They are big, huge even. They are very different, yet stunningly eye catching. Though they are separate works by different artists it is difficult not to look from one to the other as they seem to dominate over the other works in the room.
Celebrating its fifth anniversary The Nasher Museum of Duke University is displaying many pieces in its exhibit, "Building the Contemporary Collection." The collection features works from many contemporary emerging artists of color, but it is two of the largest paintings on exhibit that I cannot pull myself away from.
Both portraits depict a single black man, and both portraits are larger than my 5’3” standing frame. There the similarities end. One is dark, the other bright. One is smiling, the other composed. One is dressed casually while the other is urban clad. One is completely imaginary, while the other is imaginarily set--so different, yet each demanding my attention.
It is the imagined element that I find intriguing. The darker portrait of a man in a cream turtleneck, sitting comfortably and smiling is completely fictitious. He is a product of the artist’s imagination. No such man exists, though he could. He could be the kind of man you’d encounter at a coffee shop relaxing after a day at the university talking of scholarly pursuits, interested in your thoughts on things like literature. How does one picture a non-existent being so well as to give him a sort of life?
The brightly colored portrait of an urban clad black man standing in the pose of an Old Master’s work presents a different element for the imagination. The artist has taken a real man of today, plucked him from the streets and cast him in a setting of regal, floral elegance. The man is not smiling; his face seems set in that appraising way of a man on the streets as he tilts his chin up respectful, yet wary in his acknowledgment of you. It’s almost as if I am beneath notice, and certainly will not be invited into a conversation unless I can prove more interesting.
These images are larger than life, and my mind obviously runs away with ideas provoked by them.
-Veronica Monique Ibarra