Jenny Dubnau
Portrait of a woman with her eyes closed

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M. with Wet Face
Collection of the artist, courtesy Bucheon Gallery

One of the most interesting aspects of portraiture, for me, is the way it can simply record a person. I like the idea that somewhere behind the fictionalized, painted version of the subject of a portrait lurks (or lurked) someone real. In my work, this idea of “realness” seems to crop up in the way the paint functions and in the use of photography, as well as in the imagery itself. I love using the paint to really describe the various textures of the human body: tongues, eyeballs, hair, teeth. A sense of verisimilitude, even if it disturbs, enhances the physical (mortal) presence of the subjects, and creates, for me, a tension between the psychological complexity of the sitter and her/his primal fleshiness. My paintings are made from photographs. Photographs are by their very nature “true,” in the sense that the camera lens is an ostensibly objective recorder of reality. This is of course both true and false: the photograph does offer a more literally real rendition of life than does painting, but at the same time contains mediations and oddities of its own: the exact moment the shutter is clicked, the blurring of the depth of field, and the strangely random cropping, to name a few. I like allowing photographic language to be engulfed, as I see it, by the language of painting, in which every formal move is intentional and is a potential site for metaphor. Using photographs as a source also provides linkage to the “realness” idea: we know that photos capture, in their near-cruel objectivity, what we “really look like,” meaning our flaws and particularities of physiognomy; expanding upon that idea in a painting context both intensifies and mediates that harsh objectivity.