Mary Borgman


Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Mediums: Charcoal on Mylar

Interests: Psychology

February 3, 2009

A Portrait's Process

Formerly a professional sign language interpreter, I now translate into drawings the personalities and dignity of individuals.

My subjects are often drawn from a diversity of cultures. Through my art, I want to introduce them to others, to capture their beauty and reveal the essence of their spirit and humanity.

I work with charcoal on frosted Mylar because this translucent support allows me to build up and then erase marks to expose the luminous quality of light.

The sitters assume frontal, uncompromising poses and look directly at the viewer, turning the observer into the observed. The larger-than-life size format magnifies the intensity of the sitter's gaze and infuses the portrait with a presence that transcends the passing moment.

Although I draw long-time friends, like Jose Manuel Silva, I often find models by approaching strangers in public places-bookstores, parks, museums, on the street, and in cafes. If I spy a fascinating face, I position myself to observe them unnoticed.

I may hide behind pillars and peer around corners while I study their walk, stance, gestures, facial expressions and interactions with others. Since a possible subject sighting is so rare, if they decide to exit the premises too quickly, I may be forced to chase them down. This can be startling.

I introduce myself and explain that I draw large portraits, clothed, and that I would like them to model for me. "It would be a photo shoot," I say, "about an hour and twenty minutes." I tell them how much they will be paid.

Some people blink hard and give me a half-smile, others peer at me from the corner of their eyes, and still others smile shyly and look down. That's what Merwin Shaw did. I met Merwin in the St. Louis "Loop" and I am very grateful that he agreed to let me photograph him.

All images © Mary Borgman, 2009

Portrait of Merwin Shaw, charcoal on Mylar

Here is Merwin and his good friend, Chauncey, when they came by my studio to see the finished portrait.

privacy | copyright | smithsonian institution | image credits | media room