Portrait of a Book Report (Visual Art)

Kao Kalia Yang
Audre Lorde
Barbara Ehrenreich
Louise Erdrich
Susan Abulhawa

Josh Steinbauer

What is the significance of this work to you?

During the pandemic quarantine, I started a series of portraits of the authors who have been keeping me company/sane. My choice of authors was based on nothing more than whether the last book I read was good or not. It ranges from well-known writers (George Saunders, Zadie Smith) to lesser known (Thi Bui, Damon Bishop). And of course, my reading list went where the year took it—2020 was a racial reckoning, so: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Mychal Denzel Smith, Derrick Bell, James Baldwin. We were also wrestling with a descent into fascism, so: Eddie Glaude, P.E. Moskowitz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Timothy Snyder. The project, now just over 50 writers, is called PORTRAIT OF A BOOK REPORT. My target is to produce 100 and publish them in a book. 

What is the significance of the medium you chose for this work?

I think a lot of people had a moment (or several) in 2020 when we looked up from our screens and wondered if the internet wasn't making everyone crazy. Our newsfeeds had become an anxiety-ridden, unaccredited bachelor’s degree in epidemiology. Facebook turned into a racist uncle's wet-meme factory. Twitter was suddenly a snuff film library of police violence. Instagram, in fairness, was a lot of sour-dough bread, but we were jacked into all of it like Neo in the Nebuchanizer. The presumed quiet of an isolation was replaced by withdrawal shakes like we’re five coffees deep in a morass of meme-logic and doom-scrolling. I found myself engaged with far too many headlines and far too few books. At some point I asked myself: What from this noisy world do I want to fill myself with? What can I do to amplify voices of insight, beauty, and reason? PORTRAIT OF A BOOK REPORT has been my pursuit of calm, a personal course correction.

What was your process for creating this work?

Blind contours are a fun little drawing exercise. Similar to the way you learn to type without watching your fingers on the keyboard, with blind contour, you practice moving your hand while your eyes stay trained on the subject. It makes for a lot of chance and some surprising results. I usually make a handful of sketches and treat the most interesting one to some volumetric cross-hatching and marker shading. It makes for a kind of smeared surrealist portraiture. You can follow the project here:  < https://www.instagram.com/joshsteinbauer/ >

Josh Steinbauer is an artist and award-winning filmmaker (Paper Stars, Cap’n Flapjack). His work has been seen in Heaven, Third Ward, No Moon, Gen Art, 3 Walls galleries, Harvard Art museum, many indie cinemas, and published by numerous culture sites like Nowhere, Terrain, Aerogram, Moving Poems, and the Times of India. He lives in NYC.