Friday, June 26, 2009

Conceptual Portrait: Yo-Yo Ma

This assignment was given from Anita Kunz. Two important goals of the project: likeness, and simple, clear idea that describes a certain aspect of the chosen subject.

My first memory of seeing an image of Yo-Yo Ma was in 9th grade. In classrooms and the library, my school put up many "READ" posters with a photos of different celebrities (usually a sports man or an actor/actress) in their casual attire. I was drawn to Ma's poster for several reasons: he was the only one in full tuxedo, he was the only Asian, and he was the only one holding a classical instrument, cello, which I happened to have just started learning at that time. Plus, he had a name impossible to forget - I mean, Yo-Yo? Are you kidding?

In my high school orchestra class, however, I soon learned that his musical career was a very serious one, and perhaps one of the most influential and creative endeavor in the contemporary musical world.

Ma later reappeared in my life at RISD through his Silkroad Project, which he launched about 10 years ago as an effort to bring cultural riches from the traditions of many countries that existed and still exist along the cross-continental trade route called the silkroad. I was in a Wintersession course that invited the Silkroad Ensemble musicians to collaborate with the students who provided the visual component of the joint multicultural and interdisciplinary celebration.

These indirect encounters with this internationally famous cellist were more than enough for me to choose him for this portrait assignment.

1. Yo-Yo Ma and his global renown

2. Yo-Yo Ma "bridging" the different musical traditions and cultural influences. The cello part that supports the strings and transfers the vibration to the body of the instrument is actually called "bridge." It also has a heart-shape cut out in the middle, which I wanted to play up as a symbol of his personal charm. Although the metaphor is interesting, unfortunately the figure is compressed down and looks awkward.

3. Yo-Yo Ma and his Silkroad project, which brings musical and narrative traditions from numerous cultures. The idea has some potential, but the artist's face have to be the dominant element in the image and the composition needs major revision.

So, I did two more thumbnails with the same idea.

The first sketch is more unexpected and humorous, but I wanted to depict him with more respectful approach. I decided to go with the bottom thumbnail.

The tuning peg are replaced by four iconic symbols that suggest various cultural origins. Instead of drawing them as if they've been engraved on the actual pegs, I suspended the icons in space to emphasize their symbolic quality.

Value studies.

Color studies.

Finish in watercolor.