Thursday, January 3, 2008
A look in the mirror
Still going through old photos, and I came across this self-portrait I had made as an undergraduate. Funny to look back and remember that I ever painted anything realistically!
Self-portraits were always a favorite subject for me. Not from any narcissistic impulse -- I’m just very comfortable with my face, I know myself well, so I can easily do what you’re supposed to do with portraits – think of the subject as a series of shapes and colors, not as a nose or an eye. We have preconceived notions of what noses and eyes are supposed to look like, and what you know (or think you know) can really trip you up as an artist, especially with representational work. You can only make progress by painting what you don’t know, by following what your subject and your materials have to teach you.
I’m currently preparing to teach a new course at the Danforth Museum School this winter titled “The Self-Portrait: History, Anatomy, Autobiography,” and I’m looking forward to showing my students how much fun and educational self-portraits are to work on. There’s more information about my course here.
Once in graduate school, a professor asked me if I ever felt like going back to representational subject matter again. I didn’t, and I still don’t. It’s fun to paint realistically, it’s certainly challenging … and yet, I get more from my messy paintings of lines that I ever did from copying a subject I could see in front of me. Realism feels like painting from my head, and abstraction feels like painting from my heart. I do a lot of “head” stuff, intellectual work, in other areas of my life … I like connecting with my heart in the studio.