Human face is an important key to identification based on appearance and also the field of expressive action, filled with variety of looks open to different interpretations.
“Most portraits exhibit a formal stillness. Either the sitter composes himself or the portraitist does it to indicate the solemnity of the occasion and timelessness of the portrait image as a general, often generous statement, summing up ‘a life'”. (Brilliant, 1991) page 10.
Physical appearance is naturally visible yet it is unstable. The rest is abstract and has to be expressed symbolically. The artist depends on his memory of the subject and his own analysis of the character in order to express an individual’s personality.
Every picture belongs to the present memory of the individual represented. It is an increase of being that is determined by personal significance. That means the individual in the portrait tends to represent himself and the portrait represents him as he appears in the eyes of the people near him.
The great difficulty about pictures is the reception given to a portrait by the viewer. If the viewer is someone close or familiar with the person portrayed, conflict may occur regarding representation. The viewer might not see the resemblance between the portrait and the person portrayed even though it is the same person. The camera might fail to take an honest picture. That’s because the photographer might have made a false assumption about the appearance of the person he/she portrayed.
Portrait is like a caricature if it does not present a convincing likeness of the sitter; it is not a successful portrait.
Brilliant Richard in his book “Portraiture” states that the power in the likeness can be recognized even by a hungry tiger referring to a news item in The New York Times of 5 September 1989 about the Ganges Delta in India where Bengal tigers have been attacking woodcutters from behind. The woodcutters started wearing face masks on the back of their heads and since then no one has been killed.
Full face portrait function as “I – You” relation. The sitter portrayed and the viewer speak as if looking at each other. ‘Looking at me, you look at me looking at you’.
Portraits establish the circumstances of the gaze and shapes the psychological process that involves the viewer in answering questions presented by the portrait “Who is” the “You” that I am looking at?
“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter. The sitter is merely an accident, the occasion . It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself”. – Oscar Wilde.
Bibliography / References:
Brilliant, R. (1991). Portraiture. London: Reaktion Books.