“I kinda like the sound…” George Wurtzel says as he rubs his fingertips and hands over the portrait that artist Andrew Myers has fashioned of him before comically jesting a second later that: “But my nose isn’t that big!” If this reaction to a subject’s first viewing of their portrait sounds commonplace, rest assured, this encounter is anything but….
Andrew creates portraits unlike any other. After tightly nailing thousands of screws to a base in a relief pattern similar to that of a 3D raised relief map, he treats the heads of the screws as a canvas using oil paints in combination with the shadows created by the “hills and valleys” of the nail heads to map out his subject’s facial features.
About six years ago, while exhibiting his unique sculptural work of portraits, as well as other subjects at an art show, Andrew’s exhibit was visited by a blind man. Seeing the man’s enthusiastic reaction to not only being allowed, but actually encouraged, to touch his paintings and feel the subject matters depicted, gave Andrew an idea—wouldn’t it be amazing to give another blind person this temporary gift of “sight?”
Collaborating with Cantor Fine Art - a Los Angeles based, private dealership - on this mission brought Andrew in contact with George, a blind artisan at Enchanted Hills Camp, a 300 acre, summer camp for the visually impaired, nestled amongst the redwood trees in Napa, CA. George, an architectural millworker by trade, teaches blindness skills to the students there and by example shows them how they too can learn to use the machinery and equipment necessary in order to become blind artisans; to “expand their artistic horizons,” as he says in the video created to document the portrait unveiling, which unbeknownst to George, Andrew and the crew attended.
Please Touch the Art © Cantor Fine Art.
To create the tactile portrait of George wearing his straw hat, Andrew used around 4,000 screws resulting in a portrait filled with life and emotion and which appears almost ready to blink, or to laugh or… do anything other than remain motionless!
This is the same spirit that is imbued in the artist’s entire other works as well, be it a sculptural depiction of a favorite denim shirt, of a well-worn sneaker, or a gun aiming at promoting gun control. The charcoal drawings of his ingenious Life 101 portrait series are also incredible: to create these, after being beautifully sketched out on notebook paper, Andrew and his subjects share a three-hour long interview session during which Andrew helps them examine their lives. Notes are taken around the portrait as they talk before artist and subject decide on a “grade” based on their analysis. This is often so emotional for Andrew’s subjects that most have ended up crying during the session and walk away with a new perspective on their lives and a drive to accomplish their yet-unreached goals.
This brings us back to the screw portrait of George; it seems to embody something: “Your life is what you decide you want to make it to be, not what other people decide it should be,” George says in the video of the unveiling.
For his part, Andrew shares that: “The one thing I wish is that George could see the piece that I had made the way that I see it, but at the same time I would like to look at things the way he sees the world.” Interestingly, those different perspectives can sometimes reveal the same exact image.