The silhouette, named after French minister Etienne de Silhouette, usually refers to the representation of an object, person or scene as a solid singular shape of colour. The Egyptians and the Greeks both lay claim to this artform but two things agreed upon are: it originated in tracing lines around the human shadow and it was thought that accurate information about a person’s age and gender could be discerned from it.
Countless artists have utilized the silhouette in their work, but the artist who has influenced me with her use of the silhouette is Kara Walker. She has extended the idea of the silhouette to encompass race, social status and sexuality as well as gender and age. By presenting us with ‘simple’ cut outs and allowing them to interact with each other, Walker forces us to confront several issues.
Kara Walker 1994-1995 Series
In my own artwork, where I see sports as a microcosm of the greater society, the silhouette plays an important role as well. While Walker has made the outline a major strength of her work, I have instead decided to use the silhouette as a canvas and fill it with images. Therefore, the outline of the athlete acts as a container which I fill with the ideas and stereotypes we so often associate with them. It is far less of a silhouette of the athlete, but more a silhouette of society’s ideas about them. The images below are examples of my work along with the famous silhouettes of athletes.