While he’s interested mainly in drawing architectural and historic sites, Eli Portman goes contemporary when it comes to sharing his work on Instagram @eli.portman. The 27-year-old artist caught up with the Globe to chat about color, line work, and identity in spaces.
Q. On your Instagram, you describe your artistic interests as “urban architecture and historic sites.” Why is that?
A. I grew up here in Boston, and I've always had a fascination with, not just urban architecture, but also the way things display themselves. When you’re drawing a scene, especially an urban scene, you’re dealing with color and lighting and angles. And I always like to play around with those different elements, and sort of show how combining and rearranging those can really give a different feel.
I personally, like a lot of people, struggle with identity. I think everyone does, and we’re all trying to find who we are and where we belong, and it’s never something that you really find an answer to. It’s something where you have to make a place for yourself. And so when it comes to urban scenes, I find that’s a really good vehicle for sort of showing the search for place and identity, because the city is such an interesting environment in that it's filled with people; like Boston, it’s such a crowded city. And yet, I know so many people who feel like they're kind of separated from people around them or can’t quite fit in. But when you have so many people feeling that way that are all alongside each other, it kind of creates an interesting duality between how many people alongside each other, and the people who feel alone, despite the fact that you're always within 10 feet of another person on the street. And so I think that’s a really interesting sort of idea to explore, and I think, illustrating architecture, urban scenes, and historic sites fits a lot into that conversation of identity in an urban environment.
Q. What medium do work in mostly?
A. I studied art at SUNY Binghamton and graduated in 2014. At that time, I was actually focusing more on printmaking and oil painting. And when I got out of school, I was really enjoying working with pen and ink, which is like old-fashioned calligraphy pens, which many artists use. I really like to talk about it as a medium, but it’s very common. In comic book art, which I grew up on graphic novels, it’s really good for creating lines with various depths and various amounts of thickness and thinness. In contrast, the ink is very pure in its color. And I love playing with pen and ink sort of in terms of experimenting with line work, and how you can contrast lighting using only line. I also do a lot of watercolor these days. But I definitely when I moved back here and started with the urban scenes, I was really focusing more on the pen control and on my line work.
Q. Some of your work is black-and-white, while others use a very specific colorful palette. How do you decide your color scheme with each piece?
A. For a long time I was working with pen, and I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on color. And so I stepped back a few years ago, I stepped back from using color. And I spent maybe like a whole winter just doing line work, and wanting to sort of think about how to reintroduce the color in a little bit more of a dedicated, sort of better planned out format. And so as I look at a scene, I sort of think about the feeling like I said, as much as, as the scene itself, in terms of what I’m going for.
I’ve also been doing more recently monochromatic pieces, what I’m calling them, which are really like line work and then one color, like a blue or red, which are a little bit more minimal. And so those are basically an attempt at sort of playing with a more minimal attempt at what I was already doing, because I was already going at these things and going heavy with color. And I kind of want to go back and see how can I really make an evocative sort of gestural expression sort of filled scene using less to do more.