CAROL - A Talking Portrait (2006)

The Talking Portrait project is a hybrid of technology and oil painting. The use of video allows audiences to take the time to experience the development of a painting through a time-lapse record of its creation, giving a quick overview of the development of each face through multiple layers of paint. The project presents a form of portraiture that captures the interplay between the oil painter, model and canvas.

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Listen to description of TALKING PORTRAITS (mp3 podcast)

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The Video "CAROL - A Talking Portrait" is part of The Talking Portrait Installation. (Paintings and installation by Sherry Tompalski, supporting audio and video tracks by Graham Thompson)

The installation includes boldly painted faces, time-lapse photography and edited voice tracks in an effort to invite the audience into the intimate moment of the portrait sitting.

Rather than hang the portraits of the Talking Portrait Installation individually, Tompalski typically presents groups 9 to 15 large faces per gallery wall, covering as much as 135 square feet at a time. Consequently, art audiences are confronted by an expressive collection of personalities that for Tompalski represents "our life experience with others - those people who live inside of us, who shape the way we are from moment to moment." As well, The Talking Portrait Installation offers audience the opportunity to listen on portable audio players, individual sounds tracks for each portrait (produced by Thompson), where the models unsolicited comments are accompanied by supporting sound effects and programmed music that set the mood of each encounter. In effect, the sound tracks help the audience understand what each model is feeling, as part of an ongoing effort to capture the psychological experience of each model. The painted portraits are also supported by the time-lapse record of their creation (produced by Thompson), giving audiences, a quick overview of the development of each face through multiple layers of paint. The hypnotic effect of the compressed video helps the audience take a moment to look, to become engaged with the matrix of portraits. Consequently, the overall effect of the installation is a deepening of the moment, the moment mediated by the right hemisphere of the brain.

Right Brain Communication The Talking Portrait installation is primarily concerned about right brain communication, as it takes place between the artist and the model, as the right brain is responsible for processing nonverbal facial expression, body language, and voice in terms of rhythm, tone and force. Research (Wexler et al 1992) demonstrates that the right hemisphere is specialized for both the receptive processing and expressive communication of facial information (primarily from the eyes and from around the mouth) between people in spontaneous social interaction. This occurs very quickly in 3 milliseconds and is unconscious. For Tompalski, a practicing psychiatrist, the Talking Portrait series serves as visual confirmation that "90% of what goes on between people is unconscious"-an idea she credits to Daniel Stern, a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and a noted expert in the mother-infant relationship. Tompalski describes her portrait making process as follows, "To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which I feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Consequently, I value painting from a live model. Most importantly, this allows for a mutual influence that is interactive and largely unconscious."

Podcasts For more information listen to the JULY PODCAST about the Talking Portraits Series at

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