Eye of the Beholder
Carmel Art Association members show off their self-portraits.
Thursday, February 5, 2004
Imagine a painter studying his or her face and recording what’s there.
Character, psychology and spirit inform the hand that renders eyes, the
turn of the mouth, the wash of light across cheeks and chin and nose,
the evocative depth of shadow, the figure and face in a setting. It’s
the most personal of diary entries, using brush and canvas instead of
pen and paper.
The Carmel Art Association celebrates both its members’ abilities and the tradition of self-portraiture with Self Portraits, an exhibition opening Saturday. The large display of member artists’ paintings of themselves promises to explore the various types of self-portraiture; viewers will see personalities and psychologies in the imagery, underscoring the broad categories found in the sea of tradition, from the lighthearted and humorous to the serious and reflective.
Artists choose self-portraiture for its direct assertion of the self. The artist is the subject; the face is the primary form, and the other variables, such as color, texture, composition, and style of rendering, serve the face, which is energized by the artist’s candor.
Art history is full of great self-portraiture, windows to the artists’ interior worlds. These reveal to us not only the mindset of the artist, but the temper of the times; in depicting something as specific as one’s face, with psychological penetration and emotional veracity, the entire universe of the moment comes alive. We see Rembrandt’s ongoing chronicle of his features over the years, as well as the toll his experience has taken on him, and feel the spiritual liveliness of the man in 17th-century Calvinist Holland. In the contemporary arena, self-portraiture explores issues of artist identity in society, gender bending, and the role of creator.
Alicia Maheen, one of the organizers of the Carmel Art Association show, points out, “There may be surprises, since not all the members do self-portraits normally. Some will do one specifically for this exhibition, and it will be very different from their usual way of working.”
“This is my third self-portrait since 1994,” says Gail Reeves, one of the exhibiting artists. “There have been so many changes in my life that I thought it was time to do a summation. I started the self-portrait in November and I spent most of January working on it.”
Reeves recalls her process, saying, “During the period I worked on it, my ideas of myself altered somewhat. Eventually I did some piecing, introducing parts that weren’t there; for instance, I’ve given myself five hands, and there are three other faces, of other people, and there are two dogs, one of which passed away years ago.”
Another participant in the show, Royanne Hart, takes a more lighthearted approach. “Self-portraiture has to have a core of honesty,” she says. “It can look like anything, it just depends on what the artist wants to convey.”
A fanciful self-reflection that includes the accoutrements of the artist’s life can be seen in Diane Walcott’s piece. “I’ve done a serious portrait of myself,” she says. “I’ve put in my poodle, who’s very important to me, and faces of children in the folds of my sweatshirt and on top of the dog’s ears. My usual work is of children and nuns in front of scenic backgrounds around the world, so I’ve included the children from my other paintings in my self-portrait.”
Margaret Roberts, a watercolorist, has a loose, fluid style. “When I paint, I leave quite a bit of room for people to finish it with their mind. My self-portrait is suggestive of features rather than descriptive.”
Soul-searching honesty guides the most successful self-portraits. In Peggy Delmini’s work, the artist is holding two children. “I lost my first two babies, so while I was painting my children, I kept recalling the losses of those two lost babies. It’s a mother thing, very meaningful to me. I just kept reflecting on my blessings.”
Some of the artists depict themselves at work with brush and canvas and easel, or in the field painting en plein air. These artists wish to show themselves laboring at the craft. Then there are the psychological studies, some cloaked in the trappings of another art historical time, the better to show allegiance and association. In any case, the artists’ self-images place them in the tribe—artists who examine, assess and react, with their feelings on their sleeves.
The Carmel Art Association’s February show opens Saturday with a 6-8pm reception. 624-6176.