Date of Award

Spring 5-30-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Department

Painting

First Advisor

Craig Taylor

Second Advisor

Jackie Gendel

Third Advisor

Roger White

Abstract

The work for my thesis includes a series of medium-scale paintings on wood panel in oil and acrylic. In these, I depict my friends, my relatives, and myself in full-body portrait style. I use a complementary color palette. The humans within my paintings are presented within an environment that has shallow spatial depth. The backgrounds in the paintings exist through flatness, serving as wallpaper behind the figure. The landscape backgrounds in my paintings are not specific to identifiable locations. The relationship between the figure and the ground is questioned through the overall composition. Both the background and the figure are painted in a way that emphasizes the transparency and liquidity of oil paint. These paintings belong to the series titled “Portrait of an American.” Each individual painting is titled after the name of the person depicted.

As a figurative painter, I ask myself about my right to depict another person. How do I make sure that I don’t alter the person represented as I paint them? How much control do I have over how the subjects within my paintings are perceived? And how do I uphold the responsibility of representing another person’s identity honestly and respectfully? These questions are a necessary part of my painting practice and process as I create portraits. The portraits are necessary because they show a demographic of Americans that are scarcely represented in popular media, in contemporary art, and in art history. With respect towards the people that I paint, and with a sense of caution in how I apply paint, I make figurative paintings which increase ethnic and racial diversity in the discourse of contemporary painting.

This thesis writing operates as a guide for my thoughts as I use some ideas from the history of painting to contextualize my experience and painting practice. I begin by looking at the idea of representation of living beings in Islam, and what it means to be drawing and painting people while identifying as Muslim. I will next investigate the problematics associated with the historical western paintings of “others,” in depictions of people of color by orientalists and white male artists throughout western art history. Lastly, I find and celebrate contemporary artists that enrich representation and diversify our understanding of human experiences. These explorations help me to answer the questions that I have posed for myself, and to become a better painter and an artist of integrity.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

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