/ Portrait Painting / Antigua / Barlife // I was first introduced to Rachel when she modeled for a session I was photographing in support of a fellow artist/designer at Northern Contemporary Art Studios, an artist collective in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto that has now been forced to vacate during the Covid-19 pandemic. I found out that she also shared space as a portrait painter at the studio. As we talked, I had the chance to look at some of her paintings and it blew me away. I feel a sense of connection to how she paints. Her artwork, especially her portrait work, has soul, something I hope to display in my photographs. So it was lucky that we were able to plan a session about a week before the pandemic closed everything.
As we spoke, she tells me about growing up in Antigua and coming to Toronto to study at OCAD. She just completed her studies and it is then, that I realize how young she is. As we continue to talk, I ask her about her goals and ambitions, and I again realize that she is just embarking on her path as an artist, that she is in this moment to enjoy and share her talent. I say this not to emphasize her youth, rather, it is to contrast it with the body of artwork she has produced, namely that each of her portraits has such depth and soulfulness, something that takes time and experience to develop. Maybe it speaks to her connection with painting. Maybe it comes from her love of many great painters, including Frida Kahlo (whom she has tattooed on her right forearm. Or, maybe it comes from her unique way of interpreting the world. Rachel has graphene colour synesthesia, a rare ability (1-2% of the population) to associate colours from numerals and letters. Like all forms of synesthesia, it is involuntary, consistent and memorable.
Whatever it may be, Rachel has an ability to translate an essence into a beautiful painting. I hope that I am able to have the same ability to make visible someone’s essence in my photographs, and I hope hers is visible in these photographs.
With appreciation, dignity, and respect,