Photography-based artist Tawny Chatmon is known for her intimate photographic portraits that are often adorned in a gilded splendor reminiscent of a Gustav Klimt painting. However, for her latest series If I’m No Longer Here, I Wanted You to Know, the artist actually drew much of her inspiration from Byzantine art and religious iconography. “Historically, gold was reserved for those of importance,” Chatmon tells My Modern Met, and this portrait series is centered around the people most important to her.
“I do not wish to wait for the perfect time, the perfect place, or the perfect day to express my love for family and friends,” Chatmon expresses in her artist’s statement for these gilded portraits. And she tells My Modern Met a little more about the experiences that inspired this series: “I worked on this body of work during the lockdown while we were all adjusting to the pandemic and more social unrest. So many thoughts ran rampant, especially mortality and the importance of ‘giving people their flowers’ while you and they are still here. I thought about my children, my community, and the world as a whole. On the one hand, I feel blessed to experience this life, and, at the same time, I feel urgent concern due to the daily occurrences in the world around us.”
Chatmon channels those kinds of deep thoughts and feelings into her art and uses them to fuel her inspiration. After a portrait session—where the sitter is usually someone close to her—she refines and prints each digitally enhanced photo, which serves as the first layer for a piece. The artist then embellishes the portraits with overlapping layers of acrylic paint and 24-karat gold leaf. Several works in this series are also ornamented with semi-precious stones, glass, and other mixed media. The regal, elongated figures glitter and sparkle in their gilt finery, posed in striking postures evocative of the tenderness and warmth shared in their bonds of love and friendship.
“For those who encounter my work, I want them to stop and pay attention,” Chatmon says. “Similar to works created during the Byzantine period, I would like them to have a spiritual experience. I’d like them to reflect, to look within, and for something inside of them to awaken or expand. I’d hope that they would experience feelings of grace, celebration, and magnificence and for the imagery to remain with them forever.”
To see more of Chatmon's magnificent work, visit the artist's website or follow her on Instagram. In the meantime, scroll down to see more incredible portraits from her latest series, If I'm No Longer Here, I Wanted You to Know.