Lenore McGovern is a Toronto based artist whose work is represented in many private collections throughout Ontario and the Western Provinces of Canada. 

A story teller at heart, her recent works succeed for her personally when she portrays her subject as a fully realized protagonist in an on-going story.  Because her commissioned portraits involve an in-depth, two-way dialogue, she calls them "visual biographies." The symbolic and associative elements that form the narrative are discovered through a creative collaboration with her subject.  While the artist, as biographer, imposes her perceptions on the life of her subject, the subject's participation is a contained and telling presence in the final image. 

In explaining the passion she brings to her work, McGovern relates a firm conviction that portraiture is poised for a revival.  She quotes Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo in 1888: 

"Ah! portraiture, portraiture with the thoughts, the soul of 
the model in it, that is what I think must come." 

Considered in the context of our times, Van Gogh's words convey more than the wishful thinking of a struggling artist.  As personal and collective projections warn us of the dehumanizing values feeding the forces of globalization, as we witness our thoughts and souls being pulled into the waves of an uncertain future, we can read an ominous note into Van Gogh's seemingly hopeful prediction. 

In McGovern's view, we will respond to these threatening forces by pulling back the projections, reincorporating the essential parts of our humanness.  We will find ways to transform our lives into vital, individual narratives; we will recreate ourselves, rediscover the compelling power of memory and re-address the irrepressible question: "Who am I?" 

The portrait artist, by nature and tradition, understands and honours this essential question.  McGovern, in bringing her subject into the process, into the picture, creates a new dynamic.  When the subject participates importantly, and creatively, in the making of the art, something radical is taking place in the relationship between artist and model and, by extension, doors are opening to a larger, more vital community in which artist and viewer share the language of this most basic communication. 

When Van Gogh imagined "the thoughts, the soul of the model" in the art, was he seeing the model participating in this way? Probably not. But, over a century later, McGovern strives for the same ideal.  She does so in the firm belief that portraiture will again become a sought-after form of documenting ourselves and our times. 

Claire Duggan
in conversation with the artist, August, 1998