by Heather Kennison
Whitworth University sponsored the current art exhibition, “Face to Face: Recent Figurative Work of Bruce Herman,” with an opening reception and lecture last Thursday. The purpose of the exhibition was to find a way to respond meaningfully to the human face, particularly the unguarded one.
“Art is an ongoing conversation,” artist Bruce Herman said. “And like truly good conversations, it needs to be open-ended — open in terms of subjects and interpretations, and open to people … What I am looking for in art is a kind of intimacy, a letting down of your guard in order to connect deeply with art of the past, present and future.”
Herman described the conversation as being between all artists of the past, present and future.
“The key thing there for me is the continuity with the past,” Herman said. “For all the arts, this is the heart of conversation — that we remain connected all the time.”
Herman, whose primary medium is painting, uses other artists’ techniques in his own work. That is because they are also a part of the conversation, the dialogue, Herman said. His work has been influenced by both modern and traditional artists, among whom are Piero della Francesca, Rembrandt van Rijn and the contemporary Richard Diebenkorn.
The artist said that he does not believe there is such a thing as “originality” in art, despite the fact that we are all unique.
“The key is, in the words of Pablo Picasso, ‘Don’t borrow, steal,’” Herman said. “In other words, when you enter into dialogue with other artists, make it your own; don’t imitate. Don’t superficially borrow it. Internalize it, digest it, make it part of your being.”
The reception took place on Oct. 13 in the Bryan Oliver Gallery in the Lied Center for the Visual Arts. Herman’s art served as a medium of conversation between attendees. Students and the general public had the opportunity to view the pieces and talk with Herman, who came to campus from Gloucester, Mass.
Senior art major Cassie Wiuff, who attended the reception, said she was glad she got to talk with Herman.
“What the artist has to say about his work helps you understand and appreciate it,” Wiuff said.
Whitworth is purchasing one of the pieces, “Daughter and Mother,” to be part of the permanent art collection here, Wiuff said.
The exhibition contained portraits of Herman’s own family members, as well as some of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The centerpiece was a portrait of Herman’s father, who died two years earlier. Both of his parents died within two months of each other, which inspired him to paint this collection, Herman said.
“I really like that the portraits weren’t just portraits,” Academic Safety Officer Joy Diaz said. “The geometric shapes in the background give a home to the portrait.”
Diaz said she was impressed that the art did not appear as random splashes of paint, but was art that she could look at and understand.
Following the reception was Herman’s lecture in the Robinson Teaching Theatre, called “Face to Face: Art, Hospitality and Symbol.” Art and hospitality are linked together, Herman said. That is particularly relevant in portraits.
“It’s the welcoming face that reveals to us the heart of the person,” Herman said. “It’s in the face that we meet the person. We seek one another in our faces.”
Hospitality, like good conversation, requires letting down your guard, Herman said. In order for there to be meaning, there is a risk. But, fortunately, we have the ultimate example of hospitality in God.
“God invites us to a meal in which he gives himself away — totally and completely,” Herman said.
Because of that, humans know they can face God, and therefore, each other.
“The most perfectly welcoming face is the one that was once completely barred from us; the face of God,” Herman said.
The “Face to Face” exhibition opened Sept. 13 and will continue to be at Whitworth until Nov. 5 in the Bryan Oliver Gallery. For more information about Herman, or to view digital images of his paintings, visit his website at www.bruceherman.com.