(Pandemic Portraits is a 96-page book including 88 monotype portraits of people wearing their COVID-19 masks | Photo courtesy of Paul Alan Bennet)
Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the sight of masked people in shops, a doctor’s office or on the street is not so unusual. But nearly a year ago, the novelty and variety intrigued Sisters artist Paul Alan Bennett, as both curiously awkward and a bit humorous. Paul turned his curiosity into monotype portraits of people wearing their masks.
He has since made more than 100 monotype images of people — mainly, but not all, from around Sisters. He has also self-published a 96-page book called Pandemic Portraits, containing 88 monotypes. Paul is funding it through Kickstarter until February 4.
As a painter and a printmaker, Paul is known for colorful paintings using a “knit stitch,” starry night skies and mythology. He’s now limited himself to one color — black — and one format, monotype. He created all of the images on the presses at Studio 6000 in Sisters.
Before the lockdown, Paul spent hours each week driving between Sisters and Bend, where he was active in church, improv, ukulele and theatre. When all of those activities stopped, he did an artistic pivot and began making single prints, called monotypes, of local people wearing their masks. He posted the images on Facebook where they gained positive feedback. His art became more focused than his extracurricular activities.
Paul first reached out to fellow artists, but soon broadened his portrait network to include frontline workers in coffee shops, take-out restaurants, bike repair shops, medical offices and galleries. Giving free rein to his imagination, he depicts aspects of his subjects’ personalities, occupations, clothing or their surroundings in ingenious prints.
After obtaining a person’s permission, Paul photographs his subject with his cellphone. There is a video showing how he creates the monotype online (go to kickstarter.com and search Pandemic Portraits). “Most of the people I interviewed described how their lives changed during the pandemic,” Paul said, so text and portraits are a microcosm of a small community and how it’s been affected by the pandemic.
Pandemic Portraits is not intended to minimize the severity of the novel coronavirus, or its effects on individuals and society as a whole. “We hear tragic stories every day, so this is a different take, from an artistic point of view. I hope there’s some optimism in these images,” Paul said. “While this book is quite specific to Sisters, it’s quite universal, because this is happening in every community around the world.”
Many of the original monotypes will be displayed through February at Bedouin (143 E Hood Ave.) and at Sisters Gallery and Frame Shop, (252 W Hood Ave.). The monotypes will be for sale, with the entire purchase price going toward funding the book.