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Over the summer, I visited a huge art show at Woodmere Art Museum where I sometimes teach comics. My friend had a giant painting in the show, and I was impressed with his work as well as the sculptures and prints and paintings of many other Philadelphia-area artists. I wandered over to the children's section, and I was blown away by the aesthetics of the room. The teachers had skillfully designed the content throughout their semester and achieved very visually pleasing pieces from many different age groups.
Most striking to me was a corner of the room saturated by oversized paintings; self-portraits of the student artists, but showing head to toe rather than the conventional shoulder up. I took many pictures of this on my phone, determined to steal this idea straight away. I was reminded that the simple act of changing the size and dimensions of surfaces profoundly alters the process and the product of artwork.
The finishing touch on my development for this project came when I was making a pet portrait for a customer. This person wanted the portrait done in the style of Gustav Klimt. Searching through google images to find ways of copying Klimt I came across a lesser known contemporary of his; Mela Koehler.
Her fashion design and illustration featured generally full figures whose backgrounds were saturated with simple yet elegant patterns. I showed these patterns to each student, and encouraged theme to take these ideas and methods and to somehow use their own pattern and style. It occurred to me that too often in art class we focus on single forms in the center of an artwork, and that spending more time on a piece to give uniform attention to a full surface would produce pleasing results and cultivate many beneficial workshop skills.
Students expressed excitement and uttered "oohs" and "aahs" as I scrolled through images of Koehler's work on my phone at teach table. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work! It took a very long time, and the art room is still covered with paint, as are a few articles of clothing. I would end each day of painting with the kids feeling pretty exhausted with my hands splattered in acrylic paint. It was well worth stretching the limits of the art classroom. Next year I plan to build off of this idea of the challenge of changing size and process on rather conventional artworks. I'll be considering the possibilities of future self-portraits as I visit future art galleries and museums.
I hope you enjoy the students' oversized self portraits!