Long before I was an artist, I was (and am) an ardent lover of art history and I have always been intrigued by the language of portraiture. Portraiture relied heavily on symbolism for many centuries of western art history. For example, conversation pieces of the Georgian era in Britain used particular objects and country estate backdrops to convey the status of the subjects. And of course, because commissioning a portrait was a privilege of the wealthy for much of history, portraits were meant to convey status, wealth and authority through carefully crafted compositions, costume, body language, and symbolic objects. In many ways, we use social media photography in a very similar manner.
My work combines traditional women’s craft, contemporary DIY culture, portraiture, and a love of the unexpected and absurd. The ongoing Cozy Portrait series morphs and conforms to each person I photograph. Though each one of the portraits is specific to the subject, one of the common threads explored across many of the portraits is the way we construct our identities through our home and the objects we choose to place in our private spaces.
In this series, the things we normally look for in a portrait - a person’s facial features or expression - are obscured by a knitted cozy. Everyone has basically the same body outline with the cozy. This obstruction and uniformity of the cozy asks the viewer to look longer and discover for themselves what is happening in the piece. Plus it is more challenging and interesting for me to come up with ways to convey meaning that don’t rely on a person’s facial expression during the process of making the piece.
The idea that environment and objects can construct a person’s identity is integral to the work in this series. Often I choose familiar spaces, such as someone’s home or backyard, as the backdrop for this identity study. Our current culture values spaces and objects as signifiers of our individuality and reflections our own constructed identity. The objects featured in the image are already a part of the person’s space, and my role is to choose, arrange, and pose them with the subject in a way that feels true to their personality but incorporates my style and personal visual language.
The Cozy Portrait series layers the artist-constructed meaning in the photograph on top the subject’s self-constructed meaning of identity reflected in their homes. The cozy is custom made for each subject. Reminiscent of an ill-fitting handmade sweater, the cozy represents the fine line between comfort and constriction. It is simultaneously a warm cocoon and a claustrophobic straight-jacket. In the same way, we can outfit our spaces with precisely chosen objects and fittings that bring us a feeling of comfort and security, and even construct our identity through the objects we surround ourselves with, those trappings of home can sometimes ensnare us in gilded cages of our own design.
About The Artist
Kristin Skees was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. She has a BFA from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, an MFA from the University of Arizona, and an MLIS from the University of Alabama. She works in a variety of media, including photography, experimental fibers, digital video, and installation. Her photographs are found in various private and public collections, including the Cohen Family Collection, the Candela Collection, the Huntsville Museum of Art and the Mobile Museum of Art. Kristin was a recent recipient of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Professional Artist Fellowship. She teaches in the Department of Fine Art and Art History at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
The Cozy Portrait series explores the notion of identity and the language of portraiture. Each subject is photographed in their own environment but covered in custom knit cozies which obscure most of their features.
View more artwork by Kristin Skees at kristin.skees.net.