Portraits of Self and Others

September 2006
by Mary Hrbacek

Ray DiCecco's recent series of portrait paintings diverges radically from tradition in process and intention. He starts with a digital photograph and then develops key elements that disclose the character of his subjects by applying layers of acrylic and oil. The artist delves beneath the surface of the face to expose his own emotional response to the image. This process might be a defense mechanism to create distance between him and the subject, a kind of psyche protection, or an attempt to explore the conflict inherent in the power that these faces hold over him.

Striving for authenticity DiCecco first takes photographs to capture his subjects, rather than painting them. Using a layer of machine mediation, he alters the photo on the computer, honing the dark and light tones to make a reproduction that echoes the original. Then he applies paint in a process of deconstructing the face creating a heightened level of abstraction reminiscent of the kind of painting he is most known for. The resultant portraits show the darker side of humanity, evoking haunting apparitions that palpitate with fear and desire.

By establishing direct eye contact between the viewer and the subject -- these faces look right at us -- DiCecco demands that his audience confronts their own needs and vulnerabilities. He discloses that which we try to conceal and in so doing forges a connection with us. The message here is that we must take responsibility for our own dichotomies.

These paintings are not about pleasing the subject or the observer. The sense of separation expressed is in the spirit of Jean-Paul Sartre and Ingmar Bergman. They affirm the accountability we should assume for the meaning we bring to our lives and remind us that we are ultimately free to create our own particular circumstances. This painter is not inhibited to pursue the age-old questions of mortality.

His faces extend an invitation for us to participate in a journey to a place more forbidden where appearances dissolve and what's left is that subconscious that forces us to look at what we would rather avoid. In the end we can only ask who are these paintings really about. DiCecco's portraits remind us that in our most honest moments when we are alone and facing our own reflections, the last question will always be - Who am I?