Would you like to make my portrait? Olivia Hernaiz – By Amanda Vandyck

A review of Faraway festival shows by YPAL

The last thing I expected to do on a Sunday morning was draw a stranger’s portrait. Although I had been participating in the YPALs conference for a few days by then, my experiences had been mostly as an observer, only occasionally standing up to dance during performances (it was part of the show, of course). So, when I arrived at the FRAC, right next door to Sciences Po, and saw a whole bunch of easels set up in a semi-circle around the artist, Olivia Hernaïz, I was a little surprised and a little giddy. Giddy, because I hadn’t tried my hand in the fine arts in quite a while.

The fact that I hadn’t made a portrait of a live artist maybe ever definitely showed as I started putting pastel to paper. I sat between two children, although it was my portrait that looked like it had been done by a five-year-old. At one point, after I had stepped away from the easel, a kind old lady walked by and asked the two girls on either side of me where their younger sister was– my portrait was so bad the woman assumed that it had been the work of a younger sister, not a nineteen-year-old art lover. My friend entered the FRAC, and in showing her my piece I laughed so hard that I almost started crying, disrupting the peace of the room.

While my piece may not have been what anybody was expecting, it still felt good to create something. The sheer range of emotions, whether excitement and expectation that surrounded the clean slate of my paper, or the overwhelming embarrassment and ridiculousness of my drawing itself, shook me. And, if you ask me, I really like my piece. Even though my depiction of the model looks like a scary monster, missing many facial features (I almost forgot to to draw the model’s nose), it was genuinely fun to color in the dark green of the model’s sweater and combine browns to make a hair color that felt satisfactory. 

I am a Young Performing Arts Lover– and while this may have initially appeared to be a visual arts exhibition, it hit me as I left that this was a performing arts experience. The feel of interacting with the other artists, of looking at what they were doing, and being part of a micro-community, of interacting with the model, of discussing my work with the people around me, was interactive and almost performative. The model wanted to make a point. She was the orchestrator of this experience, of this interaction, and, although she was silent, she was the center of it. She reverses the creative process, so that the observers are the creators, with a focus on dialogue. I appreciate the opportunity that Hernaïz gave me. I only hope she doesn’t take offense at my truly abhorrent portrait of her.

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