From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

World Colors Painting

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This is what I was working on with the help of passers-by in Open Studios.  Everyone was so generous in allowing me to match their various skin tones and pleased to become part of the piece.  It almost feels like another participatory work even though it’s a painting and not an interactive installation.

world skin painting in progressIt’s 5 feet square and each fingernail-sized shape is a color of human skin (not counting the odd pale greens in the unfinished background). Each passing person I stop provides at least four shades for me- cheekbone or nose (both if I can get them), side of face (usually darkest), inside of wrist, veins… then if they are patient, knuckles, outside of arm, neck… it can go on and on.  Each person has countless shades of color in them.  For me it is a visual metaphor for the multifaceted, diverse nature of a person’s interior and experiences.  Multiply that by all the people I can find an it becomes a rich tapestry of human color.

I am trying to go by world population and general skin shade measurement sun+melamine count as published by National Geographic.  The top right is the darkest shades, the top left the most yellow, the bottom right then most blue, the center the most red/pink and the bottom left the lightest.  I keep the colors I get from a person together- so you will see in the darkest section (the most finished) places that are much lighter or pinker, because those colors are side-by-side on the actual person.  When I sample colors I keep a record and circle the ones from the same person.

When I’m done the surface will look like the top right corner.  As you can see I have a long way to go.

I thought of this back in art school.  I did a small piece using the “Black” skin of my friend Hakim and my own “White” skin.  They were done in the style of carpet samples with pure black and white boxes to indicate what they supposedly were, but each one showed the physical diversity found just visually in each of us which had nothing to do with the simplistic label.  Then I thought of this piece and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I later saw Byron Kim’s Synecdoche at MassMOCA for the first time and fumed a little.

Still this stuck in my head and shortly before getting pregnant, having child and painting very little I started it (2007).  Now, years after concieving the piece I’m finishing it in earnest.  A long time in coming, but I’m very pleased with how it is coming along.  In a weird way it’s a superficial, visual relative of Identity Tapestry.  Yet another painting in my explorations of skin color and identity.

Written by Mary Corey March

March 26, 2012 at 10:42 am

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  1. […] Getting closer.   It’s funny,  I have about fourteen different colors that I mixed to perfectly match different parts of her skin (cheek, lips, inside wrist, back of hand, veins, shoulders, neck, forehead…).   But they are only hints for me about the colors in the painting because she is somewhere in the middle of these two sides.  I tried to do the sides as she described her parents with reference to the particular tones in her skin, using the vast collection of skin-color samples I’ve collected for another painting. […]

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