b. 1959, St. Louis, MO
Mary Borgman’s monumental charcoal portraits begin with an intensive engagement with her subjects. During the initial photo shoot, the extroverted, St. Louis, Missouri–based artist, a professor at Washington University, typically befriends her sitters with easygoing conversation, coffee, and cake. She encourages her subjects to listen to their own music and think about something important to them while facing the camera. Gradually, her sitters gain confidence and pose less self-consciously, revealing their individual sensibilities.After the shoot, Borgman draws from the selected photograph in a lengthy, solitary process of addition and subtraction; long strokes of rich charcoal are followed by smudging, erasing, rubbing, and reworking. Despite their large scale and frontal pose, Borgman’s images are more compelling than confrontational and convey a sense of psychological depth. Attuned to the subtleties of self-presentation, including posture, clothing, and ornaments, Borgman presents highly individualized portrayals while suggesting the common humanity of her ethnically diverse subjects.