There is a certain challenge associated with viewing graphite portraits. Beyond the routine process of transforming, through the mind’s eye, what is two-dimensional into something three-dimensional, the viewer also needs to add the color. After all, even the most black and white of subjects is not purely black and white, or even black, white and gray. The eyes are a pale blue, the lips are ruby red. The veins pushing through the old woman’s hands are purple.
Beyond the obvious and literal understanding of color, there is a more subtle tinting process in which the devoted viewer might engage. It is adding to the subject “pigments” of narrative, history, background, mood, emotion. A good artist will offer some hints, some suggestions to his audience – facial expressions, posture, grooming, clothes. All these will inform, to some degree, what the portrait’s subject is about. Sometimes an artist will reach out beyond his discipline, through collaboration, in an effort to provide more information to the audience about the visual piece.
Art and music pairings are an example of this kind of information-enriching collaboration approach. Portrait art, in particular, presents a special opportunity to leverage music’s power to suggest a narrative, a story for the visual piece. In artist Corey Fou Chong’s ‘Ronald’ (man in dreadlocks), we might imagine a tragedy, the tale of an old man pushed down, beaten. Yet our subject’s visage is not one of hopeless misery, but of some wisdom, humor, even enlightenment from enduring long suffering.