A new art exhibit opening in Chelsea puts a unique spin on portraiture.
Open for All Gallery is launching its 2022 programming with “It Had to Be You,” a two-person exhibition that challenges traditional modes of portraiture through nonconventional means. Sponsored by Hiatus Tequila, the exhibition will feature the works of New York artists Megan Dyer and Suzanne Scott.
“It is one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like,” said American photographer Paul Capinorgo. “It’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” Through their bold, experimental, and at times explosive—works, Dyer and Scott reveal their firm investment in exploring the latter.
Dyer’s work incorporates Platonic mimesis, which is the representation of nature and human nature, as a point of departure to connect people to each other and the planet Earth. Inspired by John Cage’s idea that chance is the closest thing to nature, Dyer uses her art to argue that since the vast majority of human bodies are made up of water, water is a natural platform for a nuanced discussion about neutrality and commonality.
“By utilizing nature-based categories, in this case ‘water archetypes’—instead of the man-made categories to which we are accustomed (gender, class, race, nationality, religion, etc.), we might uncover non-hierarchical insights that reassess and perhaps find union in our commonality and connection to our shared planetary home,” said Dyer.
In her portraits, Dyer creates a flexible space that offers a reconsideration of the self in relation by replacing traditional categories like race, gender and nationality with water-based archetypes, like “river” and “hail.” Dyer then uses her invented system to create “biographs” of her subjects that condense the personal biographical information into a structure that describes the quality of each year of life. Traditional codes in portraiture are replaced with a set of attributes formed from a system that combines data and chance, and the horizontal graphite lines in her biographs imitate tree rings, with narrow bands showing difficult years and wider bands being more expansive.
“These determinations are my attempt to ‘walk in their shoes’ after studying my subject’s life story,” says Dyer. The graphite lines of the biograph continue onto the wall and connect to the lines extending from the adjacent painting, in which color choices are influenced by biographical impressions, often chosen by significant events in the life of the subject. The forms in the paintings are created through what Cage referred to as “Chance Operation.”
Scott, on the other hand, approaches her portraits through the lens of a fingerprint, which Scott says provides the structural framework for investigations into her subjects’ identity and energy.
“My portraits are a nonliteral, abstract translation of their psychological self, culled from a common yet singular physiological characteristic,” Scott said.
After taking the fingerprint from her subject, Scott digitally scans and magnifies the print to be able to read the unique information from it. Using the scan as a guide, Scott then brings the print to life on a canvas, noting that whorls and lines can sometimes correlate directly to the subject’s quality of life as well as specific circumstances to which they have been exposed, such as scarring, overuse, and stagnation.
“Formal decisions regarding color, line, negative space, and what information is kept visible relate directly to my perceptual understanding of the individual’s personality or aura,” said Scott. “My convening of organic gestures seeks to build an impression of the fingerprint from a representational source to traverse an emotional and internal narrative inferring historical depths below the perceived surface of the skin. These layered, organic marks aim to celebrate and excavate.”
The exhibit will kick off with an opening reception on Friday, May 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. The show will run through Friday, June 24, with a closing reception that night from 6 to 9 p.m.
Open for All Gallery is located at 137 West 14th Street, third floor. The exhibit will be open from 1 to 6 p.m. Thursdays—Saturdays, and by appointment.