Another interesting way of doing self-portraits (or portraits generally, for that matter) is to focus on the home space, the studio space or the work space. The idea is earth-shatteringly simple: the places we inhabit most of the time contain a part of our essence and act like mirrors that reflect the bigger question of True Identity. For example, there are two places excluding work that I inhabit and feel like they reflect back at me my own identity. These places are overflowing with the “you” : the home, including my main studio (or creative work space) and what I call the Retreat (and a 2nd less used studio hidden in the bush)
The Retreat is a hinterland block of forested acreage with an unusually designed abode that was built by a sculptor influenced by Spanish, Israeli and Moroccan architecture. It’s a place I one day hope to open up to young artists and writers to allow them a magical escape from the world we live in (and through), the world of the angry, lost, envious, egotistical, broken-hearted, shallow, unwell, cynical and misanthropic. This is the world we can all relate to and are actively part of. The world of depression, grief and loss, trauma and myriad forms of suffering. Ugliness too.
So as a form of portraiture and as a form of journal-keeping, you can consider certain spaces as self-reflecting. Within these spaces of architectural presence, some rooms correspond to the inner-most sense of self you can possess.
Spaces are not what the real estate agent tells you they are, or what the bank uses to estimate your net worth. These spaces are the fundamental environment of your journey through the world. It takes time to stop and see them properly though. Just as it takes time to stop and see your Self after a self-portrait or a portrait by another. The unifying element is the worthiness of stopping and seeing. And appreciating.
Like the art of journal-keeping, the art of the self-portrait is a time-honoured way of following the sense we have of our Self over time. Generally speaking, they are not about narcissism or pathological self-love or self-obsession. Rather, the art of the self portrait is about attention to the many ways we exist in the world and as such, is a meditation on identity.
Pathological narcissism (WARNING : shrink talk imminent) is about creating a defensive carapace that tries to deflect the arrows of low self-esteem and the sense of smallness in the world. Heinz Kohut (great psychotherapist) pointed out that not all narcissism is reflective of a narcissistic personality disorder. To the contrary, we all have basic needs to be acknowledged and respected and loved….these are our healthy narcissistic needs. Self portraits follow this as well as commenting on the entirety of who we are cross-sectionally in time : fragmented, confronted, scarred, funny or strong.
Good self portraits are effectively holding Time still so that we can see who we are in the midst of constant change. Every emotion and every characteristic can be contained in the gesture of immortality the self portrait is daring to attempt. Like journal-keeping, an artist can look back over the many self portraits they have done over the years and immediately reinhabit those previous Selves that somehow continue to exist deep down inside.
Self portraits are a very old subject matter for painters. What should be understood is that most are not about rabid narcissism. They are really a form of self-confrontation, or an attempt to properly see and capture who that person is you carry around with you day to day. They are also a form of self-revealing, a way to throw off the defensive layers we also wear on a daily basis, to reveal the naked truth of one’s identity. I have done many, and painted over many. Like many artists, it’s a meaningful way to follow the Self in the hope of finally gaining a little more self-knowledge.
It’s possible to do a self-portrait with a slightly self-deprecating style. This was done around 2008 and at the time, I must have been reading a lot of Eastern philsophy, which is dominated by the wisdom of gurus. As my method of painting is to access the Unconscious and to let come what may, it’s possible for unexpected work to appear. As a post facto interpretation. having no arms suggests an absence. It contrasts with the associations of the guru as having wisdom and knowledge. Not knowing ironically can be a source of strength. Look up the book “The Cloud of Unknowing”.
Nothing on this site explains a painting. The point is that paintings are bigger than mere explanations. They do reflect what is in the mind of the artist, though. For example, this painting quietly critiques the concept of authority without falling into cynicism.