This starvation is deeper than aesthetic fascination; it goes all the best way again to my earliest years. I grew up within the hospital. As a result of I used to be born with spina bifida and underwent dozens of surgical procedures by the point I used to be 5, I used to be always surrounded by white-coated medical doctors and white-uniformed nurses, every of whom had been answerable for my physique. Every made me concern for what would occur subsequent: Was I going again to surgical procedure? Being despatched for painful checks? Was I ever going house? I had no authority to say no, so I realized to learn the reality in grown-up faces it doesn’t matter what their phrases may say. I studied their refined alerts with the passionate dedication of a Talmudic scholar.
For me, every masks is a small however painful theft. The virus has stolen your face from me; it’s even stolen my face from myself. I exploit my face to mitigate individuals’s reactions to my physique — my curved backbone, my orthopedic boots, my silver-red hair, my limp. I beam out my expressions — and my phrases — to defend myself in opposition to harassment. In opposition to ignorance. In opposition to being ignored. Now my masks muffles my voice, kidnaps my face and reduces my physique to a analysis.
All that’s tough sufficient, however how can I convey the distress of being a portrait artist throughout a pandemic? For 30 years, I’ve depicted individuals who expertise stigma. My topics have been mocked, threatened, demeaned due to the best way they give the impression of being or transfer or enact their identities. I paint to make them seen as they honestly are, as bearers of iconoclastic magnificence. Portraiture is the aim of my life.
Visibility is essential. Lots of my collaborators — they don’t seem to be mere topics, however companions in creation — are disabled, or queer, or trans, or individuals of coloration; these, in reality, who’re most in danger from Covid-19. Faces that aren’t simply masked, however are additionally solely lacking from public life. Individuals who, like me, are at such medical danger that now we have little selection however to shelter in place. We’ve been rendered invisible in addition to weak, our lives managed by those that don’t masks, who’re, to be frank, barefaced threats. How will we remind them that we exist from behind 1,000,000 closed doorways?
And so, my profession has been upended. I can’t make portraits if I can’t let anybody into my studio. I’d want an area the dimensions of an airplane hangar to create enough social distance, and even then, I’d must view my topics by way of a telescope. Not fairly the intimate expertise one needs when doing a portrait.