In 2017, Christienne won the prestigious Kingston Prize, Canada’s national portrait competition. Presented here are the juror comments on her winning piece, Portrait of the Artist.
Sara Angel is the founder and executive director of the Art Canada Institute, Dr. Catharine Mastin is the Director of the Art Gallery of Windsor and Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Windsor, and Glenn Priestley is a figurative and landscape artist based in Fredericton, NB.
Portrait of the Artist by Christienne Cuevas is a masterful take on the use of classic mediums, including carbon, graphite, and ink to create a self-portrait for the twenty-first century. The work combines excellence in techniques of both drawing and painting as well as minimalism and high realism to create a mesmerizing stare that captivates the viewer who is drawn into a profound consideration of the artist’s identity and her commentary on self representation. Understated yet powerfully haunting, Portrait of the Artist acknowledges the best of history's genre of self-portraiture while looking to the future.
Dr. Catharine Mastin
In this self-portrait, Cuevas asks the viewer to pause and take stock of the artist’s materials and subject. She crafts a portrait that appears to be a simple black and white exercise. On close inspection though, the work is analogous to a vertical triptych in three media: graphite is used on the lower half of the image for the rendering of the shirt; carbon is used in the middle of the image for the face and neck; and finally ink is used for the hair above. In this harmoniously composed work, Cuevas sensitively renders an engaging image, asking the viewer to come close, meet me as a person, know me as an artist. The work is realist yet abstract, detailed yet expressive. Consider, for example, the fine hairs at the base of her jawbone and ear which lightly dust over her shirt collar—these abstract lines that are the brush marks of the ink are convincingly descriptive of those fine strands of hair which will not be contained by her hair pin. Her use of the white space of the paper is at once figure and ground, showing her capacity to push portraiture forward imaginatively through her working process. While building on the academic traditions of portraiture, resisting moving to the ubiquitous world of the digital, she grounds her work in the craftsmanship of both drawing and painting while leaving open for interpretation the subtleties of her as person.
Sometimes what appear to be the simplest of materials, in the right hands, can have the most moving effect. In their own way drawing and painting have a unique ability to transfix and communicate with the viewer in worlds beyond conceptual thinking. In looking at Christienne’s drawing and through her talent and skills she is able to draw us into that world. Through her inquiring gaze we can see reflected back our own uncertainty and feelings about a world we all share. The drawing has an honesty and poetic truth one sees in the best of portraits.
Courtesy of The Kingston Prize Association