Why have artists painted portraits throughout the ages?
Portraits have been an art for millennia in many different forms and in many different cultures. They can be made in any medium, including sculpture, oil paint, pastels, printmaking, or even various metals. Before photography was invented, portraits were the only way to document images of people. Throughout history portraits have served a variety of purposes. Sometimes they were created to convey the power and wealth of certain individuals. Sometimes portraits were made for remembering the dead. Some of the earliest portraits known, who were not kings or emperors were encaustic funeral portraits that survived thousands of years in Egypt. In later portraits, objects and props would at times be included to leave clues about the subject, or to show the subject’s place in society such as portraits of people in opulent clothing as symbols of power, wealth, and authority. For example, the Japanese created portrait sculptures to commemorate deceased monks. In African art, portraits emphasize social identity rather than individual identity. Portraits throughout Africa usually generalize and idealize their human images, because they are usually showing a ritual and commemorative function.
Fundamentally, I see my portraits like this: These images are not reproductions of an object. They are interpretations of a visual and emotional impression that the person has on me. The subject is interpreted by my emotional response to the character of the person through the light, color, atmosphere, etc., which combined creates a ‘mood,’ with a built-in subtle “caricature” in the actual drawing. I’m not referring to a cartoonish distortion, but more an emphasis on expression that can enhance the emotional response of the viewer to the qualities of the subject as I see and feel it. This acts as a vehicle to transmit my own emotional response. I guess I can say that by the fact that I am “interpreting” the person, this is therefore the key element involved in the process. That is, that a person is doing the interpreting and expressing and not a mechanical device, thus keeping the humanity in the picture, so to speak. Sure the photo can be manipulated and distorted, but the root of the image is an interpretation by a machine with no emotions.
Paintings can be commissioned as both portraits or landscapes including contemporary views or historical conceptions.