Carmen Schabracq, "Heroine I, feeding myself", acrylic on linen, 180 x 100cm, 2021; "Video still of the performance Becoming Vincent", mask made of crocheted wool, 2021; "Portrait of a Devil, acrylic on linen", 70 x 50 cm, 2020; "Self portrait with Vincent's pipe", acrylic on linen, 70 x 50 cm, 2020; "Portrait of Yvo", acrylic oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm, 2020; "Heroine II, mountain force", acrylic on canvas, 198 x 214 cm, 2021.
Q: What is the most important quality to possess as a portrait maker?
A: The ability to observe, further than the outside, so maybe also the ability to have a form of empathy for the portrayed. And to see that the portrayed is more than an image, it’s a character with a soul.
Q: How do you reveal identity in a portrait?
A: I don’t think ‘identity’ is a singular concept, it is multi-layered. So with a portrait you can show one layer of some one or some thing’s identity. I do think the face of a person is part of who that person ‘is’, so part of their identity. In a passport you recognize someone from the portrait picture, people read each other's facial expressions and relate to each other by recognition of the face. So the maker of the portrait can show a part of someone’s identity by capturing a facial expression, a gesture or a particular gaze of that person’s eyes. Of course in a portrait picture you can also show some part of the clothes that the portrayed person is wearing, which also tells something about their identity. Maybe the surroundings or an object in the picture tells something as well. I often paint hands in a certain gesture, to make the portrayed person more performative or active, which can also tell something about their identity.
Q: Is a portrait a performance?
A: That’s a very interesting question! Since my work has to do both with portraiture and performance, or the performative aspect of a portrait or mask. I’m very interested in masks; in a way a painted portrait is a mask as well. It’s a depiction of a face, or a depiction of an entity. Behind this depiction lies a living soul. When wearing a mask the entity or person the mask represents comes alive and is embodied. When you make a portrait it becomes a still moment of a living soul, which performs a ‘pose’ to be portrayed. So you could see a portrait as a performance I guess. I also make masks to become ‘the other’ and then make a performance with it, then it’s for sure a performance and a portrait at the same time! For example, I made a mask of Vincent van Gogh, after doing a residency at the guest studio of the Van Gogh house in his birthplace Zundert. With this mask I did a performance of becoming or being Van Gogh, who is eating his own paint. They say he sometimes did that during his manic periods, but also eating your paint is part of becoming your work. So in this performance ‘Becoming Vincent’ I attempted to become him or to portray him in a way (in the attachment you can find a video-still of this performance).
Q: When do you see the soul of the person portrayed in the image?
A: I don’t know if you could ever reach that, because I don’t think a soul has a defined shape or form. I do think a good portrait shows something of ‘the soul’ of a person, by looking the person in the eyes, at their expression and the emotion which was in the person during the making of the portrait. I find it quite intense to make a painted portrait of a living model, it can be emotional for me to make it. Even when the person is not there any more and I finish the portrait in my studio with the pictures I took of the live sessions, it can feel very intense. I think because you’re looking for such a long time very carefully at somebody, so you start to feel a lot of things the portrayed feels as well. So I do think a good portrait has a soul which was felt by the maker, but I’m not sure if the observer of the work could see that in the work as well.
Q: Is a portrait always the outside of an inner world?
A: In a sense, regarding the last two questions, the portrait ís always the outside of an inner world. Maybe a good portrait triggers the observer to look at their own inner world.
Q: If you as a maker look at the portrait you made, do you see a reflection of yourself despite another person in the image?