La Petite Mort Gallery Ottawa, Talking Portraits

Tompalski’s Talking Portraits were exhibited at La Petite Mort Gallery May 26th, 2006.


Sherry Tompalski’s Talking Portaits Installation was at La Petite Mort Gallery, curated by Guy Berube,  May 26th 7 – 10 PM at 306 Cumberland St. Ottawa Canada.  The  Exhibition provided 3 ways to experience the portrait – through large oil paintings, 8 audio sound tracks, and 8 videos of time-lapse photography that record the creation of the portraits.


PORTRAITS: The east wall will be covered with 135 square feet of boldly painted faces painted in her style of Psycholoogical Realism, where Tompalski captures the psychological experience of Ottawa’s leading psychotherapists and artists in paint on canvas. Her work is emphasizes intuition, interpretation, and co-construction (the unconscious dialogue of the portrait sitting.)


Portraiture & New Media

SOUND TRACKS: The sound tracks, were developed by splicing together unscripted comments with original computer music and sounds of birds, trains, roller coasters, steel bands and bagpipes. This dialogue allows for a momentary glimpse into the process of co-construction through the model’s verbal dialogue and the painter’s visual expression.


TIME-LAPSE VIDEOS: The time-lapse photography displays the development of the portrait. The hypnotic effect helps the audience take the time to look and become engaged with the painted portrait. To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which we feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Paintings and Installation by Sherry Tompalski and Supporting Audio and Video tracks by Graham Thompson.


Artist’s Statement

The Talking Portrait Installation, with its matrix of boldly painted faces, its use of time-lapse photography and edited voice tracks, invites the audience into the intimate moment of the portrait sitting. Rather than hang the portraits of the Talking Portrait Installation individually, Tompalski typically presents groups 9 to 15 large faces per gallery wall, covering as much as 135 square feet at a time. Consequently, art audiences are confronted by an expressive collection of personalities that for Tompalski represents “our life experience with others – those people who live inside of us, who shape the way we are from moment to moment.”


As well, The Talking Portrait Installation offers audience the opportunity to listen on portable audio players, individual sounds tracks for each portrait (produced by Thompson), where the models unsolicited comments are accompanied by supporting sound effects and programmed music that set the mood of each encounter. In effect, the sound tracks help the audience understand what each model is feeling, as part of an ongoing effort to capture the psychological experience of each model. The painted portraits are also supported by the time-lapse record of their creation (produced by Thompson), giving audiences, a quick overview of the development of each face through multiple layers of paint. The hypnotic effect of the compressed video helps the audience take a moment to look, to become engaged with the matrix of portraits. Consequently, the overall effect of the installation is a deepening of the moment, the moment mediated by the right hemisphere of the brain.

Right Brain Communication

The Talking Portrait installation is primarily concerned about right brain communication, as it takes place between the artist and the model, as the right brain is responsible for processing nonverbal facial expression, body language, and voice in terms of rhythm, tone and force. Research (Wexler et al 1992) demonstrates that the right hemisphere is specialized for both the receptive processing and expressive communication of facial information (primarily from the eyes and from around the mouth) between people in spontaneous social interaction.


This occurs very quickly in 3 milliseconds and is unconscious. For Tompalski, a practicing psychiatrist, the Talking Portrait series serves as visual confirmation that “90% of what goes on between people is unconscious”-an idea she credits to Daniel Stern, a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and a noted expert in the mother-infant relationship.


Tompalski describes her portrait making process as follows, “To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which I feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Consequently, I value painting from a live model. Most importantly, this allows for a mutual influence that is interactive and largely unconscious.”

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