"The Outwin 2016" Finalist: Clarity Haynes

Bare torso of a large figure
Janie / Clarity Haynes / 2014 / Collection of the Artist / © Clarity Haynes

Out of over 2,500 entries in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, 43 artists have their work shown in the exhibition “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today.” Read more about one of the finalists, Clarity Haynes.

What about the sitter inspired you?

Leonora walks with a wooden cane, and wears quilted vests and multicolored, patterned pants that are often handmade by friends. She has a great collection of vintage feminist and dyke T-shirts. Her necklace, which she never takes off, is a pyramid, signifying the delta or goddess. Leonora is a butch lesbian, one generation older than me. She is a proud, unapologetic crone. From my perspective, she embodies many of the wonderful qualities of second-wave lesbian feminist culture.

How did the sitter inspire this specific portrait?

When Leonora sat for the first time, she had recently been on vacation in Florida and had very strong tan lines. I immediately thought of Catherine Opie’s gorgeous portraits of Diana Nyad, in which pale flesh tones and deep tan lines are set against a warm brown backdrop. These photographs inspired my choice of color for the background, and I decided to keep Leonora’s tan lines in the painting, even though there were times during the winter when they had faded considerably.

What made you decide to depict this sitter as you did?

This painting is part of the Breast Portrait Project, a way I’ve been exploring portraiture for many years. My portraits do not include the face, only the torso from chin to waist. Sitters include anyone on the gender spectrum other than cisgender men. I’m most interested in older and nonconforming bodies. To me, bodies are like landscapes, or maps.

How did your work develop from idea to execution?

In the last few years, the portraits have become much more detailed, and take longer to make. Leonora modeled for me (with long drying periods in between sittings) for about three years. A by-product of this process is that we have become friends. In the early stages of the painting, when Leonora first saw herself represented on this monumental scale, she was shocked and didn’t know how she felt about it. Over time, she has come to appreciate it. Recently, when the portrait was exhibited, she came to the opening and related events, and was proud to be publicly known as the subject. The large scale of this painting makes a statement: this body is taking up space in a culture that tells women they don’t deserve it.

You can see Haynes’s work in “The Outwin 2016: American Portraiture Today,” up now through Jan. 8, 2017. Also, be sure to vote in our People’s Choice Competition.