6/2/13 3:35 PM
The measure of a portrait’s worth depends on who is contemplating it: an unrelated viewer, one who knows or wishes to know the sitter, even the sitter herself. Being of the former variety, I cannot judge the verisimilitude of Nancy McManus-Subel’s depictions of friends. But given that these pictures are done from memory and are not meant to capture physical likeness but rather what the artist refers to as “essence and energy,” this seems a perfectly fine position to occupy. Certainly it allows me to savor the strangeness of McManus-Subel’s choice to combine oil painted backgrounds with a wild mix of embroidery. (Why don’t more artists recognize canvas as not just a neutral ground for paint but as a textile in and of itself?) And to register the combinations and contrasts of texture, pattern and color that she has so cacophonously woven together. That said, for all their purely aesthetic interest, and they most assuredly possess plenty, I’m aching to know what “Jessica” and the others think of their rapturously unconventional portraits.