The Burn Project

"“To play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable.” -Beethoven

Until now, I’ve avoided portraits. When I did render figures I found creative ways to obscure faces, or simply cut off people’s heads with the margins of the picture plane. Part of this was deliberate, because the human body is universal and appeals to a wider audience. But if I’m honest with myself it was also because I didn’t feel up to the task.



I set the goal to complete 100 portraits in order to learn, with the hope that along the way I will develop my own distinctive style. That aspect of the project has yet to materialize. I want to reach a point where I’m conveying to the viewer more than just what the photo told me.

I’m trying to learn about my process, differentiating skills I want to build on from habits that get in the way. Every brushstroke is a guess. The painting is what happens while I’m busy refining a multitude of quesses in relation to each other. It doesn’t feel like I’m sharing a known thing, but finding that thing as I slowly build it through the paint.


Faces are our first language. A language so innate, and ingrained, that we take it for granted. When a tiny flaw rendering a portrait disrupts the viewers ability to read the face, it can be deeply unsettling. Folks that can’t draw a stick figure feel duty bound to point out when something isn’t right. They can’t help it, it’s instinctual, but makes for a tough audience.

In my other work I’ve tried to evoke emotion, but it’s always been hit or miss. Portraits have been a super-charged short-cut to emotion, but it’s incredibly complicated and out of my control. People conflate the person I’ve rendered, with the way I’ve rendered them. There’s an overlap that I can’t claim ownership of.

Theses pieces won’t sell. No one wants a stranger on their wall. If they did, it wouldn’t be the individual person, or my craftsmanship, they wanted, but some idea they’ve imposed on it. And I don’t want the burden of storing and protecting them from damage so they can just collect dust.

When I tell people that I plan to burn them all when I reach 100, they get very emotional. And that’s interesting to me. People know they’re supposed to value art, but they’re unsure how to do it. Take that sentiment outside of a capitalist paradigm and they’re even more perplexed.

People find it offensive to imagine something of value being destroyed.
But they’re wrong. The physical paintings aren’t where the value is. That’s in me, and it's not going anywhere.