The Failed Realist
Project info

Between the ages of 4 to 6 children are often more verbally articulate than they are visually, and what they wish to express through mark making is often beyond their physical skill. The psychologist Georges-Henri Luquet (1927/2001) called this The Failed Realist stage – the child's desire to represent his or her world is hampered by motor, cognitive and graphic obstacles that will be overcome with time, but for the moment, their interpretation is flawed. These drawings are uncorrupted by representational conventions. The Romantic artists thought this was a reflection of direct access to the expressive self and strove for a return to this innocence in their own painting. Later on, painters of the modernist movement, such as Picasso, Miro, and Klee saw the drawings of children with their mixed perspectives and exaggerated features as a pure and unencumbered way of seeing.

This photographic series was made in collaboration with my daughter between January and October 2011 when she was four and a half to five and a half years old. Face painting is a rainy day activity that we both enjoy. Once her motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted. Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream. Beyond the innocence of the child's intention, more sinister themes such as clowns, carnival and the grotesque are evoked by these mask like paintings.