Three Portraits

VISUAL ART by Anya Ciccone


Artist’s Statement: I didn’t start drawing until four years ago, but I knew precisely how I wanted to draw long before. I am a finger painter; after drafting a drawing, I spend the bulk of my time taking oil pastels and smearing them around with my hands until I get the color and texture I want, rather like sculpting on paper. Oil pastel is a frustrating medium to work with—it never truly dries, overworking it results in clotting, and it doesn’t have the depth that oil paints do—yet because of its texture it’s the only medium I’ve ever wanted to work with.

My inclination toward portraiture is entirely primal. My elementary school doodles are filled with faces, and childhood friends say my art focus has never truly changed. My approach to portraiture, however, has evolved dramatically as I’ve gotten older. When I was a child faces would simply come from my imagination, but as I’ve grown, I find I cannot work without outside inspiration. My favorite artists are now mainly sculptors rather than painters, and while my antisocial childhood self was overly concerned with her own thoughts, today I find myself looking around constantly, wanting to touch and mold people’s faces that I see. Perhaps I am less imaginative, but today I am more rooted in the real world.

All of these portraits were made during the most creative year of my life, 2011, the year after I finished my undergraduate studies at the University of Chicago. My creative pursuits had dried up in favor of a kind of austerity in college, and the reaction to this immediately afterward was extreme. I met many types of creative people during this time, which is why the subjects of these pieces are all artistic “muses” of some sort. Christoph Hahn is a portrait of the keyboardist of the band SWANS, who are friends of friends and have been making music for thirty years; Exhibit D is rather grim, a face taken from a photograph taken by the infamous serial-killer photographer Rodney Alcala, an inversion of the male gaze; and most personal is CZ, a portrait of an ex-boyfriend whose face gave me endless inspiration. I still can’t draw without looking at facial expressions in films, or without listening to music while I am drawing.

Gerhard Richter once said, “Painting has nothing to do with thinking, because in painting thinking is painting,” and I agree with him. In all other areas of my life I am endlessly critical, but when I draw, my concentration and tolerance expands, and I fall into a state that is separate from both contemplation and analysis; rather, it is a state that is truly active and dedicated to the world around me. I am so happy and thankful that I am always motivated to keep going.


Anya Ciccone (MAPH ’14) is a two-time alumna from the University of Chicago, graduating in 2009 with a bachelor’s in Classical Studies and 2014 with a master’s degree from the MAPH program. Her artwork has been profiled in publications such as Gapers Block, featured in films, and displayed in various galleries. She currently works as a freelance writer/editor in Chicago.

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