British artist Sarah Ball is inspired by historical photographs but with a very different outcome. Using 19th and 20th century photographic archives of mug shots, Ball creates a series of intimate portraits of anonymous protagonists. Ellis Island immigrants, demonstrators and suspected criminals stare directly at the viewer. The meticulously rendered, expressionless faces, taken out of context are arrestingly human. The paintings question how prejudice leads to assumptions about individuals solely through physical appearance as well as the 19th century practice of anthropometry, relating facial features to criminality.
Ball’s paintings in this solo exhibition, Sarah Ball: An Unlikely Likeness, reflect on contemporary issues of bias in an increasingly judgmental culture.
Part of the HUMAN INTEREST contemporary portraits series of exhibitions.
Five exhibitions examine contemporary interpretations of the enduring tradition of portraiture. Can a portrait be more than a recognizable image of the sitter? Since the advent of photography, the genre of contemporary portraiture has expanded far beyond the requirement of recording a likeness for posterity. Today we expect more than a likeness and we rely on the artist’s skill and creativity to see the subject’s outward appearance in the context of a larger reality. Artists, both traditional and conceptual, continue to draw on the genre’s rich and limitless options for new means of creative expression, and their efforts have been rewarded with a resurgence of critical interest. The artist’s challenge is to apply his or her ingenuity and empathetic insight to illuminate not just a person’s unique appearance, but also engage the viewer. Portrait artists frequently describe their efforts as “collaborative,” recognizing that the process requires both the resemblance of the subject and the intention of the artist. The individual pictured, known or unknown, in a work of art is almost always read by the viewer as an extension of the human experience. How we react is literally in the hands of the artist.