Sunday, August 31, 2014

Poker Face

One time when I was playing poker, I watched my opponent bet the river and then confidently stare at me. The board had a four flush on it, and she was obviously betting that she had a flush. Or at least representing that she had a flush. All I had was one pair. Did she have the flush? I decided there was a reasonable chance that she was betting to represent it but that she might well not have it. I called. Sheepishly, she turned over one pair--a pair lower than mine. She was pretty good, but she didn't quite execute a credible poker face. Ah yes, the poker face...reading one's opponent's expression to draw conclusions as to the contents of his or her hand.

I played a lot of poker over the last decade or so. I think of myself as a tight, patient player. I folded a lot--and I mean a lot. As such, I spent a lot of time daydreaming. One day I was rolling around the concept of "poker face" in my head and thought: What if everybody at the table was staring at me at the same time? What if they were staring with, oh, let's say, an emotionally-charged, yet meaningfully unreadable expression? How unnerving would that be? If I bluffed and then got stared down, who would blink first? I kept mulling over the idea, and then my daydreaming shifted--as if taking on a life of it's own...and not entirely unlike Dumbo's dream sequence when Dumbo inadvertently got drunk. I thought: How could a poker player's face get more assuredly unreadable? Suddenly something clicked. I thought: What if the players wore masks? Yeah, that could be visually engaging!

That's how I came up with the idea of the Poker Face paintings (so far: "Poker Face", "Poker Face II", and, "Poker Face III"). Initially, my first plans for the image would be that I would populate a poker table with people wearing all different styles of masks. I quickly realized that that may look too aesthetically jumbled. So I pared down the style variations to just one. For my first few Poker Face paintings, I opted for the Venetian Carnival theme because I thought that was the most pleasing--and gave me a still extremely wide variety of individual looks. I'll move onto other mask styles eventually, but for now, I found this Venetian motif to be very satisfying.

One more thing: I feel my concept is substantially different than the "Dogs Playing Poker"-type of paintings and their sundry permutations ("Celebrities Playing Poker," "Monsters Playing Poker," etc.)--which I do like, but I think that my idea departs sufficiently to illustrate a different concept: Engaging the viewer as if he or she is in the game. I think that that, plus the sheer beauty of the Venetian Carnival costumes, makes the images compelling.