joey Fauerso, To begin: form a line (the evening is near yet infinite), 2003
Last spring, at Blue Star Art Space in San Antonio, Fauerso installed a gigantic spiraled work, To begin: form a line (the evening is near yet infinite), made from 2500 paper cutouts glued onto a 27-by-14 foot wall. The intricate, snake-like piece immediately engaged the observer. A line tapered in from the upper left corner of the wall and led the observers eye into a spiral, which whirled twelve cycles inwards. Fauerso manipulated the perspective and structure of the spiral so that viewers felt the sensation of looking down into the eye of a cyclone, a mass of cutouts tightening and spiraling towards a receding center. The spiral terminated inwards into a blank white hole, its tiny tail curled inwards and upwards into the white space, as if leading into infinity.
Upon first impression, the spirals variously rounded cutouts appeared to be colored abstractions. In actuality, they were color copies of Fauersos painted aerial portraits. With this presentation, Fauersos fantastical whorl transformed into a spiraling queue of bodies and set the observer in a Gods eye position above the figures. There occurred for the observer a visual transcendence and a deeper understanding of the installations grand scheme.
Takashi Murakami describes how this kind of optical illusion, creates a kind of tension by freezing the gaze of the observer.i In developing his theory of super flat, Murakami places a strong emphasis on the observers gaze. Murakami traces how the Japanese eccentric artists compositional designs controlled and distributed the observers gaze, allowing them to capture such directness and gaze movement in a single image.ii Murakamis comments on the artists from which he developed his super flat theory also apply to Fauersos art: Their approach to images is extremely Japanese, with single-perspective painting never crossing their minds.iii
Fauerso may not disregard it altogether, but she plays with single-point perspective in a equally fascinating and freeing way. Yet, unlike the Japanese eccentric artists, who incorporate details of landscape into their work, Fauersos work exists in a gravity-free space, with the effect of disorienting the observer. Fauersos painted images, whether aerial or from below, displace the observers perspective. Trained to see in a conventional, single point manner, the observer must make a conceptual leap to accommodate the disorientation caused by the work.
With the upheaval of single-point perspective comes the confusion of linear time. This is the second quality that Fauersos work shares with the super flat artists, whose work exhibits a kind of frozen time. The process and fabrication of Fauersos work, as well as the use of the spiral, forsake linearity in a manner that is consistent with their spatial displacement. To begins line of people curling into the spiral is repetitive; the same group of 32 subjects are used over and over. Their placement was part of the meditative process of making the art. Formal decisions may have determined their order, just as the individual images are defined by specific shapes and colors.
Joey Fauerso, The softness, near but not pressing, 2003
Oil and acrylic on paper
30 x 22 1/2 inches
Yet the spiral, filled as it is with people, takes on a larger meaning beyond its composition. According to Fauerso, her spiraling line of people represents the cyclical nature of life, the ebb and flow between relationships and contact with one another, creating an implied life/death circuit.iv The spiraling motion of To begin presents the perspective of a lifetime, drawn out into a spiral. Yet there is neither a beginning nor an ending to this movement. We have jumped outside of time just as we have jumped outside single-point perspective.
enter here, an oil on panel work, depicts two spiritual whirls of spiraling, colored brushstrokes which represent the energy of Fauersos portrait subjects. With no figural representation (except in the sense that the whirls may approximate the human figure, both from above and from a frontal perspective) this portrait becomes a meditation on the energy exchanged between two subjects (painter and subject, most directly). Fauersos spiral paintings portray her fascination with the inward/outward exchange of communication. Her use of rainbow and fluorescent colors combined with a rapid, dervish-like movement of line, mimics this communicative exchange. It draws in and captivates the observer, then pushes the gaze outwards with its powerful swirls.
Fauersos installation echoed these swirls, yet on a larger scale with thousands of human images comprising the whirls of lines. Her work remains grounded in the body, both through her treatment of subjects as painted figures and through her methods of production. To make her installation, she sat for hours cutting thousands of small shapes and then spent hours carefully arranging them into their spiral.
In To go back and forth is the way around It, aerial views of Fauersos brother Neil are painted on the paper eight times. In the middle of the paper, four identical aerial portraits of Neil face inwards, so that the subject faces himself, forming a square. Four other aerially-viewed Neils stand outside the square, portraying the subject as looking to the right. In The troubling wait of everything that is missing and the long pause that follows, Fauerso paints an assortment of these aerial portraits, often repeating the same image in various places around the paper. The arrangements of images are aesthetically appealing in an abstract sense as well as narratively intriguing. The repeated bald head, wearing eyeglasses, is generously scattered fifty four times around the paper. A woman in a red shirt is duplicated five times, composing an inward-facing ring formed of herself. Without a linear starting point, these different arrangements confound space and time. Fauersos mandala-like and diagrammatic compositions present fascinating compositional interplays. Because they are also portraiture, the paintings become rich with meaning about the subjects relationships with others and with him or herself.
Joey Fauerso, Above (Neil), 2003
Oil and acrylic on paper
30 x 22 1/2 inches
Fauersos technical solutions to artmaking, and the way she addresses the concerns of painting and portraiture, embrace a cleverness and duality that resembles Eastern religions paradoxical take on life. During our interview, she brought a wicker picnic basket containing the leftover cutouts of her installation. The basket demonstrated her works portability, its potential to be both expansive and enclosed. Fauerso combines the formal details of her painting with a metaphysical perspective. Her installation unifies these ideas in a cohesive and fascinating manner.
Fauersos work is about getting inside, around, above, and/or behind her subjects. The sharp and precise lines of her brushstrokes, which break the space between subject and field, emphasize the realms of inside and outside, like a surgical cut between being and non-being. How can a stroke of paint ever get inside? Fauerso takes on these different realms through the suggestion of alternative dimensionsthat of mind and spirit. Her most recent series, mounted on the ceiling, depict feet floating up and down.
The Sanskrit meaning for mandala is circle, polygon, community, connection. A mandalas function is to be a visual support during meditation; it symbolically reflects the meditator in the world and leads the way to enlightenment. Fauersos portraits incorporate this method, as they are vehicles by which the observer may consider his/her place in relationship to the work and to the world, to oneself, and to others. Fauerso transgresses the two dimensional limits of her media with implications of the limitless mind. It is through the observers own visual and corporeal response to her work that Fauerso emphasizes this dichotomy.
i Takashi Murakami, A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art,
Painting at the Edge of the World, 193.
ii Murakami, 194.
iii Murakami, 195.
iv Conversation with the artist, July 2003.