Yoshiko Honda

Handed-down Portrait

Milovan Markovic’s Tranfiguratives series features portraits of famous wom- en from all countries and fields. The list of figures includes singer Jessye Norman, actress Catherine Deneuve, designer Vivienne Westwood, philosopher Julia Kristeva, politician Hillary Clinton, etc.

Markovic gathers information on the woman who should be painted, and once he has decided on a specific image, he chooses the most suitable color to depict her from a palette of lipstick produced in the former East Germany. Carefully painting in the fine velvet, he uses around 60 lipsticks for each por- trait. To complete the work, he chooses a special gilded frame, inscribes the name of the painted figure on a brass plate, and installs the picture in the frame.

We compare the glossy canvas created from the intimate medium of lipstick skin rendered in bold red, pink, and purplish red with the name on the plate and, further comparing with colors allocated to others, we try to con- firm the relation between “that color” and “that person.” The idea of the will, desire, and role of the woman projected by the lipstick colors gives an added dimension to the image.

These portraits are minimal in simple colors, but the gilded frame is adopt- ed from classical painting frames following the long traditions of portraiture. This supports its meaning as a portrait and indicates a key to interpret the contemporary portrait.

To “transfigure” means to change the original appearance into something more noble. Since the images of these famous people appear everywhere in the mass media, the portraits can be said to be filled with a refined and noble elegance that reproduces a symbolic rather than figurative image.

Throughout the history of art, artists have sought to express universal truth, and viewers have been trained to interpret the essence through what was visualized. Because his images of the women are not directly related to a single situation, and concrete shapes are avoided, the observer is evoked into facing the picture earnestly and striving for a deep interpretation. It could be called a warning to the modern media society, that people are vulnerable to trusting visualized things and allowing no time for questions of truth.

Transfiguratives lead the observer through the silence to reveal the secret image, and through time to create new stories about the people depicted, as portraits that can hand down their images.

First published in Attitudes 2002, Kumamoto, Contemporary Art Museum, 2002.

Yoshiko Honda is curator at Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, Japan. Studied History of Art and Archeology at Hiroshima University, Japan and Humboldt University, Berlin. Teaches History of Art at Fukuoka University of Education, Japan.