Contour Paintings by Jodi Whitlock

Exhibition Website

Dec 17 2017 - Mar 12 2017

A few years ago, artist Jodi Whitlock found a stash of photographs in a downtown antique store. Far from mug shots, these photographs featured glamour portraits of young women. Rather than add marks to the photographic images, Jodi decided to recreate the lines she saw in their faces, hair, clothing, and jewelry. She could have simply drawn her version of the portraits in a straightforward manner. Instead, she created blind contour drawings of them. These blind contour drawings are exactly what they sound like: Jodi’s hand, holding a Sharpie, would trace the lines that she saw as her eyes moved across the image. She kept her eyes focused on the photograph, not looking at all at the drawing she was making. [...]

For Jodi, the purpose of using the blind contour drawing technique goes further than this. Just as she is able to see images of people within the intertwining branches of trees, blind contour drawing allows her to work in the reverse of this process. At times, she uses the word Canotila, a tree spirit in Sioux folklore, to refer to this perception that something spiritual exists in the trees. By distilling photographic images into a single, continuous line, channeling the information from eye to brain to hand simultaneously, Jodi feels more deeply connected to each of these otherwise unknown subjects. [...]

Jodi keeps her color selections to a minimum. By using broad planes of acrylic paint, she accentuates the flatness of the image that is created by the blind contour drawing. Her use of only a few different colors per painting also keeps our attention focused on the drawing itself. After having created dozens of works in her blind contour drawing series, Jodi has a clearer sense of which colors work best. Increasingly, she has reduced color down to either one or no background colors so that the line exists in isolation. 

The contour paintings of Jodi Whitlock are, above all, surprising. Sometimes the paintings are startling, even frightening; in other cases, they are downright funny. Our eyes work hard to recognize portraits of people we have never known or seen. Jodi’s second-generation portraits show us the futility of trying to know someone through photographs. What we see is subjective, even in a world in which photographs have never been more widely used to shape and control image. Each individual’s physical image is, after all, nothing more than lines, shapes, and colors.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Painting
  • American
  • Contemporary
  • Portrait
  • Jodi Whitlock

Exhibition Venues & Dates