Artist As Activist Series | Biographical Portraiture | Ruth Chase | Skillshare

Artist As Activist Series | Biographical Portraiture

Ruth Chase, My Your Life Be Your Masterpiece

Artist As Activist Series | Biographical Portraiture

Ruth Chase, My Your Life Be Your Masterpiece

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7 Lessons (35m)
    • 1. Intro to Biographical Portraiture

    • 2. What is Biographical Portraiture

    • 3. Content vs. Subject

    • 4. Working with People

    • 5. Symbolism for Storytelling

    • 6. The Art

    • 7. How BP Got Started

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About This Class

Creating narrative that is inspired through an interview.

Biographical Portraiture (BP) is a two part class. In this first class we cover the basics of BP by practicing with someone you know first. In the second class, Making Art In Service To Community, we cover a more in-depth understanding of BP and working with the public.

BP is the use of personal or collective biography to create an artwork. It can be literal or symbolic. Interviewing the subject is a tool used to gather content to depict a story, theme, commentary, or perspective. Research can be an alternative tool for gathering information other than an interview. While BP is often used to portray a single person, it can also illustrate themes and topics that reflect social issues.

BP is for artists working in any medium, looking for a new and inspiring way to create portraiture that incorporates storytelling. This class will provide useful tools that will push the traditional portrait and offer an exciting way of working that can be used for a single picture or for engaging the public on a broader scope. Best suited for artists who have a medium they’re already familiar with. The workshop that follows BP is Making Art in Service to Community, a workshop that dives deeper into the practices of working with others to create commentary.

Key skills you will learn

  • What is BP
  • The difference between Subject and Content
  • Working with real people in collaboration
  • How to conduct an interview that will provide content for your work
  • Using symbolism for storytelling

Meet Your Teacher

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Ruth Chase

My Your Life Be Your Masterpiece


Exploring IDENTITY & BELONGING through painting and public art.

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1. Intro to Biographical Portraiture : Hi. Welcome to biographical portraiture. My name is Ruth Chase. I am a visual multimedia artist, and I am teaching biographical portraiture. This workshop is great for any artist who already has a medium that they're working with. If you're looking for something to enhance your story telling or toe push your ideas around the traditional portrait. This is a great workshop for you. Biographical portraiture is using someone's biography to create a work of art. And I will be teaching new methods that I have discovered along my several years of working with people and communities and creating projects around the idea of biographical portraiture, key skills that you're going to learn our what is a biographical portrait. So go a little more into depth on that the difference between subject matter and content working with real people in collaboration, I will teach you the tips and tricks that I've learned along the way. I will also teach you how to conduct an interview so that you have enough content on material toe work with in your portrait. Lastly, what you'll be learning is how to use a narrative and symbolism for storytelling. So let me tell you a little bit about myself. I started out as an oil painter. Originally, I graduated from the San Francisco Artists to two I've been teaching since 1996 most recently at the Crocker Art Museum. During the time that I created the West of Lincoln Project, which is really where I've I started using biographical portraiture, I was awarded a certificate of appreciation through the city of Los Angeles And then that turned into four years of funding on grant funding through the Nevada County Arts Council and California Artist Council. This is the first of several workshops that will build upon each other, all of them really gearing towards the artist as activist. So the best way to reach me is through my website or through an email. I also have a newsletter, so let me know if you want to be on my newsletter. 2. What is Biographical Portraiture: welcome to biographical portraiture. Please feel free to reach out to me at any point if you have questions during these classes . Two things I want to start out with one is unlike it. If you could introduce yourself so that I know who you are and that we can build a little bit of community here. Also, I would like to talk a little bit about note taking. Both of these things can be dealt with after the video is played to take notes. What I want you to do is to get an oversized piece of paper if you have one minimally a pencil, if not colored pencils and pens, and you're going to write down words and thoughts and images as you are listening to these videos. What is a biographical portrait? Ah, biographical portrait is the use of an individual or collective biography to create an artwork. It can be used for a single portrait or for engaging the public on a broader scope. It can be literal or symbolic. Often interviewing the subject is going to be a tool that is used to gather and depict a story. It could depict a theme, commentary or perspective. While biographical portraiture is often used to portray a single person, it can also illustrate themes and topics that reflect social issues. For example, let's take a look at these two images. The one on the left is of Eddie Head Vina, and it's titled Second Chance, and this would be considered a single portrait. It is of him as a child. The water is reflecting him as an adult, and there is symbolism within this image. The feather, the cup, the Boy Scout, the wording, the skateboard, the water, the yellow. That is all telling a story about his life personally. And the piece on the right is titled West of Lincoln. And that piece is a collaboration of 40 people who submitted images and audio stories to be painted as part of the West of Lincoln Project. So here you have two different concepts. One on the left is of a single portrait depicting one person's life, and the one on the right is a multitude of images that collectively speak to a broader topic. In this case, the message here is speaking to gentrification. Okay, really quick review here. First off, I want you to introduce yourself. Yes, in the comments below, it would be great if you introduced yourself. Also, I would like you to take notes. You could use a system called sketch Notes or just doodling. Biographical portraiture is the use of an individual or collective biography to create art . Biographical portraiture can be used for a single portrait or for engaging the public on a broader scope. 3. Content vs. Subject: Okay, let's talk about content and subject and how they're different. The reason this is important is that by creating a biographical portrait, you will need a subject. However, the content will be what you're pushing Bey ond just replicating an image of someone when we're talking about artwork. The subject is the actual image in the work. For example, Ah, face a car. It is the quote unquote. What in the art, however, the content is more of the why it can be symbolic. The concept, the meaning, the mood of the art or a perceived meaning of the peace. For example, internal struggle, freedom, love, gender awareness. Okay, so that's pretty simple, huh? Let's take a look at a few works of art and then talk about them. Here's our first image. Let's take a look at this Before I say anything more, I want you to think about what the subject matter is in this particular work of art. Please feel free to pause the video and to take a moment to think about this. If you said a woman a face, a portrait of Marilyn Monroe, well, then you got it right. By the way, this is Maryland, painted by Andy Warhol in 1962. And so now that we've determined what the subject matter is, what about the content? And he had a fascination with death and the cult of celebrity. So when Maryland died, he became obsessed because these two themes merged. Whether you can tell that from this piece is debatable, I found the work far more interesting when I heard the back story. And basically the back story is the content of this particular piece. It is the why it's difficult to see content in just a head shot, so we're going to focus on pushing the portrait a little more than this. Let's look at a couple more. All right for this image, What is the subject list? The 1st 4 things that come to your mind. Pause the video and write them in your notes. What I came up with Waas, a moon hands, plants, man, woman. All of those and more would be considered the subject. Remember, the subject is the what This painting, if he didn't recognize it already by Frida Kahlo is titled The Love Embrace of the Universe , The Earth, Mexico, Myself, Diego and Senior ex a lot, all so moving on to content in this piece. Okay. In this painting, Frida expressed her feelings about love and life and death. This painting has many elements of the Mexican mythology. In her arms. She is holding her husband, Diego Rivera, like a baby. Diego has a face and a body of an adult man and also has 1/3 eye on his forehead, which is the symbol for wisdom. But he is depicted as a baby who needs to be nursed by a woman, which is Frida herself. Again. When viewing art, you can come up with your own content. This description is a couple of different perspectives from writings on this piece. Now let's move on to the last example for this image. I am using a photograph by Diane RBIs titled A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street. So let's dig in to what the subject matter is. If you said a person or man in curlers holding a cigarette, then you were right. Simply, the subject matter is exactly what you're looking at. It is three literal interpretation of what you are viewing. Now let's step into the content of this piece for me without reading any history on this particular piece, I would say that the content is about queer life in 19 sixties because of the way they're looking back at the camera and holding a cigarette. There's a real sense of comfort and bravery with a slight bit of caution. So for me, that's the mood of this piece. Also the way in which it's photographed. The darker tone suggests mystery and maybe a little secrecy. This would be the content for me. For you. The content could be very, very different for the artist who photographed this piece. Most certainly, there could be an entirely different content. Basically, the content is the experience and the depth of the peace. So here's a quick review. The subject is theatrical image in the work. For example, Ah, face a car. Mountains. It is the what in the art piece. While the content is more of the why it can be symbolic, it could be the concept. It could be the meaning, the mood or the perceived meaning of the peace. If you look at the attachments below this class, you will see a pdf printable titled subject versus content. Use this print out to review the pieces that we talked about today, or to look up a few of your favorite works of art and to continue to practice this concludes the subject versus content portion of this workshop. Let's move on to the next topic. 4. Working with People : in this video, we're going to talk about working with people. This is something that excites me very much because it literally woke up my creative practice and took my work to a whole other level. And I'm excited that this conduce the same thing for you before you begin working with people that you do not know or with people that will have stories with sensitive content. I wouldn't like to talk about a practice interview. Think about somebody that you already know that would be perfect for a practice interview. If you look below this video, you will find a print out titled interview. You can use this to take notes during the class. It would be a great time to pause the video for a moment and make a list of names on your notes of people you would be interested in working with. Over the last several years, I would say I've interviewed well over 100 people for biographical portraiture and with each and every one of those people, I became close to them in a way that a regular phone conversation or going to grab a cup of coffee wouldn't have done. When you take the time to sit down and listen to somebody and to ask them questions about them. You will become closer to them. So for this first person, I want you to choose somebody that you would enjoy getting to know better. It could be somebody you already know. You just don't know them as well as you'd like to imagine what it's like to have someone approach you and to say, I would like to interview you about your life, about your work or about your insight. I wanna listen to what you have to say, and then I would love to create a painting or a work of art about you. I can tell you from my experience that almost everyone thinks that's pretty awesome to be part of. However, it's also an honor for you to witness another's life, and it's a responsibility to You were taking another person's information, their feelings, their story, their life and interpreting it into art. It's really important that you, as the witness, take this interaction as an honor and a responsibility once you have someone that you would like to work with and they have agreed to work with you you will need to set up in appointment for an interview. You will want to give an hour to an hour and 1/2 for the meeting. Most interviews are about an hour before your interview. You are going to want to prepare. If you're working with someone who is a public figure, make sure to do a bit of research before you meet with them and before you come up with questions, having questions in advance is a great way to guide the content of your interview in a direction that you want to go. No matter who you interview, It's great to have a handful of questions to start with. A few fundamental questions to consider besides their name are Where did they grow up? Do they have siblings? Pause your video now and on the pdf that you print it out right? A few questions specific to the person you're interested in interviewing. Don't forget to ask how to spell their name correctly and what name they want to go by. Here are a few tips for your interview. Choose a location that isn't going to be too noisy or that you're going to run into too many people that you already know always ask the easy questions first, even if you know the person already, this gives you both time to relax and get comfortable with the interview. One of the most important tips that can offer is to pause after asking questions. Usually people need time to think they may seem like they've answered the question. But if you give them a comfortable pause, they can pick up the conversation and add something else. And I have found that it is then that the most important things are said. While you are going to want to contribute to the discussion and keep it going, you are going to want to listen more than talk. Make sure you take notes and show them that you are genuinely interested and engaged. Be sure to be professional, be sincere and friendly. It's very important that you are taking this tone no matter what age you're working with or how well you know the other person. Take yourself seriously. It's not like this has to all be serious, but it is important that you are holding the space for another person to feel comfortable sharing their life with you. even though the other person will likely enjoy sharing their story with you, It is important that you respectfully honor that they're taking the time toe work with you . I like to call the artist the witness and the person that is being interviewed the teller and my last tip is that it's very important to connect with the person that you're interviewing. Doing this at the very beginning is especially important if there's a common interest or something you particularly relate to, then show that you are interested as well and that you relate to it this way. If the interview gets more serious, you will have a connection that will sustain the rest of the interview. Once the interview is over, give the person you're working with an idea of your next steps. You may want to follow up with them on one or more items that you spoke about in the interview but need clarity. Biographical portraiture is meant as a first step toe working with people through an interview process. I have attached a pdf of sample questions you can use for this first practice interview. Keep in mind that making art in service to community is the follow up class to biographical portraiture. Making art in service to community will cover a few areas not covered here, for example, working with sensitive content guidelines for interviewing people you do not know. And most importantly, we will address the issue of making sure you are not exploiting the person you're working with. If you have any questions so far, please post them in the comments area below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. 5. Symbolism for Storytelling : Let's get into how to use symbolism for storytelling. I want to talk just a bit about using symbolism and share a few well known artists that are known for being Symbolist. While you do not need to become a symbolist, I think this will be helpful for understanding the power of using symbolism. First off symbolism was a late 18 hundreds art movement of French, Russian and Belgian origin. Symbolism focuses on emotions, feelings, ideas and subjectivity rather than realism. The work is personal and expresses ideologies, particularly the belief of the artist power to reveal truth. Symbolism is basically the use of an object word or symbol to represent a concept or an idea in a painting, color line and composition can be used for symbolism. For example, Yellow represents happy or sunny ah, heart could represent love or relationship. Ah, butterfly transformation. A candle could represent hope. Symbolism can be literal or it can be suggested. Now let's explore a few artist well known and not so well known for being Symbolist. As we view these works, please take time to pause and think about the symbolism within the pieces and what they may represent. Odilon Redon the I like a strange balloon toward infinity. 18 62. Odilon was a French painter and printmaker. Redon imagined new worlds through his enigmatic creations. Edward Monk. Best known for this piece, The Scream, it has become one of the most iconic images in the world of art. He is a Norwegian painter and printmaker Marc Chagall. This piece is titled Maternity 1912. Chicago was a Russian French multimedia artist and a pioneer of modernism. Romaine Brooks The Cross of France, 1914 Romanes specialized in portraiture and used a subdued tonal palette key to the color gray. The cross represents bloodshed of war and suggest she is a nurse. It's also suggested that the Cross represents a double wound for the cost of silence. Reproductions of this painting, together with a poem, were later sold to raise money for the Red Cross. Brooks received the cross of the Legion of Honor for her service to France. The last artists I want to mention is Zenaida Jim Pius. She was a Russian poet, playwright, novelist, editor and religious thinker, one of the major figures in Russian symbolism. Here's a trick I use. I read my notes taken during the interview, and then I circle or highlight keywords. I make a list of the symbols that come to mind first, if they talked about having a passion for helping people than I envision. What imagery would depict that aspect of their story if the highlight of their life was living in Paris, and I feel that that's a significant part of their story than an Eiffel Tower or perhaps the colors of the France flag might be used. This part of the process can be really tricky because you're wanting to sift through their story and find a work of art in it. Talking further with your subject can help you put the puzzle together. In a later workshop. I will talk about bringing the subject of the painting into the process. Let's take a look at a few pieces that have come from my own portfolio. This piece, the deeper we go, the brighter we shine is about Elaine Love Leslie. While in process of making this painting, I asked Elaine if she would write a brief statement about the piece. There's a real gift in darkness. That's why the moon disappears and we have seasons. The dark is necessary in order for regrowth. The seed lives in darkness before it emerges into full potential. I was lucky that Elaine was a writer and she was interested in this collaboration. Now the painting, a company's written work by the subject of the painting herself. Another approach you could take is during the interview. At the end, you could ask the person you're working with if they were to give a title to a book, perhaps based on the information they just spoke with you about what would it be? You could use that title as a departure point for the painting or work of art. For example, this piece titled Not Just Me Anymore. This piece was painted in collaboration with Fernando Man Xenia. The painting reflects a portion of Fernando's life story, and the wisdom he has is a result of the struggles he faced growing up in Venice, California The content of this painting came from closely working with Fernando for three months, making sure the details reflected his valuable life. Wisdom, not just me anymore was a title that Fernando and I both came up with after Fernando's interview. It was very clear during his long struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, he realized that raising his Children was the most important thing to him. It was through this realization he was able to put himself in a 12 step program and show up as a father, a sober father to his Children. Let's take a look at some of the symbolism here connected to his story. The prayer hands in the lower left hand corner represent Fernando's connection to his faith and his sobriety. There's a marijuana leaf in the upper right hand corner, speaking to previous drug use and an image of his Children highlighted in gold around their faces to speak to their importance. Here you find the boxing gloves symbolic of his battle with drugs and the symbol, the triangle for sobriety. The years below. These two items are significant years in his story. In the upper corners of the painting are an image of his mother and his father, both who watch over him and guide him. They also represent his connection to family in the value off being apparent. Let's do a quick review. Symbolism was an art movement that happened in the late 18 hundreds. Symbolism focuses on emotions, feelings, ideas and subjectivity rather than realism. Symbolism expresses ideologies. Symbolism is the use of an object word or symbol to represent a concept or an idea. Making a work of art from an interview is like solving a puzzle. Use keywords from your interview notes to help you create a list of possible symbols to use or use the title of the artwork to guide you in creating your artwork. 6. The Art: for our final class in biographical portraiture. Let's talk about the art more specifically and the making of the peace. So we're going to say that you already have the person that you would like to interview. You've created a list of questions to ask them during your interview. You've reached out to them and have met them and already conducted the interview. You have taken your list of notes and circled keywords, or you have created a title as a base toe work. From what next? Let's talk a little bit about the making of the art. I want to start by reminding us that this is not a commission. Though you could use biographical portraiture for commission work, I warn that the approach is very different. And here is how for a commission you were working for a customer, usually the subject of the peace, and they reached out to you for the work with biographical portraiture you were working with. Not for the subject of the piece. You contacted them for mutual exchange. When I say mutual, in most cases, the artist and the subject gets something valuable out of the experience. Either way, you contacted them you are not making a piece with the intent of them buying it. For this first piece, I suggest a pencil drawing or sketch a medium that is simple and easy to work with. You could also use magazines and create a collage with your keywords or title of the piece . You will begin to sift through like a puzzle, a way to bring together concepts from their story tied to symbolism that will be used to create a visual outcome. The best way for me to do this was to just jump in feet first and go through the experience , allowing myself to make changes as I moved forward. This way of working is a creative process, and the best way to look at it is a process plan on contacting your subject at least one or more times to go over details of their story and the choices you're making to represent it symbolically. Once you have a finished piece and a title, this would be a good time to meet with the subject once again to share with them the final piece. Now that you've had practice making a biographical portrait, consider taking the advanced class to take this to a deeper level and a more sophisticated outcome. Once you've completed this workshop, please feel free to contact me for a follow up phone call. I am happy to answer any questions or brainstorm ideas with you and thank you very much for taking this class. 7. How BP Got Started: I had a beautiful studio, I a great education. I even had a good start in the art world coming out of college. But at some point I found myself really isolated in my studio, not feeling motivated about the work that I was doing. If anything, I felt like I was just making pretty pictures. And there's nothing wrong with beautiful work for pretty pictures, but it just wasn't enough for me, and I was ultimate craving, having purpose. I wanted purpose with my work, and I wasn't sure how to do that. So really, I had. I kind of hit rock bottom, and from that I ended up creating this process of working with people to create biographical portrait Cher's. I don't use them to sell them back to the people I'm working with. They're not commissions. They're usually done as an effort for storytelling to communicate a bigger message. I've been very fortunate to work with Neeson on Tribe into that a city and also where I started, which is in my hometown of Venice, California, working on the west of Lincoln Project. So if you're looking for a way to bring a little more purpose if you have a cause that you're working with or that you're passionate about This workshop, uh, could be the, uh, the answer to your dreams. This workshop could be very, very inspired. So the best way to reach me is through my website or through an email thes Classes will be popping up soon, and I'll let you know all about them. I also have a newsletter, so let me know if you want to be on my newsletter.