I think a lot of us had a moment in the quarantine when we looked up from our screens and wondered if the internet wasn’t making us crazy. Our newsfeeds had become an anxious and unaccredited bachelor’s degree in epidemiology. Facebook turned into a racist uncle’s wet meme factory. Twitter was a snuff film library of police violence. Instagram, in fairness, was a lot of sour-dough bread, but we were jacked into all of it like Neo in the Nebuchadnezzar. It was like being five coffees deep in the jitters of meme-culture doom-scrolling. The presumed quiet of isolation met the information age not with enlightenment but withdrawal shakes—where I found myself engaging (and sharing) far too many headlines and podcasts, and far too few books and long-form analysis. At some point I asked myself: What from this noisy world do I want to fill myself with? What can I do to amplify voices of insight, beauty, reason?
I started a portrait series of the authors who’d been keeping me company/sane. My choice of subject was based on nothing more than whether the last book I read was good or not. My reading ranged from essay collections (Rebecca Solnit, Mary Beard, Rutger Bregman) to literature, screenplays and poetry (Ocean Vuong, Li-Young Lee, Hal Hartley); from well-known writers (Zadie Smith, Haruki Murakami) to lesser-known (Anjali Joseph, Damon Charles Bishop). And of course, my reading list went where the year took it—2020 was a racial reckoning, so: Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Michale Denzel Smith, Derrick Bell, Claudia Rankine. We were also wrestling with a descent into fascism, so: Eddie Glaude, P.E. Moskowitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Timothy Snyder, and Jared Yates Sexton.
The drawings begin with blind contour sketches. Similar to the way you learn to type without watching your fingers on the keyboard, with blind contours, you practice moving your hand while your eyes are trained on the subject. It makes room for chance and some surprising results. I make a handful of sketches and select the most interesting one for some volumetric cross-hatching and marker shading.
The project is called PORTRAIT OF A BOOK REPORT. I aim to produce 100 and publish as a book.