During my last solo exhibition at Mixed Greens, I showed portrait paintings and installed a homemade, DIY photo booth where people could enter, pick their own patterned fabric backgrounds, and pose. Photo booths I had seen in Japan, where people could customize their photos, inspired my booth. I really liked the idea of being able to document the people who passed through the gallery to see my show during the month it was open. As an artist, you hopefully attend your opening and have interaction with guests, but for the rest of the month you have no idea who comes through the gallery. Sure you get to flip through the sign-in book where some people choose to sign, but even then you rarely have faces to put with the names in the book. With this photo booth, I was able to document the visitors and see their faces.

My work has consistently been based on photographs of my friends and family. This show, Perfect Strangers, is exactly what the title implies—portraits of total strangers. The portraits show a broad range of ages and races, so there is no single contingent in this body of work. It is exciting to see the diversity of people who pass though a gallery in a month’s time. These portraits are clearly reflective of contemporary society, but also recall Renaissance paintings. The paintings have a strong primary color scheme, are dense with draped fabric, and the subjects have many layers of clothes and accessories due to the timing of the exhibition. There is also a self-consciousness to the subjects posing in front of the camera in the photo booth; the same self-consciousness I imagine a subject would have had posing for a Renaissance painter when his or her likeness was being captured. At first glance this seems far-fetched because the portraits are clearly contemporary portraits in every way, but if I sit with them for a little longer, I begin to think about the paintings by Titian and Vermeer.

What interests me most about this body of work is that people had come to see my paintings and then they themselves became the subjects. They are being exhibited in the gallery that they once passed through years ago. I would be so pleased to have any of these people come to see Perfect Strangers and find their own portrait—then this whole conceit would really come full circle.

Visit Leah Tinari's website here.