Byron Kim, ‘Emmett at Twelve Months, #3’, 1994, Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Initiated shortly after Synecdoche, which hangs nearby, Emmett at Twelve Months, #3 constitutes a portrait of the artist’s son. As Kim has noted, the work’s physical scale conveys intimacy, with each panel roughly the size of Emmett’s hand. Executed in egg tempera, the painting features not only skin tones, but also the shade of Emmett’s eyes (both the white and dark portions) and his hair. Other panels suggest the very complexity of the multiple tones that make up any human being—the bottom of the foot, the lips, birth-marks, ears—and the troubling conceit of reducing a single individual to one shade as a stereotype for describing race.

Image rights: © The Artist / Image Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York and Shanghai

"This Is a Portrait If I Say So: Identity in American Art, 1912 to Today"

Collection of the Artist

About Byron Kim

Best known for Synecdoche (1991), a grid of hundreds of monochrome “self-portraits”—the colors corresponding to their sitters’ skin tone—Byron Kim explored identity politics with his early abstract paintings. More recent works have included untitled paintings of cloudy night skies that Kim paints from memory, their subtle variations of purple and gray only visible with close inspection. Speaking of the figurative aspect of works that largely appear abstract, Kim has said, “I love a good abstract painting, but I’m often not interested in what people talk about when they talk about abstraction, so I prefer to apply my own content.”

American, b. 1961