Wed, Feb 22, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Simultaneous interpretation

The silent, emotionally charged communication between an artist and her subject is explored in Brenda Zlamany’s project 888: Portrait of Taiwan

By Catherine Shu  /  Staff Reporter

Sometimes groups of people would gather to observe subjects in which the portrait “could go either way.”

“When you draw someone, you can see both their good and bad sides simultaneously,” Zlamany explains. “Where you go with it is a decision that you have to make.” One of her sitters was so intoxicated that he took off his shirt and put it back on again. When observers saw that Zlamany strived to be respectful in her portrayals, however, it eased the tension in the crowd.

“I could see it made people happy that I was kind. It was a subtle communication,” says Zlamany. “I don’t think it’s insincere to want to find someone’s good side.”

Though each portrait session was brief, it could also be very revealing for both Zlamany and her sitter.

Cerita Chen (陳欣昀) invited Zlamany to her home in Taoyuan after sitting for her. “I felt my portrait was different from what I see in a photo or the mirror. I felt she had captured my spirit and what I was feeling,” says Chen.

“It was a new experience to have someone from abroad in our house, drawing us,” she adds.

Just as Zlamany’s subjects warmed up to her, Zlamany also found herself viewing some people in a new light after painting them, including a group of five women who stayed in the same hostel in Chingchuan (清泉), an Atayal village in Hsinchu County. At first, Zlamany was disinterested in painting the group because they seemed like average tourists. During some free time, however, Zlamany asked the women to sit for her. As the group observed one another as each was painted, the depth of their relationship revealed itself.

“There was just something about their friendship that made them come alive as people and seem more special,” Zlamany says. “It had a layer of richness that I hadn’t noticed.”

“I don’t know if they were wondering who I was or if they were suspicious of me,” she adds. “But afterward I felt that we were close and that some boundaries or barriers had been broken.”

Now back in New York City, Zlamany plans to turn 24 of her favorite watercolor portraits into oil paintings. She hopes to repeat the project in Laos and Cambodia, and eventually bring it to Israel and Palestine.

“It’s brought so much goodwill and I’m really happy with that,” says Zlamany, who keeps in contact with many of her 888: Portraits of Taiwan sitters.

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