In Features, Issues

PRIVATE AUDIENCE

By Peter Bowen

Jeff Scher’s animated portrait of Susan Shin.
JEFF SCHER ARTWORK COURTESY OF THE Maya Stendhal Gallery.

With few exceptions, patronage has never been a particularly successful model for financing a film. But animator and experimental filmmaker Jeff Scher has found a way to revive this classical arrangement. Scher was recently commissioned by Harry Stendhal, co-owner of the Maya Stendhal Gallery, to make a film portrait of his friend Susan Shin. The resulting film, which was unveiled at Stendhal’s gallery as part of Scher’s recent show “Milk of Amnesia,” is a two-minute animation loop. From that unveiling, Scher has already lined up a roster of new subjects, each ready to pony up $25,000 for their very own animated portraits.

While the financial arrangement harks back to the client-artist relationship of classical portraiture, Scher points to Andy Warhol’s film portraits as an aesthetic model. Scher remembers that Warhol “shot them at 24 frames, projected at 18 frames and told people not to move so any motion became incidental.” Scher, on the other hand, shoots his subjects in 16mm and then rotoscopes the film the old-fashioned way, projecting and drawing it onto paper. The paper then becomes the outline of his paintings, which he rephotographs and animates. In the end he has a film loop and some 120 paintings of his subject.

Unlike painters who rely on furniture, wardrobe or a certain slant of light to unlock their patron’s persona, Scher searches for the right movement: “Because it is so about the motion, I am looking for the gesture, the way that someone smiles — the lip can be like a curtain in the way it goes up.” But as a portrait artist, Scher also needs to find the movement that catches the subject in the most appealing way. “The combination of commentary and flattery,” as Scher acknowledges, “is indeed a fine line.”

To see Jeff Scher’s portrait of Susan Shin, visit www.susanshin.tv.

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