Catherine Christiano, Noah (1st panel),2002, charcoal on paper, 31 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches. Photo credit: Paul Mutino.
Catherine Christiano, Noah (All 6 Drawings), 2002, charcoal on paper, approximately 32 inches x 16 feet wide. Photo credit: Paul Mutino.


A while back, I read that a child's imagination peaks somewhere around the age of 4 1/2. At that time my son, Noah, was rapidly approaching that age and I decided to create a work that portrayed him at that stage. I unwittingly began a journey that was to last nearly two years. The charcoal drawing Noah is one souvenir from that journey. What struck me as being truly interesting about Noah at 4 1/2 was not so much his appearance but his voice. So instead of starting with some preliminary drawings, I began by rigging him up with equipment in order to record him while he carried on with his day. This idea of incorporating the subject's voice with his or her image, while new for me, actually has a long tradition in the history of art. In Northern European art writing was included in paintings to impart information about the donor of the artwork or of the sitter in a portrait. Inscriptions on portraits during the Renaissance conveyed information about the sitter, perhaps their name, age, the year, a motto, or even a phrase that they themselves had written.

The difficulty for me then came in arriving at an image that suited the voice recordings. My initial attempts, I found too sober. Those images reflected the formality often present in portaiture, a formality that reflects the same self-imposed constraints that govern our appearance and conduct in pubic and before strangers. In these images he was pictured sitting still, gazing directly out at the viewer, in a clean white collared shirt. They reflected my inclination towards idealization and how I would want him to appear in public. This public image of Noah did not work with the more private, uninhibited sounds of his voice.

At some point I realized I wanted a more expressive image that contained a sense of movement. I had read that Bernini's father once observed that, "If a man stands still and immobile, he is never as much like himself as when he moves about. His movement reveals all those personal qualities which are his and his alone". I began to create charcoal drawings representing more transitory and expressive states. In these he wears a favorite well-worn dump-truck shirt. As I hung the drawings in my studio, I liked how the multiple images filled my visual space and created the sense of movement of a child in a room. They are a static representation of movement that allows the viewer time for contemplation, not fleeting, as a film would be. After all, when I listen to the recordings of Noah's voice I get the sense that he never sat still and in these images he doesn't either. The six-panel painting was later made that is intended to be viewed while listening to Noah's voice recording.

Image of series of 5 panels for artwork "Sophie - 5"
Catherine Christiano, Sophie - 5, 2004, Charcoal on paper, 42 1/2 x 32 inches.

The portraits of my daughter, Sophie, are similar in approach. However, in this case the images were not created in response to a voice recording. While I attempted to also record her, she was quiet, unlike her brother who had a continuous running, monologue. The charcoal drawings, like Noah's, represent more transitory and expressive states in an attempt to capture a true sense of her being at that age. The painting, Five, breaks away from idealized imagery and presents the dichotomy of emotions typical for that age.

In Anya & Addie I again chose to represent a very transitory state, a young girl laughing with her dog. I created multiple images in a matrix to fill the viewer's field of vision while varying the contrast in each to emphasize different aspects of the image. The result is an active and lively portrait and a very fitting representation of the subjects.

--- Catherine Christiano


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