I recently spoke with Marissa Stanton, a senior Fine Arts major who is working on her senior project titled, “In Context.” Marissa features individuals of varying ages who she doesn’t know intimately and allows them to arrange the space they will be using in any manor that reflects who they are. Once the volunteer chooses a pose, Marissa takes over from there. She takes photos of these volunteers and then goes back and paints these images that she has captured. I had the privilege of asking her a few questions about the entire process and why she chose to go down this route with her senior project.
What made you choose to photograph these individuals and replicate them through a painting?
I didn’t want to be selective about who I painted, just sure that the process was as organic and random as possible. The only rule I had was that none of the individuals could be someone whose personal history I knew very well– so, no best friends, no family members, etc. To be honest, I just put up a status on Facebook, and worked with whoever’s schedules matched up with mine.
Alice Neel, one of the most honest portrait-painters of all time, was a big part of my decision to do oil portraits. My current favorite quote by her:
“I do not pose my sitters. I do not deliberate and then concoct… Before painting, when I talk to the person, they unconsciously assume their most characteristic pose, which in a way involves all their character and social standing – what the world has done to them and their retaliation.”
I absolutely love this. I actually found this quote after I began my process, but it’s perfect.
So I love the fact that you capture these individuals in a moment. Was this intentional or were they candids?
Instead of asking people to sit for five-six hours at a time in a potentially uncomfortable position, I chose to do photography sessions. During the session, I asked the volunteer to set up the room and position themselves, and then I just started talking and taking pictures. Each time, the person I photographed would gradually get more and more comfortable in their position and with their conversation. Most of the paintings come from photos taken very close to the end of the shoot, when the volunteer was either unaware that I was still taking photos, or in the middle of speech.
If you had to pick one of the four, which one would you pick and why?
I think I’d probably pick the one titled “Emmanuel.” That one was the most unusual composition, but since it was already so unusual (no hands included, a blocked off shape covered in paint chunks) I allowed myself to have the most fun.
You wrote about exploring the idea of narratives and finding that in individuals. What do you hope viewers see or get from these images? And would you prompt these individuals to dig deeper and try to find the narrative behind the volunteers?
I am in love with and terrified of the idea that everyone has a story that’s as complex as my own. I don’t think the focus is necessarily on the particular individual’s narrative, since there’s no way for me to know the entire story. The focus is more on the idea that each portrait represents a vibrant, complicated individual, and that the painter’s perception has only represented a tiny fraction of who each person actually is.
I hope that my viewers will dig deeper, but not necessarily into figuring out who the person is or what they’re doing. Instead, I want my audience to think about how their own history influences everything they do. In the same way that I had to make choices about what to represent in the portrait, we also subconsciously make these choices when we perceive the other people around us.