Janet Tsakis is a special kind of recycler. From her artist studio in her Weehawken residence, she takes the photos that most people would erase from their digital cameras or throw in the trash and turns them into art.
“These are not the photos most people see and say, ‘Oh, you look so great in that picture!’” she said. “I’m not purposely trying to not show them at their best. I think the pictures are funny and I’m trying to do something different with portraits.”
While expert technique and objective beauty are undeniably apparent in her final paintings, to some of her subjects, they are also undeniably not their own personal ‘best face forward.’ So Tsakis has become a bit more selective with whom she chooses to paint.
“That’s why I do a lot of self portraits,” she explained, “So I’ll make fun of myself and will be less likely to offend people.”
“I’m not purposely trying to not show them at their best.” – Janet Tsakis
Who, after all, really likes how they look in photographs? And Tsakis paints from the photographs that no one really wants.
In fact, when she was photographed for the Reporter, she joked, “Get me at my worst!”
In the eye of the beholder
Such a challenge seems right up Tsakis’ artistic alley. She has an admitted tendency toward self-torture when it comes to creating a work she is happy with.
“I constantly push myself,” she said. “The more appropriate others find photos, the more boring they are to me. It is very rare that I am happy with my final product and sometimes it takes a year to finish it.”
Despite either Tsakis’ subjects’ criticism or her own – which is, she said, the most severe – the curator of the Parallax AF show set to run Aug. 4 and 5 at 82 Mercer St. in New York City thinks her work fine enough to feature.
Her latest “Photo Booth Series,” a compilation of small panels depicting herself with her husband Chris and her college friend Cathy Suhocki making decidedly odd faces in a photo booth, will join the work of around 200 artists from around the world.
The show originated in London and will premiere this weekend in New York City for the first time. Londoner and curator Dr. Chris Barlow selected works he found from international artists’ online portfolios to display during the two-day event. It is not quite a gallery setting, which often collects a commission for each artwork sold.
The artists featured can sell direct to the prospective buyer, cutting out the middle man and returning the financial edge to the artist. But Tsakis is not concerned with the money. She really never has been.
“Honestly, I don’t know if people would want to buy my work because it’s so personal,” she said, “But it’s nice to have it out there.”
She has painted on commission, she said, but only once did she sell one of her pre-made portraits. It was a painting of her cousin making a “crabby face” in a crab costume that she and her family wore to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade five years ago.
“An Italian collector bought it, I think, because it was so American,” Tsakis posited. “We went out as a family of crabs, and I still use those pictures a lot to paint from which I think horrifies the kids since they’re in high school now.”
Creative every day
“There was never a day when I wasn’t doing something creative,” Tsakis said. “We didn’t watch television as children, and we were always drawing or doing crafts.”
This led to a trend of creativity which Tsakis craftily turned into a lifelong living. She was inspired by her high school art classes when she would open up the large art closet to fetch something for her teacher Kenneth Hand in Perth Amboy and gaze longingly at the supplies inside.
“I remember saying ‘Oh my God, I want this,’” Tsakis recalled, though she didn’t quite realize she would herself become an art teacher years later after working several different art-related odd jobs and returning to graduate school at Kean University for teaching.
She got her first job in Bayonne teaching elementary students in 1993.
“Teaching was a lot harder than I though, but I was always and still am so excited about it,” she said. “My students always surprise me and turn out something amazing. Every day is different, every kid is different, and I’m always wowed by it.”
Tsakis spends her summers doing work on her personal art projects. Her ultimate goal is to one day show at a city gallery. The Parallax AF show is a promising step in that direction.
The event is free, but because of the sheer volume of artists, it is expected to be crowded, and the organizers recommend signing up online for tickets at www.parallaxaf.com. The shows run Saturday and Sunday beginning at 5 p.m.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org