Princeton exhibit shows everyone has a larger-than-life story to tell

 Kim Alsbrooks

Kim Alsbrooks

The premise for The Bigger Picture, on view through March 14 at the Paul Robeson Center in Princeton, is that we may pass people in the street, we may catch glimpses of them on the train or in the grocery store, but in the rush of our lives we may see them as obstacles to get around. We don’t take the time to take them in, to study the nuance and character of their expression. The Bigger Picture features four artists who do focus on the solitary individual to find out why they matter in a larger-than-life way.

Kim Alsbrooks’ portraits may be larger than life in impact, but diminutive in size because they are painted on beer and soda cans that have been flattened in the street. The Philadelphia-based artist has tried to flatten her own cans but finds those flattened by urban traffic work best for her “White Trash” series, depicting privileged, wealthy families or the politically elite.

Mary Dewitt’s portraits of incarcerated women bring them out from behind locked doors and make them visible again. Their stories are stenciled at the bottom of the painting and viewers can scan the QR code to learn even more about these individuals through video and audio.

Jim Doherty’s subjects, in finery evoking another era, are painted on reclaimed wood that gives them an added sense of history. He makes each brush stroke part of the composition.

Elise Dodeles works from small archival photographs and imbues them with personality and character in wall-high canvases. She has a preference for subjects who have been battered or bruised. She builds up the surface of their faces with water-soluble oil paint, applied thickly, like sculpture.

The Lambertville-based artist lives in a stone house constructed within the last decade but with all the charm of the city’s Victorian-era buildings. The home is filled with elegantly framed artwork Dodeles has collected with her wife, Maryanne Zupeck, a retired software engineer.

Dodeles is often asked why she doesn’t paint people she knows. “Then I’d have to worry about their feelings or making them look good,” she says. “I’m seeking an expressiveness that doesn’t often flatter.” Taking a bold step in that direction, she has recently painted Zupeck and her mother. Even with these familiar subjects, she prefers to work from photos, and collects vintage photographs and albums. Her collection includes baby pictures of Zupeck as well as her own family albums “but I’m more intrigued by strangers.

“What I find so intriguing about painting from photographs is not just the surface but dissecting the face and putting it back together,” Dodeles continues. “Painting becomes a process of discovery. It’s not about a person but more about creating something beautiful as a conduit to expression.”  

When others view her portraits, they often say, “Oh, that looks like someone I’ve seen around.” 

“The subject comes to life from the physicality of the surface,” she says.

The Bigger Picture is on view at the Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon St., Princeton, through March 14. James Doherty and Elise Dodeles will lead a gallery talk on Saturday, Feb. 28, 1 p.m.

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The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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