I was interviewed for a July feature on CreateBetterPaintings.com. As it is a subscription webzine you'll need to follow the following steps (during the month of July) to be a guest to see the article with images. OR to just read the article text only I have included it in this posting below the Guest pass instructions.
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July Feature Article by Jennifer King:
First in our new series on Good Earth competition winners: How you interpret Deborah Hamon’s paintings of pre-teen girls has a lot to do with what perceptions and experiences you bring to the paintings.
“I’ve found my subject,” says Deborah Hamon with obvious delight, “I feel like I could paint girls for the rest of my life.” Drawing on her own experiences, those of pre-teen girls among her friends and neighbors, and the future experiences of her own daughter, Deborah finds a wealth of ideas surrounding that precious and wondrous time when a girl hovers on the brink of young womanhood. For Deborah, her paintings present an optimistic, yet realistic, outlook on this period of innocence and growth. They are representative of her own life story and her present lifestyle.
However, the artist is completely aware that many people read far more into her paintings. Some regard them as social commentary or perhaps criticism, yet Deborah is relatively unconcerned if people interpret—or even misinterpret—her paintings in ways other than she intended. She’s quite content with the knowledge that her most recent work is simply making people think. And either by a recognition of something familiar or by a sense of contrast to our own lives, we viewers are always provoked by her images to contemplate the conditions and circumstances of that common path to adulthood we all must follow.
Creating Universal Imagery
Deborah has held a long-standing interest in painting girls in the age range of 8 to 13 or so. At first, she says, her paintings were often portraits of girls she imagined in her mind. “The idea came to me when I started thinking about having a baby,” she recalls. “For whatever reason, I just assumed it would be a girl—which it was!—and I began to wonder what she would be like and what kind of woman she would become.” The backgrounds of these early works were typically very simple, with the focus more on the face or single figure.
But as her interests changed and evolved, and her confidence in her skills as an artist increased, Deborah began to paint real girls from photos she shoots herself, and to place these figures in more complex, detailed environments. Over time, a fascinating transformation occurred—in the process of including more information, her paintings went from portraits to universal images. They’re no longer about the specific girls, but rather about how the artist perceives girls and chooses to represent them, and how we as the viewers perceive the presentations.
This means, of course, that these paintings are open to a broad array of interpretations. But of the girls populating her paintings, Deborah says, “Different girls represent different archetypes to me, yet they all have so much in common. They’re so fragile, and their emotions waver from the bravado of extreme confidence, to true confidence, to total insecurity. Many of them are becoming increasingly self-conscious, and they’re aware that people are looking at them and they’re looking back. These girls really want to be grown up, but they don’t want to lose their innocence. They don’t even realize that, but you can see it.”
Because the paintings are so much about behavior, which is mainly exhibited within the context of social interactions, Deborah typically includes two or more figures together in a painting. Yet, she usually positions the girls face forward, making eye contact with us, the viewers. “At first, I like the viewer to look at the work and think the girls are having fun,” she explains, “but then I want you to see that I’m showing you a moment in between the action, a break in the fun, when the mood can go either way. I want there to be some ambiguity.” This is perhaps one of the most evocative qualities in Deborah’s work.
Developing Her Concepts
For models, Deborah usually asks the parents of the girls in her neighborhood or friends who have daughters the right age for permission to work with their girls. If the girls are interested, she’ll often ask them to invite their friends to pose as well, again with the parents’ permission. “Because the girls who are modeling together usually know each other, there is already a natural dynamic taking place among them,” she says.
Sometimes Deborah goes to a photo shoot with a concept already in mind. For example, with High Achiever, the Good Earth Grand Prize Winner, she knew she wanted to somehow incorporate a trophy into the image. At other times, Deborah notes, she goes to the girls’ homes and takes her cues from talking to them about their interests and hobbies, observing what they’re wearing, or looking at their rooms. “Early on, I thought that every painting had to have a big idea or it wasn’t worthy,” she notes, “but now I’m open to exploring even little ideas and seeing where they lead.”
Even more ideas come to her when the girls get in front of the camera and start to interact with her and with each other. When she does have a specific scene she wants the girls to act out, Deborah often likes to let the girls choose which roles they want to play or to give all of the girls an equal chance by acting out the scene several times, with various girls in different roles each time. In these early discussions, the girls’ personalities start to come through, and they become even more pronounced as Deborah shoots hundreds of photos of her models, usually continuing as long as she can hold the girls’ interest in the process.
“I really get the final idea for a painting when I see what I’ve shot in the photographs,” she adds. “One photo usually gives me the basic idea of how the figures will look, but then I usually find more ways to enhance the concept.” Additional figures and particularly the background elements are often borrowed from other photos, which Deborah marries into one digital reference image through the use of the Photoshop program. And while she paints, she may add smaller details that further the message. Again using High Achiever as an example, when she noticed that the girl on the left looked as if she felt she didn’t fit in, Deborah added the white knee socks to make her look even more young and awkward.
Working With Acrylics
Typically working on a colored ground, such as pink or yellow or blue, Deborah then projects the main outlines of her figures and background elements on her canvas. She prefers to use a projector because it allows her to easily scale the image up or down until she finds the perfect balance for the canvas shape and size.
Once she’s transferred the main contour lines to the canvas, she’s ready to begin painting. “Sometimes I’ll work on the background and almost complete it before I do the figures, but then other times I’ll work back and forth, focusing on what I’m most interested in,” she says. “This is one of the things I like best about using acrylics. I can just keep working at something until I start getting the results I want, and I can easily work on several paintings at one time.” Deborah’s method for getting that polished look in her figures is to use very small—as in No. 1—brushes, even on her bigger canvases.
Interestingly, Deborah does not like to see that finished appearance throughout an entire canvas, which is why she often gives elements of the background a more stylized treatment. “I’m just not all that interested in photorealism, which can become monotonous and boring to me,” she says. “What excites me and keeps me interested in a painting is some kind of juxtaposition between an illusionistic quality and a stylized or painterly treatment. I like to see some tension between dimension and flatness, or between realism and symbolism, like the gold outlines I added to the painting called Mermaids.”
Many aspects of Deborah’s painting process are open-ended, in that she follows wherever her models and her painting methods lead. Perhaps this is one reason she’s able to create open-ended paintings that can be interpreted on a lot of different levels. “What’s interesting to me is that I don’t plan every nuance of what a painting is going to mean, but I often sit back and see more in a painting when it’s finished,” she says. “For example, I didn’t give Red Arrow a specific narrative as I painted it. Looking at it now, is it simply depicting a fun cowgirl dress-up game that empowers the participants, or is it commenting on the amount of violence that today’s children are exposed to? The viewer can see it many ways.” All we know for sure is that Deborah will continue to put together certain scenarios that are destined to evoke more questions.
Deborah Hamon received a BFA from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, in 1990 and an MFA in 2002 from the University of California, Davis. In the years since, she has exhibited in a number of solo and group exhibitions at galleries across the U.S. and internationally, including two simultaneous solo shows at Galerie Schuster’s two Berlin locations. She is currently exhibiting in a two-person show at Galerie Schuster in Frankfurt. Her paintings are now represented in many private and public collections, including the Howard Tullman Collection, Morgan Flagg Collection, UC Davis Shields Library Permanent Collection, Woodland Memorial Hospital, and many more. Originally from Australia, Deborah now makes her home in Marin County, north of San Francisco. She is represented by Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn, New York, and Galerie Schuster in Berlin and Frankfurt, Germany. To learn more about this award-winning artist, visit www.deborahhamon.com.
text © 2008 Jennifer King.