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Leah Fernandez

"When things get overstated they become boring.”
- Alex Katz
The Artist

As a portrait painter in the 21st century, I am painfully aware of the seemingly anachronistic nature of my work. Yet, I am the product of American culture, in which shiny images are everything. My work is a meditation on what it is to exist in a society that manifests itself image first and substance hopefully to follow.


Societies can only function using a base of agreed-upon conventions. My work attempts to examine its own role in a society where these norms are disintegrating. More than that, I attempt in my work to reconcile our changing relationship with portraits against the norms that brought us here.  


Historically, portraiture has been used to reinforce authority and assert the importance of its subject. I exploit this convention by using anonymous, unfamiliar subjects. The subjects are clearly removed from their element and presented in a stark, vague context. Despite their vivid, carefully curated presentation, they are still strangers we will never get to know. 


When sourcing subject matter, I seek out old images. The reason for this is two-fold: first, I find it far more desirable to immortalize a long-gone stranger than anyone with ubiquitous access to the filters available through social media. Second, they are unfamiliar to the contemporary viewer. They are less relatable and I use the subtle discomfort that creates to build on compositionally. 


My materials reflect the history of the genre. As with countless portraitists before me, I use oil paints. There is a visceral satisfaction in the unique way they capture the human figure. Also, their time-consuming inefficiency and toxicity are perfectly symbolic of examining post-WWII American culture. The colors are attention-getting and brash (again, appropriate for my version of Americana). 


The finished product is just an image, the simulacrum of some person. They present themselves to us not as a whole, but as an assemblage of both inert elements and calculated embellishments. They are loud, they are American. 

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