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Self Portrait: Art History
Transcript of Self Portrait: Art History
We are fascinated by the way artists portray themselves through self-portraiture. The way the artist conveys him/herself often deviates from their body of work or inspires new concepts to address. Our views of the artists are enhanced as we explore the full spectrum of their abilities. We see their work in a new light after being exposed to their conceived self-perception. This collection of self-portraits is divided into three subcategories: realistic portrayals, artistic statements, and mental reflections. Statement Art Realistic Representations Mental Reflections Joseph Turner is among the most highly regarded English Romantic artists. Particularly noteworthy in his works is his use of light and color. Known as “the painter of light,” Turner stood out because of the effect the bold colors and striking use of light had on viewers emotionally. His ‘Self Portrait’ serves as a good demonstration of his innovative use of light. What would otherwise be a simple self- portrait is intensified by the bright column of light down the center of the work. El Greco’s Self-Portrait as Saint Luke is a good example of the artist’s style; it does not differ from his other works. He developed a signature style that can only be recognized as his own. In fact, unlike many artists, El Greco’s paintings were not reproduced by imitators because his style was so unique. Notable are the long faces and slightly distorted bodies of figures.
Influence of 16th century Italian Mannerist painters is evident in El Greco’s style. The bold shapes and swirled, but not light, brush strokes are shared in not only his greater body of work but also in his Self-Portrait. Anguissola was a female Mannerist artist during the Renaissance. Due to her father’s support of her chosen profession she was able to have a successful career in a time female artists were still (for the most part) unrecognized. Anguissola’s self-portrait was placed in our Realistic Portrayal section because her main goal was to represent things are they were, though she usually imparted a bit of the subjects personality, in her intimate portraits. However, this self-portrait of Anguissola mostly displays her distinguished place in society. A man known for his curiosity and desire to understand the natural world would be placed in our Realistic representation section. Da Vinci’s self-portrait is perhaps simple when compared to his other works like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but he was also a prolific sketch artist, who recorded detailed drawings of subjects that captured his interest such as the sketch of a fetus and an anatomical study of the arm. The self-portrait reveals his advanced age with great attention detail. Albrecht Dürer, who is regarded as one of the most important artists of the Northern Renaissance, falls into our Realistic Portrayal section. With the discovery and popularization of oil painting, these northern artists were afforded more flexibility in creating accurate paintings. Durer painted this self-portrait when he was 28 years old and which alludes to the rigor of early artists training in recreating the natural world. Though, Durer does base himself on the image of Christ, it is unlikely that he wished to compare himself to Christ. It is more likely that his wanted to create a conventional representation of himself, so he turned to religious imagery, which was prevalent at the time. Whistler was known for basing his non-traditional works on musical arrangements, even going so far as to title paintings nocturnes and harmonies, which enhanced their abstract appearance (Nocturne in Black and Gold). However, his portraits are often true to their subjects and this self-portrait is no exception. One critic was believed to have described it as “vague like an apparition, but so gripping, so real”, which is in part why we placed it in our Realistic Representation section. Whistler depicts himself in a modern button down coat and affirms his connection to the aristocracy by adopting a pose from “a portrait of Pablo de Valladolid by Velazquez.” Francisco Goya’s Self-Portrait deviates from the style for which he is most widely known. During the time he painted this work, he suffered a terrible illness that resulted in deafness. Probably because of his deafness, Goya began to explore the subconscious, mysterious, and fantastical corners of his mind through his painting. His works became extreme and more terrifying; his style progressed with the illness. Goya is often remembered as “the first of the moderns” because his works mark the output of the realism movement of the 19th century. This Self Portrait, begun before he was taken under by the illness, is a tame look at the painter’s mind compared to what would later become a bold and frightening style. We chose to place Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait at the forefront of our Statement section because the piece itself makes a statement about the art of self-portraits. In the portrait, Rockwell depicts himself painting himself while looking at himself in a mirror. By placing himself with his back to the viewer in the painting, it gives the viewer the effect being present for the portrait. The confusing mash-up of what the viewer perceives as real and what is actually occurring is part of Rockwell’s particular brand of wittiness. In the right hand corner of his canvas, the “self-portrait Rockwell” has tacked up a few famous artists’ self-portraits including: Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Durer. By referencing these famous artists and showing their realistic self-portraits, he makes the viewer consider the realism of art. Is it like looking through a window onto the real world, or is it like the make-believe world that Rockwell has created in his clever self-portrait? Close was part of the photorealist or superrealism movement that focused on creating photo-accurate paintings. While it is Close’s intent to make a realistic (superrealistic) portrayal of himself, he is also making a statement by making a portrait that is more than it seems. Just the concept of the portrait being more than a portrait places it in our “Statement” sub-theme. This is not just a painting to convey the artist’s appearance. As shown by this quote: I am not trying to make facsimiles of photographs. Neither am I interested in the icon of the head as a total image. I don't want the viewer to see the whole head at once and assume that that's the most important aspect of my painting. I am not making Pop personality posters like the ones they sell in the Village. That's why I choose to do portraits of my friends--individuals that most people will not recognize. I don't want the viewer to recognize the head of Castro and think he has understood my work.--Chuck Close, 1970 Penone’s self portrait differs greatly from his other works, such as Tree of 12 meters or Scrive, legge, ricorda (He writes, he reads, he remembers), both of which utilize untraditional media, like entire trees, to impart are message that encouraged traditional sculpture and a love of art and nature. His self-portrait, which we have placed in our Statement self-portraiture section, is different. While Penone tried to distance himself from the conceptual art movement, this self-portrait carries a message about looking inward for creative inspiration and illustrates the ways the artist is capable and yet incapable of looking at the world in new ways. In his self-portrait, Penone wore custom made mirrored contacts in order to “experience his own body mass more objectively by blinding himself.” The work also, subtly, references the times and culture because details such as clothing and hairstyle are visible to the viewer, not just the artists eyes. “Ron Mueck prefers not to talk about his work. But in conversation a few years ago he made it clear to me that scale is one of his chief concerns. Small things made big, or big things made small have a new and potent impact on the viewer.”
- Waldemar Januszczak
Mueck creates hyperrealistic, monumental sculptures that convey, through size and meticulous attention to detail, the human psyche and conditions such as loneliness, and vulnerability. We place his self-portrait in our Statement section because while he represents every minute detail of himself, he does it in such an unflinching way that the viewer cannot help but realize that this work is about something bigger than just “big”. The viewer experiences an intimacy that is hard to achieve with such monumental work and in a way, that makes it seem more life-sized. In this self-portrait Warhol masks his eyes with sunglasses “like the kind of celebrity he began to frequent” in his early career. This set of self-portraits was actually commissioned by Florence Barron, which is a strange reversal of the roles patron and artist usually play, and Warhol obliged him with several mug shots taken in a photo booth. This work not only challenges the traditional idea of an artist’s self-portrait being a vehicle for his or her own self expression, but also comments on pop culture- as the artists presents himself as in the same manner a celebrity would. This self-portrait is part of the Women of Allah series that Neshat, an Iranian artist, used to blend her Iranian and Western ideologies and deal with of her sense of displacement after the Iranian Revolution. Neshat says she wishes to “untangle the ideology of Islam through art”. We have placed her in our Statement section because her art often addresses the psychological, social, and political place of women in contemporary Islamic society. It also features contrasts such as light and dark, male and female, and black and white. This first large scale work of Kahlo’s is one among a large collection of self-portraits she painted in her lifetime. The piece is a double self-portrait painted after her divorce from Diego Rivera, a Mexican muralist. It reflects her split feelings after the divorce and a struggle to define herself as a result of her conflicting European and Mexican roots. Dali is a surrealist artist whose work often contains intellectual puzzles and visual ambiguities. This self-portrait is an interesting mixture between illusionistic surrealism (or nonsensical objects realistically depicted) and emotive self-portraiture (because Dali was coping with living in the United States). However, Dali’s use of his own loose skin can be interpreted is a statement about boundaries, facades and experience, which is why we place it into our Statement section. In this self-portrait Picasso represents himself as a mysterious and melancholy painter, with an unshaven face and a concealing black cloak. This is fitting because this work is from his Blue Period, when much of his work was focused around a somber mood (due in part to the suicide of a friend). This mood pervaded the works he made during the Blue Period and this representation of Picasso’s psyche place it in our Mental Reflection section. At the height of his artistic career, Edvard Munch painted this self-portrait. He depicts himself standing tall with a troubled expression. The mysterious light sources that comes from below and in front of him are intended to represent the flames of hell. Courbet executed a series of 20 self-portraits between 1842 and 1885, which he likened to an autobiography. Thus, he recreated the emotions and interests of his life and put his psyche on display. Courbet’s analysis of himself in these self-portraits is part of the Romantic ideal of self-expression and led to the development of his Realistic style, which would define his career. We place Courbet in our Mental Reflection section because, while Courbet is adopting a persona in this self-portrait (he depicts himself as a man on the edge of insanity), the viewer is led to believe that there is some truth in this display. De Lempicka was a female Polish Art Deco artist who specialized in being novel and precise. Her style seems to be influenced by the “soft” cubism of Andre Lhote and many of her works employ sharp, stylized figures. This self-portrait is one of her most iconic pieces, as she depicts herself behind the wheel of a green Bugatti, giving her the air of being independent and glamorous all at once. This places her in our Statement section because it displays her confidence, both as a female artist and a woman in society. It was placed on the cover of Die Dame, a popular magazine at the time. Much later in Auto-Journal magazine a critic remarked, "the self-portrait of Tamara de Lempicka is a real image of the independent woman who asserts herself. Her hands are gloved, she is helmeted, and inaccessible; a cold and disturbing beauty [through which] pierces a formidable being—this woman is free" Le Brun’s Self-Portrait in a Straw Hat is a display of the artist’s upbringing in a fashionable, upper class parisian society. She attended the French Academy and French Queen Marie Antoinette became her primary patron. Le Brun depicts herself in highly stylish attire. The resulting image is one of quiet sophistication. The ambiguous background leaves something to be desired, with its vague suggestion of naturalism. Her modest, pale figure is overwhelmed by her overwrought wardrobe. Vincent Van Gogh was a self-taught painter. His mental instability influenced his artistic career, clearly shown in his self-portrait. One night, after an argument with fellow painter Gauguin, Van Gogh cut off his own ear in a fit of rage. It is interesting to note that while he cut off his left ear, it is his right one that is bandaged in the painting--perhaps simply because he was a mirrored reflection to paint what he saw. Following this incident, he checked himself into an insane asylum where he continued to paint. Some of his most famous works, such as Starry Night, were painted while in the institution. Van Gogh’s textural painting style with its visible brush strokes and bright colors contributes to the life-infused quality of his work. This sketch-like painted self-portrait by Claude Monet is similar in style to that of his other impressionistic works. The sweeping, light brush strokes, characteristic of impressionist work, show the hand of the artist. Monet presents himself seated by a window in his everyday clothing. He is not attempting to portray himself in a false, or glorified light. He seems entirely at easy in the portrait and though the painting is unfinished, the viewer is drawn into the space he occupies- believing in the reality of that space. This portrait is simultaneously eye-catching and unnerving. This artist’s startled expression arrests the viewer with its potent alarm. The underlying humorous tone grants insight into the artist’s playful personality. Although rendered as a monotone etching, the portrait nonetheless possesses a certain depth and intrigue. Caravaggio’s self portrait, one of the last paintings of his artistic career, shows the biblical hero David holding the decapitated head of Goliath. Some argue that the Philistine's severed head is in fact the artist’s self portrait. The figures stand out from the consuming blackness that surrounds them. In depicting himself as the head of a slain giant, Caravaggio was said to be making an attempt to reconcile his questionable past with feelings of remorse. The tone of the painting is one of intense emotional pain and brooding. Prior to modern technologies which enabled artists to capture their exact physical appearance, artists relied on painting from observation to record themselves. In addition to their literal interpretations, artists used their style and compositions not only to express their likeness, but also to convey their state of mind. We are allowed a glimpse into the artist's mind through their sometimes skewed self-representations. Self-portraiture has also proven to be an ideal channel for projecting statements and concepts. For it is not always the artists goal to portray only their appearance. Statement portraiture represents both the artist and their ideas. We find that these select self-portraits bring us the most understanding of the artist and their times. They also create dialogues between class and composition, and emotion and experience.