For years, I’ve collected mug shots. Whenever I’d see an interesting one online? Right click–>Save. Do that enough times over the years, and you’ll end up with a big collection.
Most of them don’t even have names attached, much less arrest details. I don’t know why most of these people were arrested in the first place, or where. I don’t know if they ever stood trial, or were found guilty, or what became of them afterward. But here’s what I do know for sure: every single mug I’ve collected has a story behind it. And even if I don’t know the real story, there’s something in each one of those pictures that caught my attention and seems to demand one.
I’m a hopeless junkie for stories. I can’t get through a day without spotting a story just waiting to be told. And all the best stories crop up wherever things are out of kilter. Anything broken, abandoned, neglected, or worn out has a story. Anything out of its normal place has one, too. Anything that’s just plain fucked up? It’s storytime, kids.
So I’ve collected all these mug shots, with the vague idea of making art with them one day. Only recently, however, did I realize that I was collecting them for their stories. Not the capital-T Truth of what happened and how these people ended up on John Law’s bad side, but rather the stories these photos suggest.
And with that in mind, I’m finally starting to make art from these images, pulling the stories out of them. I sat down today and did this pencil study from a mug taken roughly 20 years ago:
What caught my attention and made me want to draw her was her impressively Winehousian beehive (though, to be fair, little Amy was only about seven years old when my source photo was taken). In the original mug, she also wore pink lipstick that made her full lips look even more bee-stung.
She must have taken a lot of time and effort to get her hair up and her makeup right before she went out. So what happened? How did she go from lavishing all that effort on her hair to standing in front of the booking camera, barely able to keep her eyes open?
Who was she before her evening went bad? And who was she afterward?
A novelist might have an easier time answering these questions; it’s probably another sign of how off my nut I am that I’m going to keep them in mind as I paint. What kinds of stories will emerge? I’ll just have to keep going and find out.