[Originally shared on LA Splash.] A successful creative career over a decade long has culminated in Anthony Dortch’s current mélange of multimedia art; a provocative exhibit that mirrors life while incorporating it.
Based in Washington, D.C., he grew up with artistic inclinations and found inspiration in the culture around him. “My mom would say that I’ve always been an artist, even as a little kid. I would get a children’s book and she’d see that I drew all over it. I’d watch cartoons and try to mimic the way they looked. Then comic books, I’d try to mimic those characters. That’s stayed in my artwork now.”
Another early influence also continued to impact Dortch throughout his career. “I think when I really knew that I liked art and had ability was during high school. I had an amazing art teacher, Judy Campbell. I’m always curious if she didn’t teach me these things, where I’d have ended up.” Campbell’s unique connection with her advanced placement art students challenged Dortch and encouraged him to be open to new possibilities. “I was not a painter, I did pen and ink. After two years in her class, I was not afraid of oils any more, or acrylics. Now, I always want to see how far I can take any idea.”
His current endeavor exemplifies that need to amplify his art. The Privileged Series begins with photos of models, which are printed on canvas then painted. “Each time, I don’t know how the picture will turn out. Even though I’ve planned it out, there is any element of it could turn out different.” He hosts elaborate receptions that extend the pictorials beyond the walls, to include models in character which are carefully styled in Dortch-inspired fashion, hair, and make-up, “People don’t know where the photo stops and the painting begins.”
The Privileged Series illustrates his view of the struggle between the rich, vividly depicted as gilded yellow characters with ostentatious adornments, and the poor, who are chillingly nude except for their cobalt blue skin. “The poor have nothing, they can’t even afford clothes. The rich have these ornate wild costumes. It is kind of tongue-in-cheek talking about what’s going on in society, without pointing a finger.”
But he has faced critics who find bias despite his intent to reflect our reality without remarking on it. “In San Diego, there was a man who said ‘You’re making fun of Republicans’ and I said ‘Then you didn’t get my show’. It’s not just black and white. There are themes of class, money, and race. It is this satire of society. And it’s not only today, humans are creatures of habit and we are doomed to continually repeat ourselves. Like slavery, for example, we kind of always keep pushing it on some group of people.”
“A lot of people have told me that seems like the series is a very harsh criticism of society. But go to the grocery store and see how people give money to the cashier. Watch how people do that– they will throw their credit card or cash at the cashier. It’s another form of putting yourself above someone else, even if you’re both middle class. That’s our society: it’s what we’re becoming. We’re always making sure one person is above the other, even in little ways, in our lives.”
Much like society, his art develops as ideas and realizations result from their prior incarnations. “Not seeing their face is something that evolved from the very simple idea that when you walk past a poor person begging for money– do you see their face? I look away. I’m definitely not above my own theories. I don’t want to notice the pain. That was something that was not in place at the beginning, but now you really don’t know who they are. It’s really continually evolved.”
“The project has become its own thing. Having the people walk around was an afterthought. We told the models to act and the blue people were always kind of hunched over, very sad and depressed. They became my paintings. Video was captured to loop from opening night throughout the rest of the exhibit. It’s really about the whole experience. It’s about having this complete experience. If you don’t get the images, you might get the models. If not the models, the video. One of these components is going to get you and you’re going to leave my show feeling something.”
That desire to affect with his unique imagery is driving Anthony Dortch to continue redefining the perimeters of the project and take it to new places, both literally and metaphorically. “I have three more shows, all Privileged Series. Each show, each opening, will never be the same. I will stay with this one for a while. Each time you’re going to get something that wasn’t there before and I just want to keep evolving and growing. It’s already one hundred images, though I don’t show all one hundred at one time. What will probably happen is that they will become very specific critiques on society– soldiers, political characters, etc. Right now I just want people to understand this world I’ve created.”
“I do hope to keep pushing it until I have so many images that it’s a world on its own.”
Learn more about Anthony Dortch at www.dortchdesigns.com.