Self-portraits are, to me, a fascinatingly unique sub-genre of art that can be so many things to different people…
For some artists, the purpose of making a self-portrait is one of ego- to show one’s self, as viewed by the self as an idealized version, as they would have others see them. Enhancements are made, possibly subconsciously, to make one seem more attractive, more polished, more of a “serious artist”. And from the viewer’s perspective, there can be an element of conceit to the art, as the viewer contemplates the amount of time the artist spent gazing at their own face.
For other artists, the self-portrait is an opportunity to practice one’s craft with a very familiar subject, which you might think would make it easier to do compared to a portrait of a stranger. But even when ego is not the main driving force behind a self-portrait, it still complicates the process as the artist struggles to separate their preconceptions and baggage associated with their self-image from their attempts to just recreate what they see in the mirror (or the photograph). How one sees oneself can fluctuate based on one’s changing circumstances and relationships. From a psychological perspective, there is quite a lot going on when an artist creates a self-portrait.
I myself have not felt called to create self-portraits, finding inspiration in other ideas and images. Whether that was to avoid dealing with the self-image baggage, or because I feared to seem conceited for doing one, who knows? I did create one for an assignment for a ceramics class I took in college, and recently I completed my second one, also for a class. I found myself creatively blocked as 2010 came to a close, so in the early part of 2011, I took a drawing class at Pasadena City College. The final project was to create a self-portrait from a photo taken by the teacher, and using a medium other than drawing. This was the first time I tried my newspaper mosaic technique that I went on to use for other projects, after my teacher showed us some examples of portraits done by Chuck Close using paper pulp.
Unfortunately, I ran out of time before the final project was due and had to turn it in incomplete. I did still receive an A, and had big plans to finish it right away. Life has a funny way of interrupting those plans, though, and for several reasons, it remained unfinished until October 2016.
I learned some very valuable lessons while working on this piece. One lesson was that I will never again try to make a face out of newspaper faces! The sharp, contrasting lines that are a key feature of newspaper-printed faces make it hard to use them to create gradients that the eye will accept. The lines clash with the image lines I am trying to construct, and stand out instead of blend in.
Another incredibly important lesson was the cost of waiting so long to finish the piece: the differences in “age” between those pieces that had been glued onto the page in 2011 and those pieces that had been stored in ziploc bags since then was noticeable. Two pieces of the same larger piece of paper no longer matched, thanks to light, air and dust, and there was no way to make them match. It was a thing I had to accept in order to keep working, once I had started up again, and accepting less than perfect in my art can be a difficult thing for me. But somehow I did, and thank goodness, because finally finishing it was a relief!