Woods Hole Artist Creates Community With Village Portrait Project

 - Each individual portrait, like this image of Woods Hole resident and Falmouth educator Brian Switzer, is worth close study on its own, but taken together the group already projects the sense of community Mr. Goldman hopes to create. - Damon Gayer of Falmouth contemplates the first 100 images in artist Jon Goldman's Village Portrait Project. Mr. Goldman's goal is to paint 781 portraits for the project, the number of people who, according to the 2010 census, live year-round in Woods Hole.

There’s an adage that states “it takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps we should also add, “it takes a village to raise an art project.”

Brainchild of media artist Jon Goldman, the Village Portrait Project celebrated its first milestone last week with an opening in the artist’s studio gallery of the first 100 portraits in the project.

An ambitious project embarked upon 18 months ago, Mr. Goldman, who has lived in Woods Hole full time since 2000 but whose roots in the village extend further back, plans to immortalize in digital portraiture 781 individuals, the number of Woods Hole residents listed on the 2010 US census.

The idea for the project grew out of another project Mr. Goldman was working on—a film called “Oil in the Family”—about a friend of the artist’s grandmother, which was being filmed partly in New Orleans, a city, “built on outsized characters,” said Mr. Goldman in the intro to the soon-to-be released book, which contains the first 100 portraits from the Village Portrait Project.


As part of the film project, Mr. Goldman produced excerpts of a graphic novel based on the documentary and after deciding to take a break from the film, the graphic novel he had produced led him to the idea of capturing different characters in a medium other than film, and the idea for the Village Portrait Project was born.

Mr. Goldman’s portraits are created on computer rather than canvas in a process he describes as “digital painting,” which includes taking a photograph of the subject, which is then used as a   model from which to paint.

He paints in layers, learned in part from his years painting in oil, tempera and glazes. “Computer-based painting saves a lot of time waiting for the paint to dry,” said the artist wryly. Digitally creating the portraits also comes with the added bonuses, according to Mr. Goldman, of not having to “inhale toxic petroleum off-gassing,” and “never having to go to the art supply store again.”

The Portrait Project follows the theme of community that Mr. Goldman explored in 2011 with his Occupy Santa project, in which he orchestrated the donning of inflatable Santa costumes by a group of relative strangers that included an impromptu parade down the middle of Water Street in Woods Hole. “That project became a thoughtful exploration in community building, irreverence, frivolity and downright silliness which I feel there is way too little of in our work-a-day world,” said the convivial Mr. Goldman. “I had all of these costumes from the days when I was building huge inflatable sculpture. I couldn’t just throw them away. So I decided to give them away with a catch—everyone needed to pose together for a photo.”

While viewing each individual portrait in the Village Portrait Project can lead to criticism of the image, especially if one knows (or is) the subject, the effect of seeing the first 100 portraits all together drives home the feeling of community and offsets whatever differences folks might have about whether a certain portrait looks enough like its intended subject.

While some of the participants in the project had understandable hang-ups about what their particular portrait looked like, people I spoke with whose portraits were on exhibit were all quite taken with the idea of being part of the project and with the breadth of the project itself.

The 100 portraits as they were printed for the show are each long horizontal portraits about four inches tall and 13 inches across. They are painted with a down-the-rabbit-hole-and-into-Wonderland type of feel to them.

Despite the number of portraits, each manages to capture individual personalities.

The portraits give new meaning, or perhaps literal meaning, to the often overheard phrase regarding Woods Hole and its inhabitants, that the village is made up of a group of “colorful characters.” Rich, vibrant colors delineate the subjects as well as the backgrounds of the portraits and the feeling is that with the exception of the occasional reticent piano tuner and a few others, there are very few introverts in Woods Hole.

While technically speaking, all of Mr. Goldman’s subjects don’t physically live in the village, they all have either a connection to Woods Hole and/or to Mr. Goldman himself.

“Living in Woods Hole is a springboard,” explained Mr. Goldman. “In some ways it has evolved to become, in essence, my village,” said Mr. Goldman of the portraits, which include the artist’s self portrait along with people who live in the village, grew up in the village, work in the village or simply play in the village.

When asked if he had already chosen the models for his next 681 portraits, Mr. Goldman replied that he had about 70 more portraits in the works. Asked how he selects his subjects, he answered that he both relies on word of mouth from people already involved in the project and also simply approaches people on the street. “I do approach people on the street, all the time. They are people who I know or recognize or who it is recommended that I take an image of.” 

“Those whose identities are tied to the village in some  way,” said Mr. Goldman, “they are who I am interested in.”

Mr. Goldman’s next step is the publishing of a book containing the first 100 portraits. The book not only serves to document the project but to raise funds for the project moving forward. Ultimately Mr. Goldman hopes to find a home for all 781 portraits and to render them on material, likely aluminum, that could withstand the elements in order to install them somewhere where his village could meet the rest of the world.

Mr. Goldman hopes the books, which will be available through Spuyten Duyvil Press, Amazon, and at local bookstores, will be ready in August.

The first 100 portraits in the Village Portrait Project will be on view at Mr. Goldman’s studio, Thought Balloon Media, at 12 Sidney Street in Woods Hole, through the end of August. The public is welcome to make an appointment Tuesdays through Saturdays to stop in and see the work by calling 978-505-5796.


Correction August 13, 2014, 6:20 PM: Phone number was corrected.


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