Artist McKael Barnes' SYE project | St. Lawrence University Art and Art History

Artist McKael Barnes' SYE project

McKael Barnes' SYE (Senior Year Experience) project built on the foundations of her prior Tanner Fellowship portfolio to produce an additional series of portraits. She presented the series as an exhibition for critique to faculty and the student body at the conclusion of the Fall 2019 semester. She plans to further build on this project for the Spring semester of 2020, incorporating feedback and producing a third series of portraits.

She strove to examine and depict the varying layers of familiarity that exist in her own human relationships. Following artist Lucian Freud’s example in personally getting to know his models, her project was to produce a series of painted portraits, presenting the innermost character of each individual chosen.

Each portrait was produced from a recorded interview involving 8-10 questions and a photograph. The same questions were asked of each subject, in order to narrow the information received. Her primary questions were:

  • “How would you describe your own personality,”
  • “What color best represents your personality,”
  • “What most inspires you,”
  • “What singular adjective would you use to describe yourself,”
  • “What has led you to be here at St. Lawrence University and why,”
  • “What are your takeaways from your experience here at SLU,”
  • “What are you most excited for in the future,” and
  • “How do you want to be remembered?”

McKael strove to experiment in finding the intersection between how those in her life think of themselves and the perception that she has formed of those individuals throughout their ranging interactions. Utilizing the unique atmosphere of St. Lawrence University to foster her diverse interactions with friends, acquaintances, and a few perfect strangers, she created a body of work that mimics the familiarity evident in Freud’s portraits. The resulting depictions are an intimate view of SLU subjects, achieved through questions and extended interactions with her models.

In Freud’s words about his artwork,
The aura given out by a person or object is as much a part of them as their flesh. The effect that they make in space is as bound up with them as might be their colour or smell ... Therefore the painter must be as concerned with the air surrounding his subject as with the subject itself. It is through observation and perception of atmosphere that he can register the feeling that he wishes his painting to give out
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