Digital portrait artist extraordinaire Ian Spriggs gets under the skin of his artworks in A Portrait of the Digital Age. Here, he presents an exclusive excerpt.
Ian Spriggs is a true hero of Chaos. Over the past seven years, he's produced breathtaking digital portraits of family and acquaintances, including director Neill Blomkamp and Chaos' own Chris Nichols. Watching Ian grow in confidence and build on his already formidable talents has been an extraordinary journey for everyone at Chaos, and the beauty of his images is testament to V-Ray for Maya's power and versatility.
Now, Ian has brought all his knowledge together in A Portrait of the Digital Age, a 202-page book in which he breaks down his portraits and ruminates on the role of traditional artistic techniques in computer-generated mediums. In this excerpt, Ian writes about one of the age-old issues with portrait painting: should the artist beautify the subject, or should they represent them truthfully?
For any portrait artist, the struggle between true representation and flattery has been an ongoing issue. Most artists want to portray their subject in the best light. Amplifying their beauty and hiding their ugliness, and giving them a higher status of respect and admiration to the viewer. At what point though, does this ingratiation become too much? Where is the line that says this is no longer a representation of the subject but of a lie? We want to create a portrait that will give us a sense of reward from the subject. If we leave out the negative qualities and enhance the target’s sources of self-doubt, the subject will likely praise the portrait. If I compliment you, in return, you will compliment me. Sometimes requests for flattery come directly from the subject.
If the world is going to see the portrait then it is likely that the subject is going to want the best possible image to reflect them, whether it is real or not. For the artist to gain respect and approval from their subject, they will sometimes render these favours. An artist also will be praised for their talent if they can create a visually striking image that may bend the truth. There are also ways to glorify ugliness, to show negative qualities in a positive light by creating a beautiful story out of it even if it is a lie. It is art after all. Where is the line that we can make this ingratiation without losing our principles of maintaining the truth? How much of our own reputation do we dare put on the line to speak these truths?
As many artists do, my intent is to reveal truth in my portraits. I do so by amplifying certain features such as clothes, props, lighting and the pose to exaggerate certain characteristics I want to bring forward. The reason that my portraits are mostly of people I know is so that I can portray an honest representation. I have relationships with the people in my artwork. I am not fabricating a lie of their essence in my work, rather, I am manufacturing a lie to reveal deeper truths of who they are.
I often question how much my subjects should have influence in their portrait. A few times I have been requested to make the subject smile or to show them more cheerful or more beautiful. While I want the people in my portraits to have a sense of pride in their portrait, I must maintain it is a good artwork first, otherwise it is kitsch. Sharing my vision of how I represent them, might not mean it is the same way they see themselves, or how they want to be seen.
Ian Spriggs, "A Portrait of the Digital Age"
A Portrait of the Digital Age is available for pre-order now from The Juice Bar.
Want to know more about Ian and the book? Check out CG Garage podcast 350.