Steam Whistle Gallery Toronto, Talking Portraits

Talking Portraits Installation exhibited at Steam Whistle Gallery, Toronto Canada in 2006.


Sherry Tompalski’s and Graham Thompson’s Talking Portraits Installation was exhibited at The Steam Whistle Gallery, Toronto Canada in 2006.

Sherry Tompalski’s Talking Portait Installation Debuted in Toronto at the Steam Whistle Gallery. Curated by Simon Hermant, the show opened October 26th at 6pm and continued until November 22nd at The Roundhouse 255 Bremner Blvd. in Toronto, close to the CN Tower.


The Talking Portrait Installation covered an entire wall of the Steam Whistle gallery with 144 square feet of boldly painted close-up portraits. This matrix of 16 paintings immerses the viewer in a field of faces that act as a metaphor for our distilled experiences with other people.


The installation also includes audio samples and time-lapse photography from the actual portrait sitting which illustrates the concept of co-construction – the reciprocal, mutual influence between an artist and a model that is interactive, bi-directional, and largely unconscious. Thus the finished portraits are a visual coalescence of this process.


Tompalski’s style is best described as psychological realism, an attempt to capture the psychological experience of another person in paint on canvas. In the Talking Portrait installation Tompalski often utilizes “ironic colour” which was used by Michealangelo in his paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Ironic color is color that is in opposition to the manifest expression of the model, and this adds a complexity to the meaning of the portrait. This ambiguity seems appropriate as people often have complex experiences and mixed feelings. Ironic color captures this beautifully.

La Petite Mort Gallery Ottawa, Talking Portraits

Tompalski’s Talking Portraits were exhibited at La Petite Mort Gallery May 26th, 2006.


Sherry Tompalski’s Talking Portaits Installation was at La Petite Mort Gallery, curated by Guy Berube,  May 26th 7 – 10 PM at 306 Cumberland St. Ottawa Canada.  The  Exhibition provided 3 ways to experience the portrait – through large oil paintings, 8 audio sound tracks, and 8 videos of time-lapse photography that record the creation of the portraits.


PORTRAITS: The east wall will be covered with 135 square feet of boldly painted faces painted in her style of Psycholoogical Realism, where Tompalski captures the psychological experience of Ottawa’s leading psychotherapists and artists in paint on canvas. Her work is emphasizes intuition, interpretation, and co-construction (the unconscious dialogue of the portrait sitting.)


Portraiture & New Media

SOUND TRACKS: The sound tracks, were developed by splicing together unscripted comments with original computer music and sounds of birds, trains, roller coasters, steel bands and bagpipes. This dialogue allows for a momentary glimpse into the process of co-construction through the model’s verbal dialogue and the painter’s visual expression.


TIME-LAPSE VIDEOS: The time-lapse photography displays the development of the portrait. The hypnotic effect helps the audience take the time to look and become engaged with the painted portrait. To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which we feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Paintings and Installation by Sherry Tompalski and Supporting Audio and Video tracks by Graham Thompson.


Artist’s Statement

The Talking Portrait Installation, with its matrix of boldly painted faces, its use of time-lapse photography and edited voice tracks, invites the audience into the intimate moment of the portrait sitting. Rather than hang the portraits of the Talking Portrait Installation individually, Tompalski typically presents groups 9 to 15 large faces per gallery wall, covering as much as 135 square feet at a time. Consequently, art audiences are confronted by an expressive collection of personalities that for Tompalski represents “our life experience with others – those people who live inside of us, who shape the way we are from moment to moment.”


As well, The Talking Portrait Installation offers audience the opportunity to listen on portable audio players, individual sounds tracks for each portrait (produced by Thompson), where the models unsolicited comments are accompanied by supporting sound effects and programmed music that set the mood of each encounter. In effect, the sound tracks help the audience understand what each model is feeling, as part of an ongoing effort to capture the psychological experience of each model. The painted portraits are also supported by the time-lapse record of their creation (produced by Thompson), giving audiences, a quick overview of the development of each face through multiple layers of paint. The hypnotic effect of the compressed video helps the audience take a moment to look, to become engaged with the matrix of portraits. Consequently, the overall effect of the installation is a deepening of the moment, the moment mediated by the right hemisphere of the brain.


Right Brain Communication

The Talking Portrait installation is primarily concerned about right brain communication, as it takes place between the artist and the model, as the right brain is responsible for processing nonverbal facial expression, body language, and voice in terms of rhythm, tone and force. Research (Wexler et al 1992) demonstrates that the right hemisphere is specialized for both the receptive processing and expressive communication of facial information (primarily from the eyes and from around the mouth) between people in spontaneous social interaction.


This occurs very quickly in 3 milliseconds and is unconscious. For Tompalski, a practicing psychiatrist, the Talking Portrait series serves as visual confirmation that “90% of what goes on between people is unconscious”-an idea she credits to Daniel Stern, a professor of psychology at the University of Geneva and a noted expert in the mother-infant relationship.


Tompalski describes her portrait making process as follows, “To understand ourselves we look at others for clues as to what we are experiencing. The human face conveys a rich complexity of personal history, which I feel in an inexplicable way as an impression or an intuition. Consequently, I value painting from a live model. Most importantly, this allows for a mutual influence that is interactive and largely unconscious.”

CTV’s Tech Now features the Talking Portraits

CTV’s Tech Now Program, hosted by Colin Trethewey, features Talking Portrait Installation 2006.


CTV’s Tech Now Program of Ottawa Canada,  hosted by Colin Trethewey, featured the Talking Portrait Installation, June 11 2006.

The CTV’s coverage of the Talking Portraits installation ran as follows: An art show is a chance to escape the multi-media world we live in and quietly view artwork– not anymore. Innovative Ottawa artists are adding audio and video as part of their art, called “Talking Portraits” Sherry Tompalski is stepping into new territory with the help of her husband Graham Thompson…


Both are artists learning to deal with a new medium, wiring an art gallery for video and sound… this exhibit is about more than the finished portraits. While hanging the art is still an important step the canvas only tells part of the story… each work will be shown with video of the portrait sitting and audio clips of the conversation between subject and artist…


Graham Thompson shot and edited the video AND he`s also created a sound track for each portrait with individual cd-players… the sound track is the artist and the portrait subject talking about the work while the painting was taking place.


CTV Host Colin Tretheway’s Portrait by Tompalski

The next step is taking this beyond the walls of the gallery to a wider audience, and that`s the plan with Serry Tompalski`s website, on you can watch the talking portraits… A recent showing in Ottawa was one night only, but the show goes international this fall with an exhibit in Chicago and it`s streaming live 24-7 on the web.


CTV Host Colin Thetheway sitting for his own Talking Portrait

CTV’s TechNow Program Backgrounder

In Paul Brent’s own words, the producer of TechNow program – “What a decade from 2001 to 2011. Consider the technology that we have come to take for granted, and so much of this has come about in the last ten years. It’s an unprecedented pace of change, and really shows few signs of slowing down. Covering all of it has been Tech Now, as we mark our tenth anniversary this year.  From iPhones to the iPod, from Google to Twitter, Facebook, Digital cameras, flat screen TV’s, Kindles and YouTube, they have all arrived in the last decade. It amazes me to see what happens.”