From The Archive: Reflections on Portraiture: The Paintings of Joseph Bounds

Echo_Eye_©_Joseph_Bounds Echo Eye | 24" x 24" | Oil on canvas | © Joseph Bounds 2018

Joseph Bounds (b.1992) earned his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017. He held his first art show at the age of 17 at the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill, NC. At the age of 18, his work was selected as a finalist (among the top 20 of approximately 20,000 entries) for inclusion in the annual Art Prize for Schools competition at the Saatchi Gallery, UK. He has continued to actively show his work in North Carolina and across the US. He currently resides in North Carolina where he works full time as a painter.

The work in this series is composed of two subjects; first, the human figure, and second, the mirror surface. The space of each painting is occupied by more than one view of the figure and multiple mirrors intersecting, framing, or otherwise interacting with the human figure to create visual echoes throughout the image. The mirrors operate similarly to actual mirrors, in that they reflect visual information, however, they are distinct in that they have no surface of their own, do not always maintain the common rectangular or regular shape of a mirror, they have only 2-dimensional presence, and are not direct parallels to the information they reflect, either in the 2d surface language of painting, or in the suggested inner-space of the image.

Sunlight Spirit | 24″ x 24″ | Oil on canvas | © Joseph Bounds 2018

Rather, the mirrors simplify visual information as they reflect it; for instance, the visual representation of a head rendered realistically, when reflected may become more and more like a silhouette. Or a silhouette reflected may become more and more like an oval or a circle. Colors, while complex and intermingling, may become simplified gradients. Simple color structures may become even simpler as flat singular colors within silhouettes or shapes. All of the visual information in one painting arises from some interaction between at least one figure and at least one (though usually multiple) mirrors. The mirrors simultaneously direct attention through the body and through the composition of the painting itself,
and act as pivot points or portals between differing perspectives.

Returning Blush | 30″ x 30″ | Oil on canvas | © Joseph Bounds 2019

The mirrors take over the role of the environment. As a figure is echoed between these mirrors, it becomes more and more abstracted, gradually being replaced by colors, gradients, and shapes. In this way, the body transforms through the mirror into its own pictorial habitat. Each figure lives in their own color space. Multiple viewpoints of these figures are interwoven, suggesting an element of time and motion while creating a sense of interpretive ambiguity in the work. This is particularly important given the use of hard-edge abstraction. The potential danger of working with sharp edges, simple/minimal abstraction, and clear representation is that the image runs the risk of becoming too direct, visually didactic, as though there is not enough room for the viewer to breath. By overlapping representations, and creating pivots between ideas of forms, I can ensure that the idea of the form is still “open”, still suggestive, allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps and remain imaginatively engaged, while still achieving a “cleaner” aesthetic, a feeling that is important to me in conveying the emotions associated with peace and clarity.

Blind Narcissus | 24″ x 24″ | Oil on canvas | © Joseph Bounds 2018

Balancing this aesthetic against interpretive ambiguity and dynamic, asymmetric, composition allows for the expression of calm clarity amidst a chaotic world. There is a sense in my paintings that there is an underlying order, a meaning, but the meaning itself is not ever fully perceived. There are no assurances. This is an echo of the common urge to find meaning in life even though the meaning continually eludes us. My work reflects and builds upon the influence of cubism, classical painting, hard-edge abstraction, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, minimalism, and contemporary figurative work involving the fracturing, doubling, or dissolving of the figure or portrait.

Classical Influences:


Michelangelo (Specifically his “Slave” sculptures)

Puvis de Chavannes

Modern/Contemporary influences:

Richard Diebenkorn

Frank Stella

Picasso (especially cubism, and related works)

Jenny Saville

Other “less known” Influences:

Lu Cong

Alex Kanevsky

Michael Cutlip

Henrik Uldalen

Check out more of his work at his website.