I am concerned with psychological and emotional states and the tensions within them: rage and tenderness, confrontation and concealment, empathy and autonomy. I am fascinated by the history of portraiture in painting and by the ways in which changing conventions reflect ideas about gender. -Haynes
Clarity Haynes is a contemporary American artist working in a realistic style, utilizing soft chalk pastel to create life-like depictions of women, and in her most well-known project, women’s torsos.
Entitled the Breast Portrait Project, Haynes focuses exclusively upon women’s bodies and particularly upon their torsos and breasts. Usually artistic depictions of bodies without faces seem objectifying, appear to drain the personality and the perceived value of a person from the image. Haynes’ work is different in that it doesn’t objectify, it celebrates! These bodies have personality, they differ in unique and intriguing ways. In fact, Haynes is referencing and questioning our society’s conflation of faces with identities. In Haynes’ own words,
The face is our commonly recognized self – our “mask” of identity. Focusing exclusively on the torso shines a light on a part of the individual that is usually hidden. Each torso bears traces of unique personal experience: tattoos, childbirth, aging, stretchmarks and surgical interventions.
I’ve seen some discussion on whether Haynes’ work still objectifies women’s bodies, as her portraits don’t include faces. This is a brilliant response to the discussion. I personally feel that this is a healthy attitude to take, where we don’t behave as though we’re blind to others’ bodies, but that we’re conscious of them. We respect them. And that we don’t negatively judge them for differing from societal norms. Faces will distract from bodies in works of art as people viewing a painting, drawing, or photograph often disproportionately focus on faces rather than the overall figure. I think that choosing to exclude faces from these portraits is a reflection of the artist’s carefully considered choices, and I applaud the thought she’s put into her explanation. I also think that her photographs of women with their portraits fully addresses any remaining concerns of objectification.
Haynes’ bodies are imperfect by societal standards. Her work carefully and lovingly depicts these bodies in a way that highlights the scars and the imperfections. Rather than paint the incredibly thin and young women we see so often in the art world, Haynes’ subjects are young and old, big and small, both cis and transgendered, covered in the marks of events and happenings in their lives.
Her site contains a page of photographs of her subjects with their portraits. It’s beautiful really, to look through them all and see their thoughts on the experience. Many of them speak about how they love their bodies in the face of “imperfections” other think they have, how they found this experience incredibly transformative, and on the journeys they’ve gone through to accept and love their bodies for what they are. The subjects are so brave, so inspiring. They’re role models, every single one of them.
Haynes extends this experience to women at women’s festivals and fairs, among other events. The subject will pose for Haynes in her booth, share her thoughts in Haynes’ book, and take a photograph posing alongside her portrait. This is one of the many things that makes Haynes’ work feel so personal and so comfortable. We’re really able to get a sense of who Haynes is depicting in her work. Not just their bodies, but their whole beings.
Haynes demonstrates not only an impressive level of technical skill, but shares an emotional, truthful message we don’t always see in highly technically successful artwork. The concept behind the images is strong, and that really shines through in every piece. It’s this level of talent and ability to convey emotions and stories that has lead to Haynes’ increasing popularity in the art world (and in the feminist blogosphere! She’s featured in posts on Feministing and Sociological Images among others). She’s had a number of exhibits at the Tabla Rasa Gallery and a number of others in recent years, and indubitably with more to come. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of her work as well as more of her current projects!
Here’s an interview with Haynes, featuring explanation and elaboration upon her Breast Portrait Project and her overall work in her own words.