Nicolas Calá


In the months that I’ve spent at home since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I’ve found myself feeling lonelier than I ever have before. I haven’t seen or spoken to most of my family and friends in months. When it came time to start working on my thesis project, I was emotionally and creatively depleted. Because of this, much of the process of developing my thesis revolved around regaining the creativity that I had lost. In the eight months since I began working, I’ve found it again, and the project has evolved into something much more personal.

28 individual portraits, each one 12 X 12 inches. All together, it is 7 X 4 feet. Acrylic paint on canvas

In an attempt to surround myself with those I am unable to laugh, cry, and hang out with, I have painted a series of 28 individual portraits of my friends and family.  Each one is painted in a specific color. Together, they form a mosaic in rainbow order. The rows are made up of portraits in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink. I’ve painted each portrait from a reference photo chosen and sent by the subject. I selected the colors for each individual based on their favorite colors, as well as the colors I needed logistically to complete the rainbow. The reason I painted the portraits on 12” x 12” canvases stems from a longstanding admiration I’ve had for these dimensions. It started a few years ago, when my friend, a musician, asked me to make promotional artwork for one of his songs. Now, I like to approach all of my paintings with the mindset that they could hypothetically function as cover art for an album.

Paternal Relatives

Muhlenberg Friends

Immediate Family

Maryland Friends

Throughout this project, I have taken great inspiration from Jordan Casteel. Her oil paintings prominently feature traditionally underrepresented subjects. This stood out to me because the subjects that I’m painting belong to a vast variety of racial, cultural, and sexual backgrounds. She also uses vibrant hues to paint her portraits. Most of her subjects are Black, but the colors she uses to paint their bodies come across as though that were the color skin they were born with. This same quality is what I sought to capture in my work by using not only white, black, and the base hue for each portrait, but several other complimentary colors as well. Using this technique, I was able to achieve a more textured look for the skin. In regards to the mosaic-nature of this project, I drew inspiration from Jennifer Bartlett. She has years of experience making large galleries composed of smaller, jigsaw puzzle-like pieces. Through Bartlett’s use of this medium, she explores how multiples of images can help viewers to understand concepts she wants to convey. I wanted my work to have the same effect, so I hid various patterns into the overall composition. Horizontally, from bottom to top, I arranged the rows: friends from home, immediate family, friends from Muhlenberg, and family on my father’s side. Vertically, the columns are organized by hue. Lastly, as a way of including a fun little Easter egg, I included a third pattern. Scattered throughout, you’ll find that only one subject per row, and per column, is wearing a hat.