Monday, 30 May 2011

Self portrait as revelation.

  Well it has been a while since my last post.  Finishing my first year at university and being freed of deadlines resulted in me doing all things other than art and writing for the last few weeks.  My final piece was a self portrait.  Staring into a mirror for long periods of time, has prompted a new short haircut and a need to focus outwards for a while.
 I have found the process a great vehicle for developing my painting skills and will definitely continue to do more.  As I probably know the subject of my face better than any other thing, it freed me up, allowing me to place my full attention on the act of painting.

Self portrait. Pastel. A3. 2010.
 The versatility of the self portrait through history continues to unfold.  What was first used as an advertisement of an artist's ability, portraying the artist as they wished to be perceived has evolved into an act of therapy, an emotional outpouring.  Focusing intently upon our own image can build an intensity not always found in other subject matter.  Self portraits by female artists can be particularly cathartic and revealing.  Finding the work of Shani Rhys James has been a fantastic discovery.

 Honesty in art and in life is greatly important to me.  I have a tendency to dissociate, which is probably why I am unnerved by others who live their lives under a veil of denial and deception.  There is only limited joy in winning a game through cheating.  We do not have long to live our lives so why cheat ourselves, though I understand the appeal when faced with a joyless reality.  I like to see experience as a process of refinement, revealing our authentic selves, as a pebble is polished by the sea.

Painting outside really helped me to see. The light was incredible.
 Confessional art attempts to disclose an undisguised, autobiographical experience.  It can communicate the pain and violence of life but it is also criticised for being self-indulgent and voyeuristic.  Tracey Emin is renowned in this art form.  Possibly the ultimate extreme of the self portrait, Emin herself has become the art.  This "victim" art is often denounced, as it's pitying effect can short-circuit criticism and it's ability to shock can divert us from the quality of it's artistry.  Regardless of the caliber of artwork, I admire the bravery and honesty of Tracey Emin.  I take from it a moment of undiluted expression.  The intimacy may be illusory, like the familiarity of celebrities, we don't really know, but it can be held up as a mirror to our own experience, as the artist of the self portrait holds a mirror to their face.  There is a danger to avoid of turning ourselves into commodities, but to share the absolute truth of what it means to be human is an admirable pursuit. Any dissolution of the public mask is a worthy cause.

 In my self portrait I tried to show a progression of my identity.  It is based on an old style, photobooth photo.  It isn't finished, I know I will go back to it to work on the lower portrait, but it needed handing in and time to dry, before being hung up for the end of year exhibition.  The first image is "The mask", the outer self protecting the inner unknown self, the eyes are the "tell" revealing unease.  The second image is "Self-conscious", the beginning of self-awareness mixed with shyness and uncertainty. The third image represents "Subconscious", the place of the unknown where inner demons lurk before they are confronted. The morphing of the orange curtain into a tiger was not planned, and was a revelation to me, as the tiger is a symbol of no fear. The final image is "Integration".  The acceptance and serenity that comes with the knowledge of "Here I am, take it or leave it.".   I roll out my soul and let life soften it's edges.

On the wall. Oil. 68"x13". 2011. 


  1. This is beautiful. Great insight.

  2. Thank you so much,that's just what I needed to hear today :)

  3. Another excellent & extremely informative posting Julie. I love your honesty & I love your willingness to give of your self both in your words & your paintings ~ it gives your artwork such integrity. Speaking of your artwork ... I really love those self-portraits. Brilliant concept, the photo booth &, as you explain, it gives you four shots from the false self through to the integrated self. Brilliant!

  4. I could ask for no greater compliment than honesty and that being so you will know I mean it when I say thanks again. Your encouragement has been an inspiration and instrumental to me starting to write.