“I can’t say whether what I do is an act of respect or insolence, tenderness or enmity. My goal is simply to end up with an image that makes me feel something close to what I feel around the actual person,”
During the course of my career, I have met, learned from, and worked directly with many of the artists and thinkers who have influenced me. Burdened by the “anxiety of influence,” and a resulting desire both to emulate and differentiate from my cultural predecessors, I began making giant portrait drawings of these mentors and peers. Combining the grandness of monumental portraiture with the close-up intimacy of drawing, I wrestle with the complicated relationships that we often have with those who are most important in our lives.
I begin my pieces by taking multiple photographs (sometimes surreptitiously) of the subject. I then use the photographs to create several small drawings, which, in turn, become the source material for the large, boldly-rendered final work. The end result is a highly subjective impression of an individual and also the relationship between that individual and myself.
Ian Jehle’s large format drawings are portraits of important people in his life as an artist. He views them as a collective memoir, composed of “people I’ve known to varying degrees.” Each portrait combines a physical likeness of the sitter with an emotional relationship to the artist. Most of the subjects have not actually sat for the portraits. Instead the artist uses a combination of photography, preliminary sketches and models with similar body types in a multi-step process of drawing, scanning images and blowing them up to life-size or larger.
This monumental scale, influenced by Abstract Expressionist painting, feels both confrontational and intimate to the viewer. Jehle speaks of his first encounter with Wilhelm de Kooning‘s 1949 painting Woman
as his “ah-ha” moment as an artist. He also shares an agitated activation of line with such artists as Alice Neel
and Egon Schiele
. Portraits by Chuck Close
may be seen as influential in the way that he builds up media on the surface of the paper, depicts friends and translates images from photographs. Jehle’s portraits seem to be in the process of being constructed and deconstructed at the same time as he constructs the topography of his subject.
The Theorist (Dave Hickey) began as a covert sketch of one of his professors at Columbia University. Depicting this well-known art critic as nude places the portrait in the classic tradition, yet he appears as a vulnerable, unidealized figure.
The Gallerist (Andrea Pollan) depicts a friend who is an art dealer in the Washington D.C. area. Jehle captures her physical beauty, and also conveys a sense of awkwardness, as perhaps artists often feel around figures of influence in the art market.
Striking in its massive scale, The Collectors (Richard Gould and Lena Skanby), amplifies a private moment shared by this married couple, daringly making their tongues the focal point. The luxurious handling of hair is also striking. Lena’s straight hair contrasts with Richard’s rolling waves, almost reversing the relationship of figure and ground by turning their tresses into a landscape.
All of Jehle’s portraits share an ineffable quality of revealing the subject’s physical appearance, inner state, and connection with the artist all at the same time.
Born in Toronto, Jehle is the son of immigrants from East Germany and Ireland. He studied computer science, engineering and physics before turning to art school. He still works in the family business of crane engineering.