Sunday, May 21, 2006
Faces Of Missing Children
I paint them from the "Have You Seen Me?" fliers, distributed to over eighty million homes in America. What do you do with the fliers when they come to your mailbox? Since 1992 I have painted the portraits of hundreds of missing children from the mailers. To learn more about how I began this project and the different ways the paintings have been displayed to reach the public, visit my website, www.johnpaulthornton.com
Here are some images of the Installation at Infusion Gallery in Los Angeles, which runs through the end of June, 2006. The paintings are suspended from high above the gallery floor, some nearly reaching the ground, with others at varying heights, raising above the heads of viewers. They gently turn as viewers walk past, putting the interactive display in motion.
My junk mail came to life one morning, when I learned that a child I knew had disappeared.
It was only then, that I finally noticed the “Have You Seen Me?” cards, with their blurry little printed monochrome faces. Each week, the cards are sent to millions of homes across the country. What do other people do with them? Instead of throwing the cards out, I kept mine in a drawer in my studio. When the drawer became full, I spread the cards out on the floor and was overcome by the realization of how poorly they seemed to reflect the lives of these children. Holding a card in one hand, and my paintbrush in the other, I took clues from the bland descriptions of eye color, hair color and age. Squinting at the tiny washed out photo on the card, I painted a portrait. Then, another. Art and Courage flowed from my brush. For fourteen years, week after week, I have painted these faces.
I wonder: “What is the right way to paint a missing child? Who is this portrait for? Does the interval of space between tear-duct and nostril matter? Is it necessary to separate emotional content from pigment?”
If approached as an exercise in color and form, I can detach, and these paintings unfold like calm meditative journeys. Other times, I let down my guard, and allow my mind to explore the imagined story of a child and a family I do not know. This is a searing experience, like holding one’s finger over a flame. In the process, a disposable mass-printed source material transforms into something unique and intimate: a presumed depiction of a multi-dimensional being.
In truth, my own questions regarding the appropriateness of this task remain unresolved. At what time should this body of work end? Every week, another new “Have You Seen Me?” card arrives in my mail. At which face would I discontinue?