Artists draws portraits of those who died of coronavirus

Posted at 11:57 AM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 12:06:20-04

Every community across the United States is mourning the lives lost to coronavirus in a different way. Artist RA Friendman in Philadelphia has approached the memories and sadness through his artwork.

He has been pulling images from the obituaries section of the local newspapers to draw portraits of the victims. Typically working in a lively studio classroom environment, Friendman was feeling disconnected from his community due to social distancing.

“As the process starts to unfold, it’s like, 'Wow, there’s really something there. 'And I have to say a lot of times, there’s sadness, I see it, I see it. Because your face is really a roadmap of your life,” he said. “Especially on an older person, it’s really interesting to look at the lines and furrows and crags. And especially the eyes.”

As he has drawn the images, often from a one dimensional grainy or older photograph, he starts to feel the connection.

“I really do feel these portraits are looking back at me. And I really hope that they’re not judging me too harshly,” he explained.

Artists have been contacting him to help aid in the effort to memorialize the victims. Family members of the victims themselves have also been reaching out. He says he’s trying to give top priority when a victim’s family member wishes a portrait be drawn of their loved one.

He says artists who attempt something similar should let go of any preconceptions or prejudices about the people they are going to capture.

“All of these people are interesting. There’s something interesting about all portraits. I’ve not worked on a single one that I can say, oh this one put me to sleep. This one is boring. It’s like, none of them were. If you look into what you’re working on, they all become really fascinating,” he explained.

Friedman is picturing a large installation with portraits from himself and other artists, where people can one day gather and reflect.

He suggests other communities and artists reflect on their efforts thoughtfully before getting started with something similar.

“You want to find something that is going to bring people together. And show that there’s care and concern. But at the same time you want to make sure that there is a good match between the skills and interest between the people who are working on it. This is painful enough that it’s happened. You don’t want people to feel at sea in terms of what they can do creatively,” he said.

Friedman says the power of the experience has forever changed his personal art and he doesn’t think he will ever be the same.

“People connect. That the artist connects with what they are doing and that the community connects with what the artists are doing and that there’s a synergy that starts to develop,” he said.

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