One of our first posts of 2011 was a chat with longtime WVFC resident artist Julia Kay, about her new the new ventures in digital art. Now, at long last, Part Two of that conversation, including next steps for her work,  the new national chapters of her Portrait Party, and why she doesn’t care that art stars like David Hockney have decided to get into the act.

When I first heard the term “Julia Kay’s Portrait Party,” it was the name of your newest project, one you wrote about for WVFC. Now, it seems, you’ve got a movement — known formally as Julia Kay’s Portrait Party but familiarly within the group by its initials: JKPP.

JKPP has evolved from its beginnings as a personal art project to an international, collaborative endeavor in which artists make portraits of each other from posted photos, using any media or style, and at any skill level. On Feb 27th, we created 10,000 portraits of each other. On March 7th, the Portrait Party had its one-year anniversary; a week later, on March 15th, it was my JKPP one-year anniversary.

My portrait of Barb and her baby finally brought me into equilibrium after almost a year of trying to catch up on return portraits. It was made on my iPad using the Drawing Pad App, which is intended for children. A portrait of nurturing a baby also seemed a good metaphor for ushering JKPP to its one-year anniversary.

Why is yours a week later?

Because actually, the party started without me. I posted photos of myself and invited other artists to do the same, while I was still busy with my previous project, a three year run of daily self-portraits. I was just hoping someone would be willing to post some photos of themselves so I’d have a subject when my Daily (Self) Portrait Project was done.

However, in the week before I was ready to start, 60 artists jumped on board and drew more than 200 portraits of each other, including two dozen of me. Although it is not a requirement of the party, I had a personal goal of making a portrait of everyone who made a portrait of me, and I started out behind by around 24 portraits. In fact, it’s taken me almost an entire year to catch up. Just a little while ago, on Feb 24th, I came into portrait equilibrium with my portrait of Barb, and no longer ‘owed’ any portraits. I don’t know exactly how many portraits I’ve made, but it was somewhere around my 260th portrait for the party, and I decided to release myself from my goal of returning every portrait. Instead, I’d like to take more time and work in-depth with faces that are familiar, even repeatedly from the same photo, rather than always racing on to the next subject.

How does it feel to have gatherings in London and Oxford named “Julia Kay’s Portrait Party?”  Did they spring from the one you did after IAMDA? Did you participate remotely?

From left to right: Jane Sherwood, Anna Black, Erica Hastings, Francesca Whetna. Group portrait of the London meet-up, including poster of Julia Kay, who couldn't make it from the USA, was made from Martin Beek's photo of the gathering with Julia Kay poster behind, by Hong Kong artist Yipsss (photostream:[email protected]/l).

There have been many small, informal JKPP meet-ups, when people visiting different locations look each other up. I know of three ‘official’ meet-ups. The first one was last October in New York, connected with the conference. I organized and attended that one with 8-10 other JKPP members. Then, in December, there was a very successful meet-up of 14 European JKPP members in London. Several other members who planned to attend couldn’t make it that day because of weather conditions and train cancellations.

I wasn’t able to attend the London meet-up so Maureen Nathan made this poster of me and everyone gathered around the poster. I admit I did get a kick out of that, not just because of the strangeness of it, really, but because it meant that “I” was in many of the photos and drawings that were a result of the get together.  And now there’s another meet-up coming up later this month in Oxford. I did consider jumping on a plane for that one, but it just wasn’t practical.

I do hope to get to Europe this fall, and if so I hope it will work out to have a meet-up while I’m there. We’ve talked about trying to Skype or something for members to participate remotely but the truth of the matter is, everyone’s more interested in painting than figuring out technology! However, Martin Beek, one of the organizers of the Oxford meet-up, is inviting everyone to participate by also organizing the first offline show of the Portrait Party. He’s asked everyone to send postcard-sized portraits (or prints) to be shown at the Oxford meet-up, and we hope that this “Portrait Party in a Box” might then travel around to different locations and have shows around the world.

Famous artists have started to dabble in Mobile Digital Art–for instance, David Hockney’s iPad exhibit late last year. But in general, the digital art movement has felt very democratic, with fewer “stars.” Is that changing? Do you care?

I’m not sure I have much that’s interesting to say about this. I think there are always stars, or people become stars along the way. And there are multiple intersecting communities, and maybe each community has a couple stars, or at least leaders. And of course there are also people offline working independently, and then some of those people break out and become known in the larger world. I do know the flickr community is very supportive and open, and I think I had the luck, really, to be posting in the right place, iPod Touch in hand, as the mobile digital community coalesced on flickr.

What does 2011 look like for you, and the rest of this work?

In addition to meeting up with JKPP members if I do make it to Europe, the second IAMDA conference will be held in New York in October, we’ve started work on a JKPP book project that we hope will be a commercial venture and I’m working on a book for my Daily (Self) Portrait Project. On the back-burner: a project to make an animation of some of my self-portraits morphing into each other.

In addition,  I continue to work on a proposal for a gallery show of JKPP, which will combine original artwork, prints, and a changing grid of artwork displayed on iPads, where the different connections within the party can be shown. In preparation for the book and gallery projects, the members of JKPP have been curating flickr ‘galleries’ of JKPP portraits on different themes. Themes range from subjects (e.g. artists and their pets), methods (as in unusual media such as stones on the beach or snowmen) to more conceptual approaches (e.g., showing how an artist’s style develops over 3-4 months of making portraits for the project).

Speaking of developing styles, how has your *own* style evolved during this year of JKPP?

As per usual for me, there’s not one straight line of change that I can point to. I continue to get more confident, am more able to get a likeness,  find it easier to draw things that used to be challenging, such as groups of people. When I’m struggling with something difficult, like drawing an open-mouthed smile, I have a great library of examples to look at and learn from at the party. I can scroll through the smiling subject’s discussion thread and see how multiple artists have solved the exact problem I’m trying to solve, and learn from all the different approaches. Staying with the smile, it was interesting to see who simply left the teeth out, who drew every tooth exactly, who used a few thin lines to suggest teeth without fully drawing them in. The latter is the approach I’ve been taking.

I’ve also gotten better at the textures of things, such as fuzzy dogs, and the weight of things. My view of the world is really not sculptural. Rather than seeing mass and volume, I see planes of color, areas of shadow, lines where different volumes meet. Obviously, I move through three-dimensional space fine without bumping into things, but I’m not one of those people who can hold a map in their head, or rotate some odd three dimensional object in my mind to determine how to fit it in a small space.

And in general you can see this in my work – line, light, color and flat shapes are much more prevalent than solidity, three-dimensional spatial relationships,  masses of volume, or the weight of things. Yet I recently made a portrait of Lisa K. holding her cat, where I find the heaviness of the cat in her arms to be the dominant feeling in the portrait. And my painting style has started to change – which means it’s a mess right now, so I’m not providing any examples. However, instead of my usual method of defining the major planes of the face with lines, and then working fairly solid areas of color for each plane,  I’ve been working directly with small areas of lots of different colors, building up highlights, shadows, reflected light, etc., without pre-defining the areas. The result has fewer defined shapes but much more volume. It’s interesting because this isn’t something I consciously decided to explore, it’s something I’m observing in my work, almost from the outside, and it’s clear to me that it’s a result of my brain taking in what some of the other artists are doing.

Anything else you want to add?

I feel proud, astonished, excited and extremely grateful to be part of this incredible community of artists.

Thanks! We’re looking forward to more dispatches from Year 2.

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  • Richard Shulman March 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    I am very proud to be involved in Julia’s Portrait Party. I have grown tremendously as an artist because of my involvement in I JKPP, and still am evolving. Julia has been an inspiration and deserves all the credit for this! This is a wonderful article!

  • Julia Kay March 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    This just in – hot off the presses – you’ve been hearing my take on JKPP – now you can check out the new JKPP blog to hear many different artist/subject’s news, views, insights and experiences: