Every day we are inundated with faces. Images of celebrities, acquaintances, and friends--in the news, on social networking sites, on the street--are constantly changing. Portraits, on the other hand, slow us down. They capture the artist's carefully conceived approach to the subject, whether a friend, a loved one, or a self-portrait. For this book and exhibition, the second in an ongoing series, the National Portrait Gallery held an open competition, asking artists throughout the United States to submit likenesses of people close to them. From more than 3,300 entries from every state, a jury of experts chose forty-nine works of art in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, video and new media, and photography. They are as diverse as America and represent many stylistic approaches. The grand prize winner received a $25,000 award and will be given a commission to create a portrait of a notable living American for the Portrait Gallery's permanent collection.
The artists shown here use portraiture or self-portraiture to explore complex issues of identity, while they also test the boundaries of figurative art. These faces compel our curiosity and document the dynamic relationship between artist and subject. Ranging from quietly pensive to wildly expressive, these creative approaches to the art of portraiture assert the power of human connections.