Have you ever tried to look at someone's face and realized that you're only looking at one of his eyes? Then maybe you move to their nose, or that little dip right above their lips, or you start to notice the quality of their skin. It's incredibly hard to look at someone's face and actually see the whole face. it's almost impossible to see the whole face of a person at one moment. A two dimensional rendition of facial features are much easier to grasp, however, like a painting or a photograph, because it is flattened and simplified. You can’t see the depth of a person’s face, especially the infinite and mysterious quality of the eye. The nine portraits that are currently in the art gallery in the Kresge Memorial Library are captivating in a full and complete sense, bringing attention to the eternal quality behind the human face. To my pleasant surprise, Bruce Herman's portrait series, “Ordinary Saints: On Facing, Servitude, and Submission” are unique in their depth and are truly compelling. The exhibit in the library holds significance both for its technique and its intention. There is a beautiful collaboration of metallic and earthy tones, a mixture of fluid and rough brush strokes, and a naturalistic approach combined with abstracted backgrounds. Although these portraits bring viewers some visual comfort, they function as complex studies of the human face. Some, but not all of the portraits are of the artist’s family members. One of the more compelling portraits is that of his granddaughter, titled Firefly. The young, sweet profile of the girl is in the bottom right corner, while the rest of the large canvas is filled with strokes and colors that evoke feelings of youth, creativity, and unorganized vitality. This composition is strikingly different from from the portrait of the artist’s son, in which the man is in the middle of the canvas and the background is a rough pattern of silver painted squares. Each face communicates different emotions of comfort, love, and respect. The portraits evoke thoughts of curiosity as the subtle differences creating a meaningful, personable quality in each portrait.
From the complexity of each face, we begin to see the intention of the artist. Herman states in his summary of the exhibit, "every face is potentially an icon of the Holy Face." This idea becomes actualized as he captures the mysterious complexity and beauty of a face. In observing these beautiful faces, we are drawn to the Creator. The eyes of a loved one may be the window in which we see the face of our eternal Father; we begin to experience the infinite depth of love for another being. Herman’s exhibit draws to mind Psalm 34:5, which states “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are not ashamed.” The artist emphasizes the radiance of a face that is filled with the Spirit, proposing that we can see other people in the way that God sees us: redeemed and radiant.
Bruce Herman’s work has been shown in galleries around the world and published in books, magazines, and journals. He currently works at Gordon college, where he holds the Lothlórien Distinguished Chair in Fine Arts. As well, he was recently part of a touring exhibition/collaboration, titled “Qu4rtets” with Makoto Fujimara, composer Christopher Theofanidis, and theologian Jeremy Begbie. The exhibit in the library also features many biblical references, given by the artist, in order to emphasize the intention of the portraits. The subjects of his portrait series are people that he sees as “ordinary saints”: people that are touched by the Spirit and therefore strive to live biblically. Ephesians five is given to discuss the role of submission in the Christian faith, and he references Philippians two and the importance of servitude. There is a relationship with the artist and the subject, and the spiritual aspect of those relationships creates an even greater amount of depth. “Ordinary Saints” will be up until March 6 and there will be a reception on March 3 at 7:00 p.m., followed by a lecture at 8:00 p.m. in the Library’s art gallery.