Oct/Nov 2002 Miscellaneous

Hidden America: An Artist's Trip Throught the Personal Columns

by A. Lebowski

"Hidden America: An Artist's Trip through the Personal Columns" is a journey that has taken me to thirty-five states and into the lives of thirty-five Americans--one for each of those States. My "trips" are taken through correspondences. I initiate these correspondences by responding to a personal column advertiser, inviting the individual to participate in a drawing project. I ask my correspondents to "commission" a drawing based upon their advertisement. Our letters document and explore the evolution and meaning of each drawing.

Why am I on this journey?

Before my embarkation in 1983, I had just completed a pictorial autobiography. The oil stick portraits that comprised it were based on black and white head shots that I had taken of family, friends and the multiplicity of neighbors, co-workers and shopkeepers who peopled my life with their marvelous, characterful faces. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could render strangers with the same vitality. For a lark, and because I had always been curious about personal column advertisers, I turned to them. When I got my first reply from a man in a blonde wig standing by the side of his pool, his peignoir thrown open, I realized that the world was not going to cooperate with my expectations. I never drew that man, but he was the first person to give the directions that started my trip. Little by little, as I worked with early correspondents, "Hidden America" began to define itself. From the Indian art historian, Coomaraswamy, I learned that the point of departure for Indian artists is to identify with what is being drawn. That concept appealed to me, and I often presented myself as the hand that drew what my correspondents envisioned.

But in the nineteen years I've been working on this project, I have become more convinced that I was capturing something much larger than a collection of individual portraits. I was painting a picture of our times. I have no thesis, but, even though it promotes no plan nor makes any recommendations, "Hidden America" is a manifesto. As an artist, I know how crucial it is to see people with clarity, compassion, passion, and regard. As a citizen, I know how necessary it is to look at who we are before we can ever truly become a united people.

To view five of the resulting collaborations, click on the states below or hit the "next" arrow.








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