PAUL HUMPHREY 1931-1999
Paul Humphrey was born in Poultney, Vermont, and remained a life-long Vermont resident, moving to Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1971 to work as a house painter and taxi driver and eventually settling in Burlington, Vermont, in 1990, after ill-health forced him out of the workforce. He made his first drawing at age 57 and amassed hundreds of works during the final twelve years of his life. In 1992 Humphrey suffered a stroke, resulting in severe paralysis that confined him to a wheelchair, and to a life of art making. His Sleeping Beauties series consumed the final chapter of his existence—“It is my entire life, it is all that I have.”
Humphrey claimed that his first Sleeping Beauty was based on a photograph of his daughter, Sandra Sue. However, after the artist’s death it was discovered that the personal narrative he shared with friends was largely fiction. In fact, he had no daughter and the Sleeping Beauties were invented characters, their true identities carefully altered to fit into Humphrey’s imagined world. The sources of the images are primarily magazines, which Humphrey photocopied and then aggressively re-imagined with white-out tape to carefully shut the eyes of the subject and otherwise alter their features. He would use ash to create shading, sometimes filtered through a wire mesh, and additionally amend the image with drawing. These altered images were then copied again and color was added with pencils and markers as a final step. In each portrait a fascinating tension lies between the subject’s innocent expression and the deep complexity that lies within the intense layers of process—an affect made all the more powerful by the incredible consistency and obsessive nature of Humphrey’s artistic project.