Brenda Zlamany The Itinerant Portraitist 2011–2021
July 10–September 18, 2021
Reception: Saturday, July 10, 2021, 5–9 , potluck at 7
The Re Institute is pleased to announce an exhibition of works by Brooklyn-based artist Brenda Zlamany. The Itinerant Portraitist 2011–2021 brings together watercolors, photography, and video from a decade of issue-driven portrait excursions, presented for the first time as a group in a site-specific installation in a massive hayloft gallery. Oil paintings of birds by the artist will also be on display in the smaller “aviary” gallery.
Zlamany is best known for portraiture that combines the techniques of the Old Masters with a postmodern conceptual approach. She gained attention in the 1990s when critics identified her among a group of figurative painters reviving the neglected legacies of portraiture and classical technique by introducing confrontational subject matter, psychological insight, and social critique.
In 2011 Zlamany created an ongoing, multi-year project called The Itinerant Portraitist. In this project, she travels the globe to explore the positive effects of painted portraiture. Stories are at the heart of The Itinerant Portraitist, and the artist records video of conversations with the subjects while simultaneously painting the portraits. At the end of the sessions, the subjects are photographed presenting their portraits. These photos are used to create community on social media and are displayed in installations along with the video recordings.
Zlamany describes The Itinerant Portraitist as an issue-driven project that changes focus with each chapter: “This project allows me to explore critical social issues and has given me opportunities to collaborate with various communities, filmmakers, and musicians. My watercolor portraits are always done from direct observation in a single sitting with the subject present, unlike my oil paintings, which I make over months from a combination of sketches, photos, and sittings. While my oil paintings benefit from slow, painstaking discovery, watercolor, an unforgiving medium, is best when one homes in on a few key events with speed and confidence. Each painting represents a relationship. The project is as much about art-making as it is about the experience and the connection with the subject.”
The inaugural chapter of The Itinerant Portraitist was 888: Portraits in Taiwan, funded by a Fulbright fellowship in 2011. Over the course of the fellowship, Zlamany traveled in Taiwan, primarily to aboriginal villages, and persuaded 888 people to sit for watercolor portraits. Subsequent chapters of The Itinerant Portraitist have involved portraits of girls in an orphanage in Abu Dhabi (2013), concertgoers in Oxfordshire (2013), artists in Brooklyn (2015–2016), taxicab drivers in Cuba (2016), elderly and disabled adults in a nursing home in the Bronx (2017), people affected by climate change in Florida, California, and Alaska (2018-2019), visitors to the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia (2019), and, most recently, socially distanced mask wearers in upstate New York (2020–2021).
Individuals, old and young, from all walks of life, have participated in The Itinerant Portraitist, including political figures, diplomats, tribal leaders, policemen, firemen, teachers, students, artists, street cleaners, fruit sellers, doctors, hotel workers, drag queens, fishermen, vintners, seasonal workers, realtors, climate scientists, victims of wildfires, park rangers, sled dog trainers, bus drivers, and Iñupiat whalers, as well as art world luminaries and other celebrities such as Alex Katz, Dawoud Bey, Deborah Kass, Émilie Simon, and Annie Dillard.
Since 2011, Zlamany has completed over 2,000 portraits with The Itinerant Portraitist, and individual chapters of the project have been presented in a range of venues worldwide. The Itinerant Portraitist 2011–2021 brings together over 400 of these portraits, displaying selections from every chapter of the project in one gallery for the first time. The exhibition also includes a digital presentation along with screenings of the artist’s 2019 documentary “100/100 ITINERANT PORTRAITIST” and of “Project 888,” an interview with the artist recorded by The Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei in 2012.