Investigate some artists’ self portraits. Look at both well-known self portraits – such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, and at lesser known artists. Make notes in your learning log.
I decided to avoid the most obvious self portraits (although many are favourites eg Rembrandt, van Gogh, Degas etc), if there is such a thing, and looked for well-known artists that come to mind a little further down the list so to speak.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) – Mexico City
A fascinating life and many self portraits. Frida Kahlo loaded her paintings with symbolism and story
telling. I think she very much captured the essence of herself, not only in her features but in adding the relevant narrative for that specific time in her life’s story. I watched a documentary about her some months ago, this followed her life, loves and tragedies which can be read throughout her self portraits. Recovering from a horrendous traffic accident as a teenager, she had many months of recuperation and was never fully free of pain afterwards. Therefore, she had nothing but her painting and, confined to bed, probably no other subject than herself.
She also depicted, sometimes quite graphically, her inability to carry her three pregnancies to full term due to her injuries. Not shy of describing her conditions and personal tragedies as a woman, she was revered by feminists for her illustrative candour. Her life ended at the age of 47 in 1954 but had spanned many turbulent and transitional world events politically, artistically and religiously. Religion and her Mexican culture played a large part in her life and therefore, her paintings. If anyone truly painted themselves, it was Frida Kahlo.
I chose Kahlo because of the extra narrative she brought to her self portraits, the symbolism is rife within them and I can not begin to imagine how to use that in my own work. I hope that over time, I can find such a personal voice to demonstrate feelings, emotions and beliefs in such a way that they inject more life and meaning into my images.
Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)
Another prolific painter of the self-portrait, Egon Shiele was way ahead of his time in my humble opinion. A few adjectives and phrases come to mind: stunning, expressive, disturbing, flexible, explicit, innovative, graphic, contortionist, self-aware, uninhibited…
Schiele was mentored by Gustav Klimt and his influence is sometimes clear, yet he has a very distinctive style of his own. Exaggerating his own skinny physique with strong, jagged line and knobbly joints, Schiele manages to produce wonderfully twisted and expressive poses. How on earth he managed to do this I don’t know – multiple mirrors, memory, a multitude of sketches? However he did it, his work is unmistakable. The facial expressions are numerous and vivid – I can’t imagine how he managed keep his expression and reproduce it at the same time.
His untimely death at the age of 28 leaves one wondering what he would have gone on to do had he lived longer.
Onto my supposedly lesser known artists and their self portraits. I had whittled my list down to four: Bryan Lewis Saunders, Paula Modensohn-Becker, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Kathe Kollwitz. For the purpose of this research point I’ve decided to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with no insult or pre-judgement intended, so it’s Kathe Kollwitz and Bryan Lewis Saunders.Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945)
(Käthe Kollwitz. [Internet]. 2014. The Biography.com website. Available from: http://www.biography.com/people/käthe-kollwitz-37900 [Accessed 29 Sep 2014].
Supporting information from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A4the_Kollwitz
A quick introduction:
Kathe Kollwitz was a German draughtsman, painter and sculptor born in Kalinigrad, Russia formally known as Konigsberg, East Prussia 1867. She studied at art schools for women in Berlin and Munich. she excelled drawing working people and studies of the human condition. I have to admit, I didn’t know of this artist until discussing self portraits at my life drawing class and her name came up. I have researched some of her drawings and her self portraits are simply brilliant. Again, a very expressive style with an abundance of emotion and feeling encased in her mark making.
A selection of self portraits spanning 40 years. The likeness is always there, with the added life experience clearly depicted. I especially like the 1924 charcoal drawing on tinted paper, such an economic style but speaks volumes.
Bryan Lewis Saunders
A quirky choice which I described as ridiculous earlier. This is not to be derogatory regarding his skill and style but maybe could have referred to his methods of one particular self-portrait series. Saunders another prolific self portraitist, has, since 1995, made it a mission to complete at least one self-portrait per day until his end – over 8000 so far. He has many hardback sketchbooks dedicated to this task and his drawings take many guises not least the “Under the Influence” series. In this series, Saunders took a different drug, prescriptive or otherwise each day, and drew himself under the influence. Not a method I’d recommend, even in my non-medical capacity, I can see this just maybe detrimental to one’s health. In fact the artist himself admits it wasn’t ideal considering he did damage his brain to a recoverable degree, although he says he’s still continuing the experiment but not so intensively – each to their own. I have attached a link to his website, as I’m not sure copyright would allow me to reproduce the images on my blog. I have to say, some of them are very eye-catching and expressive, but then I probably would have expected that. Here are the titles of those that particularly caught my eye (this is not a shopping list):
1 sm glass of “real” absinth
1 “bump” of Crystal meth (can’t believe I’m typing this!)
I did wonder, though, how much the intoxication actually influenced the drawing and how much was a, however subconscious, pre-conceived image. Some are very obviously, out there and floating! However the inspiration was attained, there is a clear likeness running through the images, even the more abstract and/or expressive ones. From the
recipe list above, my favourites are Bathsalts and PCP.
To be fair, some of his portraits were as a result of medication given in the ER for kidney stones. Maybe I should do a sketch directly after my multi-vitamin in the morning!?