I was introduced to this 'unknown man'. A portrait from the beginning of the last century.
Who is this man?
I don't know anything, no name, no history.
At most, the technique with which the photo was taken and his clothing style provide information about the time period in which he lived.
But I can do no more. There are no props giving information about his professional environment to his social life, no decor of a living environment, no window that opens onto the landscape in which John moves.
To make contact I give my 'unknown man' a name.
I call him John.
Hey, that feels good.
I have no background from John. Or maybe I do?!
I have a literal background. Or actually a back. That of his portrait.
I break the oval frame open and photograph the back of the image, his background
I replace the eyes with oval, white shapes because John has been dead for a while and has no vision.
The wonderful effect is that John sometimes seems to look to the left and sometimes to the right.
For a while a print of John with his empty eyes sits on my work surface.
Do I feel more connected to John now?
I'm still sanding in planing around the outside, the shape.
The oval of the portrait, the composition as determined by the photographer, the choice of clothing.
It is not so determinative and dominant. I remain trapped in the time of the early 1900
I want to get closer, touch his skin, feel him, little by little, literally little by little.
I zoom in, approach John very closely.
Scratches, dust, speckles are starting to show themselves sharply.
On the contrary, the photographic image seems to slide into the background, becoming cloudy, soft and picturesque.
As the present becomes sharp and the past fades.
A new visual world unfolds.
John reveals himself in a way that is not visible in the original portrait.
I print the photo's, examine the details and taste the photos. My glasses on the tip of my nose searching and discovering. My fingers glide over the paper, over his ear, his mouth, his eye.
My pencil strokes the surface; sometimes caressing and softening, sometimes abrasive and sharpening.
The 'Forgetmenietjes blue' overflows his image. Submerge him and let him sink
Blue persists when all other colors have faded.
Blue echoes the past.
John is dead.
Don't let him die.