“One of the hardest things in the world is to see yourself objectively. I’m not sure it’s even possible.”
I recently (last week) decided to start doing at least one self-portrait every year. I’ve only really done a few “official” self-portraits in the past. Of course, each work of art has my heart and soul in it, but there are some that are more personally reflective than others. Let me share them with you.
Here’s the earliest self-portrait I can find, made in August of 1988, when I was fifteen. I hadn’t had a lot of artistic training up to that point, but I think I got a pretty good likeness. At least that’s how I remember myself looking. (Check out those bangs!)
I’ll continue by skipping the horrible self-portrait I did in college, the result of a class assignment. A family member owns it now and will not let me take it back and destroy it. Or atleast paint over it. If I have anything to do with it, that painting will NOT make it into the art history books. It’s humiliating on so many levels.
Here’s a charcoal self-portrait I did several years back when I was teaching and my students were working on self-portraits. I didn’t put a date on this drawing, but I’m pretty sure it was made in the fall of 2001, right after 9/11. I was expecting my second child and had lots on my mind. Maybe that explains the serious look.
Here’s something that started out as a self-portrait, but ended up not as an image of me, but a reflection of how I felt at the time…
This was begun in 2006 (top), when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. The title was always the same, “Ou est la joie de vivre?” Translated from French to English, it means “Where is the Joy of Life?” It’s also a play on words, because the collaged images that I used were taken from a wallpaper pattern called ‘Joie de Vivre,’ which shows families happily working and frolicking, just happy to be alive, I guess. No worries in this ideal world. I worked on this painting over the next three years, keeping the collaged elements, but at some point I took out my likeness and replaced it with a woman who is turned away from the viewer. Possibly the journey in this painting is more valuable than the end product. But I think that’s true for all of my work.
Last year I made this 4×4 inch collage entitled “36” that I consider my self portrait for 2009. It’s definitely more lighthearted than some in previous years, thank goodness!
This painting, although I wouldn’t consider it a self-portrait, has a lot of personal connections. Also completed last year, “She Comes from Texas” uses the image of the Venus de Milo as the main subject. The title comes from a collaged passage, located below her feet. It is a quote Ernest Hemmingway, which I found in another book, written in the 1950s. It says, “With us, if a girl is really beautiful, she comes from Texas and maybe, with luck, she can tell you what month it is. They can all count good, though. They teach them how to count, and keep their legs together, and how to put their hair up in pin curls.”
Obviously, the point here is the irony, but I think the quote hit a nerve with me. Growing up in rural Texas, I often felt that I was viewed this way by the men and boys I grew up with. In our small-town culture, the main way I saw males communicate with females was through teasing. Most of it was light-hearted, but I tended to take things very personally, and really never felt very good about it. I learned to smile, though. As a matter of fact, one of my nicknames given to me from male coaches as a teenager was “smiley,” (in addition to “stubby” and “air head deluxe”). I thought that most men thought I was pretty dumb. Wonder why?
So here is my latest “self-portrait.” I’ve been working on it for a few months, but just completed it yesterday. There’s a lot going on here, but I think that is the perfect reflection of who I am right now. There is charcoal, paint, furniture molding, computer keyboard parts, a playing card, and collaged wallpaper. The central figure doesn’t look anything like me, but I think she reflects confidence. I’ve been growing in that this year. Probably my favorite part of this is the blue square behind the girl’s head — it’s a Post-It Note. Any mother or ambitious woman can relate to needing constant reminders, all over the place, all the time. It’s definitely been one of those years for me.
It will be interesting to see how my life, my style and my self-perception changes over the years. I’ll keep you posted.