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Window Studio: Studies in Portraiture and the Value of Community

Along the path on this month’s Art Walk, I had stopped by Window Studio, located on Marcus Garvey Blvd by Jefferson Ave. Eager to learn more about the studio, I returned last Saturday to sit down with founder Anne LaFond, who talked about what they do there and the emphasis on community.

When I walked in, LaFond was at her easel, painting a family portrait from a photograph; she was, simultaneously, engaged in a conversation with a local passerby – a neighborhood artist. This rare tableau piqued my interest, and I blurted out, as we sat down: Don’t you find that disruptive? To be engaged in your work, only to have to have someone walk in and start asking you questions?

But her answer was no; in fact, LaFond had founded Window Studio in 2012 with the intention of creating a space where people could engage with artists in their element. Her vision for the studio and the window theme as cited in her in her mission statement was inspired the notion that “art is the cognition of life”, as posited by Russian Marxist literary critic Aleksadr Voronsky. Voronsky, in making his case for aesthetic realism in Art as the Cognition of Life, writes about how art uses images that refer to reality to represent psychological and social life; art is not “a passive snapshot” [as in photography], but also not “dreamt up” or contrived purely by the imagination. It is, instead, “a representation of the essences of things” and “a medium of knowledge”, and depicts a life “which is more like the truth than the realist reality”.

LaFond had established Window Studio with the additional goal of getting more work in commissioned portraiture. As we talk, she gestures to the various finished and unfinished portrait paintings around the front-facing portion of the studio. Most of these pieces are done from photographs, which are either supplied by the client or captured at the initial sitting.

For LaFond, portrait painting is an expression of an individual’s confidence and an assertion of self-worth, and it serves to help people “conceive of their lives as being important and of value”. She finds this kind of work interesting; why people want portraits painted – and of whom – lends special insight into what different people value. As the painter, LaFond is vested with the honor of bringing out, in each piece she creates, what the client especially values in the subject.

LaFond experiments with portraiture in a series of larger paintings, which includes “Inside/Out: Portrait of Griffin” (2014). The use of the reflection in the window creates a kind of multi-layered effect that lends insight into the subject’s personal history, while invoking certain tensions within the neighborhood and the broader issues of our times. To learn more about LaFond’s work in portraiture, visit her blog, Pictures in Words.

LaFond is also one of two current Artists-in-Residence at Window Studio. The other is Leon Tillman, whom I had met the previous week, during the Bed-Stuy Art Walk. As the studio’s first official Artist-in-Residence, Tillman’s goal is “to uplift the community through paint and sculpture inspired by societal and political current events”.

The Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program is an intensive 6-month studio artist residency designed to immerse artists in their studio practice while sharing their process with the community. In exchange for use of the space, the Artist-in-Residence offers a workshop or class of his choice, especially one that is somehow connected to the work he is doing. The artist’s 6-month residence will culminate in a show curated by LaFond and held at the studio itself. Look for Tillman’s show in September.

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