A Year of Portraits: The New York Times Obituaries



The New York Times Obituaries are well known for their journalistic qualities. They capture history and feature individuals who are, for the most part, not household names but those who have made a wrinkle in the social fabric. Combined they are a mirror on a past that is slipping away. 

Captivated by these lives and their stories, Nina took her daily interest in reading New York Times obituaries to the process of repetition and daily practice of drawing a portrait provided with each article. This process resulted in 365 sketched portraits in 12 Moleskine books from January 12, 2009 - January 11, 2010. 

While the daily practice of drawing resulted in a discipline as well as a chronological development in technical skill, the close examination of each portrait provided an emotional and personal connection to each person’s life. The decision of whom to draw from the daily selection was based on the who, and what they’ve done but also sometimes merely on how they looked or the composition or quality of the image provided. As the year wore on the selection criteria developed a curatorial aspect and thought was given to whom to add to the collection: should it be the boxer who for a brief moment in the 1940’s carried the title, or the felon whose life is all but forgotten but whose crime is remembered? 

PercySutton with BettyShabazz.jpg

The paintings evolved as an obvious next step to creating a personal interpretation of public memory. As in her earlier work , rather than adopt photography as a tool to achieve more accuracy of visual representation, Nina was more interested in how painting from photographs might reveal forms of personal inaccuracy, even in its most subtle presentation. 

The written obituary may be the final word on a notable life but in Nina’s work each portrait takes on a life of its own that goes beyond death. In the end the body of work represents a celebration of life not death.