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Steve Caldwell - The Faces You Pass

Words:

Edd Norval
October 1, 2018

Steve Caldwell is a portraitist. His artwork is marked mainly by the perspective that he offers to his audience. He sees his subject through a lens that seems distinctly odd and off-centred, as if he's examining their faces before he draws or paints them, trying to understand their three-dimensions. By framing them in this way, they become deeply personal and insightful.

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There is something of the street photographer in this artist. Just like so many of the finest street photographers do, Caldwell manages to tell a part of the subject's story through the way they are posed. It's incredible that, without the aide of a background for context, his depictions of everyday people capture their personality traits without even so much as a mention of it. Facial behaviours and expressions are often the clearest betrayers of our feelings - and the hardest to mask. That's why poker players invest so much time on it and why Caldwell so painstakingly explores it.


These might be subtle, so much so that they could go unnoticed, yet Caldwell manages to capture them. When I say everyday people, I mean that he isn't focussed on a certain type of person. A lot of portraitists, in their mission to stand out of the pack, will look at those 'imperfect' people - the ones with storied faces, deep-set wrinkles and scars, piercing or tattoos. Although these all feature in Caldwell's work, none of them are exclusive. The people walk by us everyday, unnoticed.


Where Caldwell differs from other portraitists and figurative artists is that we feel as though we are looking at them in more detail. This isn't necessarily about his technique of utilising photorealism, which is undoubtedly impressive, but it's got more to do with how he makes us look at them. The faces appear from such a variety of angles that going through a gallery of his works might make you feel like you've spent a day in the life of a dentist, examining your patients one by one. It's with this eye, Caldwell's ability to introduce us to engage with the subjects, that we seem to take on a role. We no longer observe as neutral bystanders, rather we become what he wants us to - the kind of people who will dare to look closer at that which is right in front of us.

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The way his subjects look at you, they all seem vulnerable, like self-conscious people that have been caught in a private moment. Caldwell must have a remarkably disarming presence to be able to capture them in such a way. That he can translate this into his drawings is even more remarkable. It's no coincidence that he is able to draw with such an awe-inspiring attention to detail and from the varying perspectives that he does - he was formally trained as a medical illustrator.


This means having advanced education in both the life sciences and visual communication. It's an artform where mistakes simply cannot be made. It's imperative to get your point across clearly. That's exactly what he does with his portraits. This is a highly specialised training and one that spans mediums from media to science and of course art. Applying this to something that is more specifically expressive was bound to have a unique outcomes.


Seeing his artwork through this perspective makes it even more impressive. Something that's often overlooked in photorealistic art is the need to accurately depict the psychology of the subject. Caldwell's art uses everyday signifiers of life such as wrinkles, postures and subtle emotions to give us an indication not only of what the person has on their mind but also about how they found themselves where they are.

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Caldwell brings something new to a style of art that often struggles to allow its practitioners much freedom for experimentation. To remain within the parameters of photorealism is to draw things that are real, in a true-to-life style - allowing for very little opportunity to explore more abstract elements of theme and concept.


Combining his unique medical background with a keen eye for interesting subjects, he's able to bend the movement to his will enough to have forged his own place in the art world. Having such an unconventional starting point for his life as an artist means that what comes next is difficult to predict, but equally as exciting. If he continues to explore the history and technique of his medical drawing background, then his best work may still be yet to come.

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