portrait

Day 188 – January 30th, 1994

Unlike Jane Doe 1991, Jane Doe 1994 did not die under suspicious circumstances. Therefore, her case file is sparse yet leaves much to ponder. She was estimated to be between 60 and 75 years old, though judging by her photograph I would lean towards the latter.

Her face is striking and the contortion of her mouth is so that it appears as if she’s smiling, or even laughing. Just as striking is her black and gold patterned jumper. This was an interesting detail for me because hardly any of the morgue photos show the deceased’s clothing. Despite her senior age her skin is tight on her face and her cheeks are round yet prominent.

Jane Doe died in Philadelphia. Found inside an abandoned building, she was known to neighbours by sight only. They even conjectured that she may have been an alcoholic, or mentally ill, or both as they often saw her walking, bottle in hand, talking to herself.

She wore layers of clothing, presumably to escape the cold. She was found wearing 3 jumpers, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, a nightdress, trousers, stockings, two pairs of socks and steel toe cap boots. The boots surprised me, her photo is so ladylike, the friend or neighbour of my grandmother perhaps. How cold must she have been to wear all those clothes?

Questions swirl in an unsteady stream around my mind and I’m caught between trying to piece together the story of these women’s lives and recoiling from imagining for them a lie.

I suppose that’s where art comes in. I know that Jane Doe 1994 could be any of us and I know that people should recognise that but I don’t want to dishonour their lives by writing for them a story that never was. Truth is the central tenet of Blink. There are sketch artists out there who can make these women look like they may have in life, there are writers and directors who could re-imagine these women’s lives in far more convincing ways than I can. The best way I feel I can honour them is by giving them the time and the attention of a portrait. The images, many un-lifelike  are the only true life evidence we possess to represent them. I can only hope that these portraits do not isolate them further but it is my only response for what I see before me.

 

Illustration conceived while painting Jane Doe January 30th, 1994

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Day 42 – Connections Part 2

The infrequency of my posts over the last few weeks has been ridiculous, but all in all there was little to report and I’d rather write nothing than to become monotonous and tiresome. There is less than three weeks left on the Fundit campaign and we still have the majority to raise yet if every reader gave 5 euro right now we could finish it today. Don’t wait because soon it will be over and those who have already contributed would have done so for nothing http://fundit.ie/project/blink .

As promised, today (8 days late I know) I am discussing the Blink. inspired painting I mentioned last time. It’s not what you’re used to from me, I know, I shelved precision and detail for texture and freedom. It took less then a day and honestly it was simply a way for me to break through the artist’s block I had been experiencing. There was no process, no forethought, no sketches. It was simply paint to canvas to deal with the relationships of some of these women. Mothers, daughters and brides. Gleaned from case files, many had been pregnant or given birth, one still wore a wedding ring and many had clearly been victims to the sex trade. So I will let the painting speak for itself and I would love to hear any thoughts you may have as there’s nothing worse than having unsupported thoughts and no dialogue when it comes to this kind of subject matter.

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Day 28 – Blanche Taylor Moore

As promised, this is my portrait of Blanche Taylor Moore. Here’s a step by step process of how it came to be. First I started with sketching directly onto the canvas:

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Then I painted a light grey wash over the whole canvas and just began to outline the darker points:

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Now, more detail is added and something is slowly beginning to emerge:

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From here I take the painting in sections  (eyes, mouth, hair, etc.) so that I can see the true portrait developing. First I start with the eyes:

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Next, I moved onto the general skin tone, mouth  and neck:

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Now it’s time for hair, which I love despite being extremely tedious:

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And there you have it, obviously this is a very sparse walk through but it’s nice to track a painting from blank canvas to complete work. Due to lighting and camera issues I hope to have a good quality photo of the complete painting tomorrow.

Remember to like, comment and share as we are now at the end of our fourth week and still have a long way to go on Fundit.

Day 20/21/22 – Origins

We’ve now reached the 3 week marker. Good progress has been made on http://fundit.ie/project/blink but we still have a very long way to go. So for fear of sounding repetitive I will say this in the preface rather than the conclusion. Please like, comment, share and if  you can, fund. Whether it’s €1 or €10 the intent is the same and I will be just as grateful. I would also love to keep hearing any and all thoughts you have via comment or through email which you can find at the bottom of the page.

Now, given the milestones achieved over the last 7 days I thought it may be about time to talk about how Blink. came to be.

After finishing ‘Surrender,’ the portrait of Mariska Hargitay, I learned the importance of being passionate about a subject in order to maintain energy throughout the process. For some reason I began searching female death row inmates in the US because as we all know for a female to be sentenced to death is extremely rare. The percentage of women on death row is usually only about 1%.

Upon reading all their case files  I saved a few that had intrigued me. After further research I began work on a woman named Blanche Taylor Moore. She is still awaiting the death penalty after over 20 years of incarceration. She has just turned 81 years old. After her second husband was hospitalised and found to have ingested large amounts of arsenic police exhumed the bodies of Moore’s former husband, boyfriend, mother-in-law and father.

All died of arsenic related symptoms. She was convicted of the boyfriend’s death and sentenced to death. Blanche Taylor Moore was daughter to a Baptist minister who was also a womanizer and an alcoholic. As a teenager he forced her into prostitution to pay his gambling debts.

There is no excuse for murder but I had to wonder if Moore ever had a chance.  So I painted her portrait from a very grainy black and white photograph taken on the day of her sentencing. Hopefully, I will upload those pictures in the next few days.

From here I began researching the female sex trade and human trafficking. And it was then that I thought of Jane Does. Anyone who watches crime shows is very familiar with the term. But on television they always find an identity for their nameless victim. However, I knew this was not the case in the real world. After countless searches I found what I was looking for but I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it anymore. Despite my palpable discomfort I had no choice. As much graphic footage we see on CSI or SVU or Hannibal there is something painfully different about looking at real faces, real articles of clothing, real tattoos.

And so, after filing an advanced search which would ensure I would only see cases with recognisable faces I clicked my way through 196 cases. Most only had sketches, some computer generated images and the others had photos. Now there’s 25 chosen on a combination of high quality photographs, substantial case files and mainly an instant gut reaction I had to them.

25 seems so little in comparison to over 2,000 cases but originally I thought I might paint 1. Then it became 10, then 12 but then there were just some I couldn’t leave go. And now we’re here.

Day 13/14/15 – Surrender

Of course painting is the mission here so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on over the last few days. And now, considering the lack of visual stimulation thus far here I’ve decided to take a small intermission from Blink. to share with you all the painting that really helped me come to this point.

It’s strange how television that isn’t even on the critical level of, let’s say, Breaking Bad or The Wire can inspire something powerful from a place of crippling fragility and insecurity. Around December I began binge watching Law & Order: SVU as I became bed bound for around six weeks and Mariska Hargitay as Det. Olivia Benson reignited a resilience and strength I was all but sure no longer existed in me. This character is perhaps one of the only truly independent, autonomous females in television. She is neither the ball-busting man hater nor the wilting violet waiting to be rescued. She is a fine example of what it is to be a true woman and unfortunately, this breed is rare on our screens.

In reality, Hargitay is no less inspiring. She created the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organisation which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual abuse along with campaigning to reduce, if not end, this kind of violence and works with End The Backlog which aims to eradicate the terrifying number of untested rape kits across the US.

Her earth-splitting beauty was secondary to me, though impossible to ignore. Therefore when I decided I had to paint a portrait of her, instead of choosing a glamourous shot of her looking the conventional idea of beautiful I decided to take a still from the opening episode of SVU Season 15. Here, she has been kidnapped and tortured for four days by a serial rapist referred to as “The Beast.” In the still I chose she has just broken free of her restraints and incapacitated her assailant.

This, for me, was Hargitay at her most beautiful. She was raw, burnt, beaten and fatigued but her face, her eyes, her mouth emanated such intense yet subdued power, a power that stemmed from the most vulnerable of situations that in a way I was a little awe-struck.

It’s the longest I’ve ever spent on a painting, just a little over four weeks of 10 hour days (I have no idea where that time went) but I came out of it with a new perspective on art, beauty and myself. It’s an extremely personal piece that will forever hold a part of my life and as dramatic as it sounds, I’m not sure exactly where I’d be without it.

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Day 10 – Bottom

Toying with the idea of whether or not to disclose this was tricky. But I think it is important and will continue to be important that I continue to display both to you and myself that the struggles I predicted were not away in the air somewhere but painfully real and disturbingly physical.

Last night, as I flicked once more through the case files I was reminded of one of the ages of a face I had found so compelling. She was estimated at between 13 and 19 years old. She died in 1979. Immediately, I scrawled the word ‘ANGER’ next to the summary I had written on her file. Later, I returned and wrote the poem you can see below. However, instead of immediately typing it up as I had planned, I switched off the light and lay in the black.

Sleep would not visit, thoughts squirmed and swirled throughout my mind as the one-eyed kitten chased my shaking feet, breath escaped me in laboured, frantic pants and my very core curled into an inconceivable knot as the tumbleweed of deathly thoughts soared in mass and weight inside my unbearably tight skull. Who would this kitten outlive? Will I wake up if I fall asleep? What is nothing? The kitten has to leave or she will be forever a reminder of those who died before her. I’m going to die. Will I die first?

This continued for maybe an hour. My hands shook so much that I couldn’t even correctly type “How to stop a panic attack” into Google. Eventually, my body which had been functioning on perhaps an average of six hours sleep for the past month gave out and allowed me to slip into the warm embrace of non-thought.

It has not discouraged me in the slightest, my mortal weaknesses are nothing, are ash, in comparison to what these women and  girls went through. If anything, I am more determined, yet equally wary. Most of all I have never been more convinced that your support will be the most important part of this entire project.

Yes, I will need your donations to go ahead but true support, true collective vision will only come by the simplicity of clicking ‘Share.’ Comment, Like and Follow if you believe in Blink. and everything it stands for because the truth? The truth is not only is it not possible to do this alone but I really don’t want to. Share, share, share through social media and in person because any of you reading this cannot tell me that the thought of being truly lost, as these people are, does not terrify you as much as I was last night. But it simply won’t be worth it if this does not reach people, reach right into their centre, as it has mine and hopefully, as it has yours too.

Day 9 – Maddened

Swirls, Rushes and Streams,
Grit, Sludging it’s way
Through the innermost workings.

Skin, so young, so scarred
by the wounds of time
Lost and Unkissed
In the womb of time.

Torn hands and Broken fingers
Weighted, Drowning by the instrument
Unheld and Unhealed.

The so-called glimmering eyes
Fogged and Veiled
for the funeral
Graced in every blink.

Outward symptoms of the inner skull,
The Riddled Body,
Each and Every shivering cell
In conflict,
Uncompromising and Unsoothed

©S.E Honan 2014.

Day 8 – Progress

Upon completion of 25 detailed sketches I opened my laptop to write, instead I fell asleep with a one-eyed kitten licking my face at 3am. I began yesterday with 5 and remembering the vow I made on day 7 managed to generate enough strength to work continuously through the day and night.

The deterioration of energy through the pages from morning to early hours is obvious, even to the visually challenged feline. My question now is how next to proceed. I don’t have the funds to order canvas yet but somehow I still don’t feel ready for that step. However, my application to FundIt is now submitted so hopefully any of you out there who have faith in the exposition will stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we endeavour together to memorialise these women.

So, over the next fortnight  I aim to study these faces, these files until my mind will allow no more and my eyes fail. To maintain passion, to maintain will and empathy as I wait to begin the real challenge is my goal. Hopefully, with all your help we can make this goal a reality and I will truly need all the support you can offer. We, a tiny group of individuals connected through cyber space, can furnish a tiny group of nameless, forgotten women with recognition, appreciation, love and most importantly a legacy that no one else is willing to provide.

But to do this will mean to encourage others, far and wide, to donate whatever little they can, no amount is too big or too small and each single euro is a step closer to remembering the people that everyone else has abandoned. I believe we can do this but it’s success solely depends on the efforts of the collective not the individual.