A few month ago on Facebook I came across a wonderful page called Humans of New York. It is run by a street photographer by the name of Brandon who roams the streets of the Big Apple and takes portraits of interesting people. The other day mindst my morning coffee Brandon had posted a picture of the Etan Patz investigation that is taking place in SoHo.
Not having heard of Etan Patz before I consulted my dear friend Google who informed me that poor Etan was a 6 year old boy who was kidnapped in 1979. His body was never found. This memorial day weekend it will be 30 years ago since it happened. Etan Patz was the first missing child in America to be featured on the side of milk cartons.
Something about the photos of Etan struck a (granted sad) cord with me, there was something familiar about the face of that smiling boy. The story haunted me throughout the day and in the afternoon I suddenly remembered: “John Paul Thornton!”
John Paul Thornton is in my opinion an incredible invidiual. Granted I have never met him, the only interaction I have had with him have been through DeviantArt and also I own a book he wrote. It is called Art & Courage. So what makes him so incredible? Well he paints portraits, and not just any portraits. He has painted a series of stunning portraits of missing children. He calls them The Missing Children – Portraits of Hope.
I went to his DeviantArt page and looked through the portraits, none of them have names, just number but one in particular stood out. I looked back and forth between it and a photo of Etan but I was still not certain, so I left him a comment and asked. It was true, portrait # 33 was based on Etan Patz.
From there I found out why it was so familiar, not just because I had seen the portrait before in his gallery but because this portrait is the cover of ‘Art and Courage’ – A very touching and inspiring book John Paul Thornton wrote, that I read at a time in my life where I really needed to hear what he had to say. It made me think further about art.
We have so many different kinds of art now and with the development of our culture much have become disposable. We see so many ads, read many books, play many games that we are constantly exposed to it. Some of it we remember but a lot of it we do not. However this series of portraits with missing children, it is haunting, it is beautiful and it is filled with hope – beyond that it is memorable. It is art at its best, art worth remembering because it has an impact – a strong subject.
Portrait of a Missing Boy. Inspired by the image printed on a disposable mailer. Painted with real oil paint and a palette knife.
I met this child’s parents. He is very special. Why? Because he was the first child to ever be featured on a “Have You Seen Me?” mailer. The mailer program still exists. His disappearance ultimately led to the recovery of many other children.
Can I tell you, I have great conflicts about these paintings, because I would never wish to add to the energy of victim-hood that exists in the world.
Instead, my wish is for you to see these faces as images of hope, empathy, and compassion.
…Because these are the things that can heal us all.
– John Paul Thornton
John Paul Thornton is incredible to me because of what he achieves with his art. He is not afraid to open himself up and let us all see.
It is the same with the photography of Humans of New York. The portraits with captions of every day people in this big buzzing city are incredible. A reminder of how alive it is, how beautiful it can be but also that there is a shadow side.
It’s something that is important to consider as an artist: What impact does your artwork have? Is it memorable? Do you WANT it to be memorable? What impression are you seeking to give?
Can you elevate your art?
Lastly, here is a list of links. I would highly recommend you visit the website of John Paul Thornton as well as the website of Humans of New York and see the work.
Humans of New York Blog
Humans of New York – Facebook Site
Art and Courage by John Paul Thornton on Amazon
John Paul Thornton on DeviantArt
John Paul Thornton’s Official Website
About Etan Patz on Wikipedia
What happened to Etan Patz