The Faces of Our Time: Give Me Head at James Harris Gallery

Give Me Head at Seattle’s James Harris Gallery transpires most literally:  as a collection of 21 heads.  This group show of paintings and sculptures primarily created within the last five years offers a visual survey of the face. With very limited exceptions, a lack of expression represents the unifying theme of the imagery. Although some eyes meet the viewer dead-on and others gaze outside the confines of their frames, the intimacy affiliated with portraiture is consistently absent among these stoic figures, raising the question: why would the lack of expression define this body of work? - Erin Langner, Seattle Contributor

Give Me Head
 installation view. Left to Right: Evan Holloway, Sarah Awad, Almeida, Mark Mumford, Shimon Minamikawa, Akio Takamori. Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Much in line with her most recent bodies of work, Tokyo artist Shimon Minamikawa’s two, multi-canvas paintings in Give Me Head position a simple, monochromatic head on a small square affixed to a series of larger, abstract panels. Color and pattern dominate the focus within yellow, person and gray face, black, while the faces’ blank stares recede into the background.  In the absence of facial cues, the viewer can project the painted imagery onto the individual’s identity, but whether such assumptions are accurate remains ambiguous; prolonged looking is disorienting, rather than revealing.

Shimon Minamikawa | gray face, black. 2011. Acrylic on canvas, three parts. 38 1/4″ x 29.″ Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Travis Collinson’s Orchid Behind portrays a similarly unreadable human. Set against a potted orchid whose distinctive flower is noted but not shown, the painting depicts a blonde man in a blue t-shirt, seen from above.  This face appears slightly melancholy in his downward look but otherwise offers little expression. The strange angle of the work’s perspective implies there is more to know about this individual than can be seen, but supplemental information is not offered; his story is unclear.

Travis Collinson | Orchid Behind. 2011. Acrylic on linen. 10″ x 8.” Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

The disinterested faces persist throughout Give Me Head, from the colossal, disengaged head of Akio Takamori’s Boy with Yellow Cap to the lifeless statues of Sarah Awad’s Fallen Heads. Hawaii-based artist Jason Teraoka’s small, sinister paintings provide the one exception.  The smirking woman with a face clouded through gray undertones suggests an air of debauchery, if not something worse. Yet the specifics of her story are withheld; the viewer is left with only an unpleasantly green background as contextualization. The visual cues of her expression mean little without a backstory.  Teraoka also draws inspiration from vintage films in the construction of his portraits, suggesting the truth behind Miss Misschief’s expression may merely be an acted deception rather than an earnest representation of her being.

Jason Teraoka | Miss Misschief. 2008. Acrylic & Varnish on canvas. 10″ x 23.″ Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.

Give Me Head, while provocative in its title, is ultimately more subtly inquisitive in its persisting questions surrounding the disengagement of its portrait subjects. If contemporary portraiture can be defined it this way, the implication for culture at large is that we may be more disinterested as a society than we realize. The vacant stares of Give Me Head leaves us to consider our own engagement in the present moment, and what we may be missing as our eyes wander away.

Akio Takamori | Boy with Yellow Cap. 2011. Stoneware with under glazes. 19 1/2″ x 15″ x 17 ½.″ Image courtesy of James Harris Gallery.


Give Me Head is on view at James Harris Gallery in Seattle, WA through January 28, 2012.

Erin Langner is a writer based in Seattle and is Assistant Program Manager, Education and Public Programs at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).


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