For years Brooklyn artist Matt Held painted portraits from old family photos, but this past Thanksgiving he began using Facebook portraits as source material. On his blog he writes that one day his wife was playing around with the computer, took a picture of herself in iPhoto – her interpretation of what she looked like when she was angry – and posted it to her Facebook page. “I loved the shot, decided to paint it and it hit me – what a wealth of source material Facebook could be. Going through the profile shots of some of my friends I started thinking about what the poster’s intent is with some of their photos. Choosing a certain photo to post is a form of control and self-preservation. However, whether it’s a conscious or subconscious choice to choose a photo as a representation of your ‘self’ is not something this project addresses. I do hope, though, that an examination of the subjects’ character and moral quality will be part of the dialogue.
“There is another piece to this project – the origin of how these people come into connection with me, the artist. Conceptually, the collection as a whole becomes a community of individual’s that have opted to be memorialized, much in the same way the original commissioners of portrait painting – the rich and powerful – chose to. The why is here is maybe a bit more obvious. As one new member put it so eloquently – ‘we are all just a little bit vain.'”
Naturally, when I learned of Matt’s project, I immediately joined his Facebook Group “I’ll have My Facebook Portrait Painted by Matt Held.” Within days this jpeg arrived in my inbox. My tiny Facebook image, originally taken in a poorly-lit campus stairwell by ECSU staff photographer Nick Lacy, is now 24″ x 30,” rendered in oils on canvas. Yes, I am a little bit vain: I love Matt’s painting, and my nose is long and distinctive, but, for all the Two Coats readers out there who have never actually met me, I swear it isn’t quite that broad :===)
Update: After I ran this story, bloggers Tyler Green and Paddy Johnson both ran posts about Matt’s Facebook series, where the story was picked up by the mainstream media. After Matt was featured in both the Observer and New York Magazine, blogger Hrag Vartanian (portrait #30 in the series) checked in to see how he was holding up with all the attention. Read Hrag’s Q & A here.
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