Thursday, 10 October 2013

Portraits of Emotions 
Guest blog post by artist Paul Digby, who will be exhibiting at the Synthesis exhibition at Victoria Warehouse.

The four drawings on display are from a series of ten portrait drawings of people from the Chapeltown area of Leeds. I worked from photographic images made in an open studio in early 2012 where people were asked to express an emotion of there own choice. The idea for this grew out of Charles Darwin's Expressions of Emotions in Man and Animals, where in this book Darwin uses photographs by the mid nineteenth century French Doctor/Photographer Duchenne de Boulogne of an "Old man". 

The old man was a homeless person he worked with who reportedly had no nerve endings in his face and was able to have electrodes attached to emulate specific emotions.

I initially asked people to express specific emotions but soon adapted to people's desires to express emotions of there own choices. As the project progressed I felt more confident to ask specific individuals if they would pose and I selected people from the community I knew to ask.

Another artistic reference is George Seurat and particularly his drawing style. Although Seurat used Conte Crayon and I have used Graphite, I adapted his process. This involved repeating a circular movement and pattern to gradually build to a solid tone. I also used cross hatching, a similar technique for building layered tone. For four of the ten series I used paint and oil bar on paper and canvas. Seurat lived in Paris around the same time as Duchenne but I am unsure to whether they knew one another.

Other references involve contemporary psychology. During the project I was influenced by Bruce Hood's The Self Illusion, which seemed to link in to the concept of portraiture. Another idea that transfers well from psychology to art is stimuli and response. For example the art work is the artist's response to a stimuli and the viewer's stimuli for a response.

The project involved delivering a workshop to Chapelallerton Primary School in Chapeltown to sixty Year One children. They learnt how to draw portraits using cross hatching and graphite on a paper with a grain.

This project was supported by the University of Leeds School of Medicine who mid way through the project showed the work in progress in the Charles Thackrah Building. The full series was shown in the Union105 gallery in Chapeltown Leeds and the ESA show space in London. I also gave a lecture to Leeds Metropolitan University students, another supporting organisation. The project was funded by Arts Council England.

Paul is a contemporary visual artist with sixteen tears experience and has shown work in including the Manchester Contemporary, the Cornerhouse and the Saatchi gallery. He has collaborated on projects with in the Thackray Museum, Rampton Hospital and High Royds Hospital. Paul has work in the Wellcome Trust and Private Collections. He sits on the Steering Group for the Yorkshire and Humber Contemporary Visual Arts Network and teaches for the WEA.

Four of the series of drawings will be on display in the Synthesis exhibition and Paul will give a talk on the project, on Saturday 25th October at 4:00 both in the Victoria Warehouse Hotel.

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