What better way to start a blog than to reflect on your own self portrait? I made this artwork at a competition held by Monash Gallery of Art called Masterpiece in a Day. Contestants have about four and a bit hours to create an artwork that will be judged. I won last years competition (much to my startling surprise) and there was reasonable expectation placed on myself to do something interesting. I didn’t want to depict a landscape this year as it is the most common subject matter. Instead, I wanted to create a portrait and since it was too difficult to find a willing sitter I would do one of myself. My greatest point of anxiety wasn’t creating the work but finding the right pose. What will my facial expression communicate? What mood do I want to convey? What will it reflect about me? How will I avoid it looking like some lame Myspace profile photo?
The works of some great self portraitists flashed in my mind like Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Their later works, though stylistically different, gazed at the audience with unflinching awareness of their own mortality. I think the appeal is in the way Rembrandt and Van Gogh confront their human state; inglorious and “ordinary” but without fear. There is no analysis of psychosis nor cathartic release. I think people are drawn to these works because there is a fascination with how each of us deal with pain and loss. The most interesting thing to me in these artist’s work is that they didn’t seem to be doing anything about it at all – just that they accepted that there was tragedy and ordinariness in life.
So after sifting through countless self portraits taken with my little Ricoh digital camera, I saw one that stared calmly back at me. He wasn’t trying to make a point, he was just there, inglorious and ordinary, and I liked that. The artwork was not too difficult to create, I wanted a lot of energy in the work and to enhance the textures. The charcoal allowed me to work quickly and expressively while the collage of torn Chinese newspapers created a different dimension to engage with. The pose guided how I would approach the work and I was satisfied with the result. I think he looks apprehensive and unsure but I’ll let the audience interpret this work themselves.
I won third prize this year and I was ecstatic to see another artist whom I greatly admired win first prize. I wanted to buy his painting but I didn’t manage to catch him. Now I have to work out whether I can live with a portrait of myself in my living room…