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Monika Hedman

charcoal on gessoed paper
24″ x 18″

Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Artist Statement
“I am a senior in high school. I hear color and see sound. I have synesthesia, a union of the senses where the stimulation of one sense invokes another. I perceive the world very differently from my peers, as I understand every aspect of reality through color. Numbers, letters, days of the week, and even musical notes have distinct colors. Because my perception is heavily reliant on visual imagery, I have always seen art as a means of communication and understanding complex ideas.
My artistic skills have been fine-tuned, and I have developed a unique and advanced skill set. Every aspect of my pieces are thoroughly deliberated and influenced by my intertwined senses. Often times, contemporary art precedes social movements because art is an exposé of social issues and injustice. Art is a cultural form of resistance, and holds immense power. Art not only reflects culture, but also creates it. Through my art, I hope to initiate social change like many others have done.”
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Partial Video Transcript

Monika: “Hi, I’m Monika and I just finished my junior year in high school. This is a charcoal portrait of my grandfather that I did earlier this year and it’s a charcoal reduction technique, which means that you tone the whole paper in black and then you use the eraser to reduce areas of light.”

“After that I went over it with some more black charcoal, and some white charcoal as well. I chose my grandfather in this because he was really sick for a very long time and he loved looking at my artwork. So I thought it was appropriate to do a portrait of him finally, because he’s always wanted one.”

“It started off as observational but he couldn’t sit for a very long time in one spot, so I ended up taking a photo, and finishing with a photo. I think this ended being the last photo that we took of him, which was kind of cool to have this be the last photo we have.”

Prof Lieu: “The thing that I’m really excited about about this drawing is the fact that you have a personal history with the person who’s in the portrait. Because I think typically what I see so often is people just download some random picture of some person off the internet, or they’re doing a graphite drawing of Johnny Depp or something like that.”

“So there is a really kind of a personal connection with the person who’s in the portrait, and so I think that’s wonderful that you really thought about who this person was, what your relationship is with them, and it’s a really beautiful story that you said that he really loved your work, and how appropriate it was for you to make this kind of a tribute to him in a lot of ways. So I think that’s a lovely narrative that you put together.”

“I think your charcoal technique is really exciting and really rich. I mean that’s what I really notice right off the bat, is that number one: you’re doing so many layers. I mean I look at this piece and I really feel like there’s got to be at least five or six layers, you know, that you’re going into the white charcoal, you’re going over it. You’re taking away: it’s very, very rich the way you’ve done that.

“Not only that, but you’re using so many different kinds of marks. Like, for example, you have strokes like this where it seems like you’re taking your finger and you’re just kind of smudging it really aggressively. But then there’s also if you look very closely, these scratchier crosshatch marks that are laid on top of that, and so that’s also really exciting. That I think really adds a tremendous amount of diversity in your drawing that I think is really terrific.”

“What were some of the things maybe you struggled with in terms of the charcoal technique? Because charcoal I think has a mind of its own sometimes. It doesn’t really want to do what you want it do. It’s also very blunt as a material. So I’m sort of wondering what your experience was with the charcoal?”

Monika: “So originally we covered the paper in gesso, and then went over it with compressed charcoal, which made it very difficult to erase.”

Prof Lieu: “So this is not on a regular sheet of paper.”

Monika: “It is, but it’s covered in gesso.”

Prof Lieu: “Okay, so you got a gesso layer. I didn’t realize that. That makes it a totally different ballgame.”

Monika: “Yeah so it was very difficult to erase areas of white, which is why I had so much white charcoal in it.”

Prof Lieu: “Okay, so you had to work totally additively then. You couldn’t remove with the eraser at all?”

Monika: “It could remove. It started off being this color, and then the lightest I could really get was, it might be a little hard to see, but like in here. That was the lightest I could erase, so that’s why I had to go in with the white charcoal.”

Prof Lieu: “Oh, okay.”

Monika: “So if I were to do it again what would you suggest starting with, instead of compressed?”

Clara: “Well, I mean. You didn’t use any vine charcoal at all? Alright, so I wouldn’t start with the compressed charcoal immediately because the thing about compressed charcoal, it has a very beautiful darkness to it, but it’s also extremely permanent. I mean, to me when you use compressed charcoal, it’s like getting married. It’s like a big commitment, okay?”

“And vine charcoal is not like that. Vine charcoal is much lighter, it’s much much easier to erase. And so vine charcoal to me is like you get to date a little while. Get to see if you like it, and the you start to make the commitment. So I think maybe that’s the thing I would change about your process.

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3 responses on "Art Critique: Monika Hedman"

  1. Like Professor Lieu said, I am so impressed with your layering and the amount of time clearly put into this piece. I think this layering technique does a great job of really cementing your grandfather’s eyes deep in his eye sockets while bringing out the glasses. I really love the depth in that area. The rigor I see with your crosshatching is so exciting and creates some wonderful detail. The gestural, quick and loose approach to those marks add a very exciting element of energy to an otherwise peaceful image. Moving forward, I would definitely agree with Professor Lieu that holding off on the compressed charcoal until later in the piece is a great idea. I would love to see what details you could bring out with an eraser stick or other reductive processes, and vine charcoal is absolutely wonderful for that! Fabulous job on creating such a wonderful piece for your grandfather!

  2. As Lauryn points out, your handling of the eyes of the subject conveys so much personality; but I’m also really struck, personally, by how well you’ve rendered your grandfather’s glasses… Your attention to the specificity of those reflections and highlights adds an extra layer of depth to that area, and only complicates our relationship to the subject which, otherwise, is so intimate and personable. Knowing that the piece is drawn, at least in part, from the last photograph you took of your grandfather, this tension creates an emotional resonance that is truly fitting. A great tribute!

  3. I think it’s so amazing that you were able to really capture the gaze of this person that meant so much to you. The way you’ve drawn your grandfather comes across as very intimate and lifelike. Your attention to edges and lines, intentional or not, reminds me of portraits by Alice Neel. My favorite areas are when you go into the eyes and the nose, because you let yourself focus on planes and not lines. This combination can create a beautiful harmony if you let it. Conceptually speaking, I think it would be interesting for you to do another charcoal portrait of your grandfather from memory and see how they compare side by side. It’s so interesting to see what the mind remembers of a face in contrast to working from a photo or from life.

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