The Roseland Portrait Project

"To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt our gravest error." —Marilynne Robinson


A Tragedy

Sixteen-year-old Andre Taylor was an active member of the Roseland Christian Ministries. On March 13, 2016, he was gunned down. However, that tragedy does not represent the vibrant life of the people of Roseland. 

The Community Responds

As a way to honor Andre and to foster stronger bonds across the Roseland community, Roseland Christian Ministries settled on an art installation that will feature portraits of several hundred people from the entire Roseland community. Painted on approximately 400 plywood boxes, the Roseland Portrait Project will travel to different organizations across the community. Some of the paintings will be reproduced as banners that will line Michigan Avenue in the neighborhood of the church. 

Why paint these portraits? 500 years ago, only kings had their portraits painted as a way of asserting their significance. The time and energy is takes to paint a portrait by hand is a way of paying concentrated attention to a single person. It is a way of valuing ordinary people for who they are, not what they achieve or the money they make. As a painter, I think of it as a performance of the person's intrinsic value as a human being without regard to status; in fact, the time required to paint an alderman (or king) or his indigent constituent is exactly the same. Further, because paintings are meant to last 100 years, these portraits challenge both a culture full of instant, disposable images that tempt society to think that persons might also disposable, and, advertising images designed to profit from destabilizing the dignity of persons who don’t fit some arbitrarily defined “norm.”

Why so many portraits? Individuals acquire identities though the networks they inhabit. Consequently, representing a community means representing entire networks which constitute neighborhood organizations, schools, congregations, etc. It's a collaboration between me as the artist and the hundreds of people who will email me photos or allow me or other community members to photograph them. It is my goal to include as many different kinds of people from the community as possible: parents, children, grandparents, roofers, tradesmen, doctors, aldermen, pastors, retail workers, students and teachers, people living in nursing homes. In short, people who are like you and as well as people who aren't. The project needs to have enough of the networks that comprise Roseland so that people viewing the final project will respond, "Yes, this is my Roseland."

Funding for this project comes, in part, from an initial grant from the Seerveld Art in Society Fund at Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights, IL.

It all starts in the shop. 1500 pieces of Baltic Birch plywood cut, assembled, sanded, varnished and primed ready for paint by a host of hard working volunteers.