I painted portraits from life of every member of one architecture class at the Cooper Union. Each portrait took an average of 1.5 hours, all oil on canvas. The portraits were given to the architects after the show. BIG thanks go to Mark Ressl for coordinating and scheduling EVERYONE in his class during finals to come and pose for me.
I’m told that these photos were taken during an architecture class; their professor had heard about the project and had everyone go to the exhibition to take pictures. During installation, I had debated for a while about how to present the series, but a line seemed to be the most appropriate situation. I’m fascinated by how instinctively the architects took the paintings off the walls and started playing with them. When art becomes something touchable and non-precious, that’s a very special quality.
These pictures interest me, not only for their playfulness and spontaneity but also how easily the architects’ identities were swapped or hidden. These paintings weren’t really themselves afterall, they were just my uninformed interpretation of their appearances and not much more. I’m glad to hear that some of the architects still have their portraits in their possession, although some of the paintings have since gone missing. I enjoy that too, since with painting, I have always felt that once the thing is complete, it must take care of itself. It’s role in the world from then on is to be independent from myself, and I wash my hands of the effort.
It was important for me to get a sense of the climate of their class culture, so I interviewed each sitter while painting them. I asked various questions, and it was surprising how many people opened up to me and expressed their opinions about other class members, their school, their concerns and future prospects. One student told me his masterplan for ruling the world, and had me promise not to share it with anyone else.
I got to know this tight-knit community of people in both an intimate and totally objective way. Although each member of the class had come from a very different background, and had different mother tongues, countries of origin, and identities, they were brought together by common goals and aspirations to form this unique little family at the Cooper Union. As the school moves forward and breaks its founding promise to provide education that is “free as air and water,” I wonder if this tradition of learning communities with no social boundaries, can be preserved.