THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
by Michel Ségard
In late July, I visited Sidewinder Gallery. It had a group show up called Pollinate, and the work of one artist caught my eye. That was the work of Robert Pioch, a young watercolor artist who does portraits of ordinary people. On the surface, this is not so remarkable. But this young man’s technical skill at handling such a difficult medium caught my attention. And I returned a few days later to look at the work more carefully.
His portraits are of ordinary people—ones you would meet at the mall or at a gas station convenience store. Pioch has a way of looking inside their psyche and portraying their personality. He works hard not to project himself into their likenesses or to use the portrait paradigm as a vehicle to further another agenda (as did Picasso, Warhol, or Close, to name three obvious examples). And by concentrating on the individuality of the subject, Pioch also avoids creating stereotypes. As a result, his portraits come alive and the subjects almost speak to you.
To augment the subjects’ individuality, Pioch puts them in surrounding landscapes that hint at what they are about. This is a device that is as old as the Renaissance, and it works as well today as it did then.
Not all the pieces are equally successful. Occasionally, the background gets too complicated, even “tricky.” Geometric forms or outlines appear that are more comfortable in graphic novels. And there is a lack of portraits of older people.
But at other times the background contains circular shapes that end up forming a subtle mandala or halo around the subject’s head. In these cases a certain spirituality gets imparted to the portrait, and the subject hovers between individual and archetype—but both interpretations still celebrate the ordinary person.
It is in these portraits that Pioch broaches some of the most significant issues confronting people under 30. Do the traditions and societal rules they inherited make sense in today’s culture? What are the alternatives? These doubts and questioning issues confront ordinary people, not just the “artist” or “intellectual.” Pioch has subtly captured these doubts in this series of portraits. For example, they can be seen in the eyes of Robin, Aaron, and Preston, pictured below. Addressing these issues, however subtly, is what makes his portraits truly contemporary works and not just rehashes of a traditional form.
He is compiling a collection of 52 of these portraits (one for every week of the year). They will become a book titled Pseudonymity. If only one fourth of them are fully successful, that would make a baker’s dozen of really respectable, contemporary portraits.
Michel Ségard is the Editor-in-Chief of the New Art Examiner and a former Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Robin (from left), Aaron, and Preston. Three portraits from the Pseudonymity series by Robert Pioch.