Note from the author: I wrote this in college for an advanced art history course. I have cited my references and hope you will always do the same. Copyright infringement is NOT good. If you click on the images it will take you to the website I took them from. Also, please do not use this as your own paper. Cheating is NOT good. Thank you.
November 19, 2009
by Katelyn Fagan
Currently in Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art is the exhibit Mirror, Mirror: Contemporary Portraits and the Fugitive Self. It deals with modern portraiture and self identity in the world today. It features a broad range of mediums and artists, one of them being Mary Henderson. Her works are small oil paintings of digital images she finds on photo sharing websites that she crops and edits. She paints them in a manner of historical painting and portraiture, like those of Ingres and David, but the figures are more modest, casual, and contemporary. They are ordinary people.
History is experienced today (in the digital age) through digital sources and images, increasingly blurring private and public experiences. We see digital images on websites of foreign countries and their wars, while at the same time can find digital images and information from these same countries on public sharing websites, like blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, and Twitter, though from its ordinary citizens. Mary Henderson became especially intrigued in this paradigm when her brother was serving as a Commander in the U.S. Navy in Iraq from February to August 2007. She would search these public websites for pictures and news about her brother. She really liked how ordinary people, like her brother, find themselves caught up in our current historical moment (the Iraq War). She became fascinated with pictures depicting soldiers in uniform but not in combat settings. She loved the different emotions and expressions you could see on their faces, from boredom to bravado and fear. She likes to focus on the inward and profound experiences of individuals.
Henderson’s work is photorealistic and her paintings are not very large. She merges photographic qualities and historical painting qualities together to make a commentary on how we are experiencing history today. She often depicts soldiers and military personnel, though not in combat settings. Other works are often young adults at sporting events or people doing common everyday things. The merging of styles draws you into her paintings; because you feel like you’ve seen these images before, multiple times, yet here they are in a gallery, hung up on the wall. You can almost replace the faces of the people portrayed with people you know, or at least can image others in their place. Often the people are smiling or showing a definite emotion on their face. It humanizes them, makes them ordinary and common, like the viewer in the gallery. By painting these images, she makes them more public, permanent, and aesthetically pertinent.
Henderson has created a unique new form of portraiture in the art world. With her realism harking back decades, she adds an added dimension by capturing ordinary individuals, found in images off the Internet. It adds historical value to simple things people are doing every day, living their lives, and how they are using media to share it with others. With everything becoming more and more digital, it makes you wonder what physical evidence will be left behind for future generations of individuals, communities, and nations. What would happen if a person’s computer crashed, the Internet would stop working, or a website was deleted? Would there be enough evidence left behind to prove a person lived, what they did, and what they looked like? Also, it puts into question identity and privacy. With images and information readily available on the internet on almost any individual, where is the sense of privacy? Are a person and their experiences really unique? Henderson has created a dialogue about these questions with her pieces and has done so in a very aesthetically pleasing and artistic way.