Whilst developing my GIF, I have also been reflecting on and researching self-portraiture itself. The Oxford Dictionary definition of a self-portrait is simply, ‘a portrait that an artist produces of themselves’ (Stevenson, 2010). However according to the official Tate website, a self-portrait, ‘does not necessarily have to be representational’ (Collier, 2010) and can have an abstract or symbolic depiction through any medium. I am combining both of these definitions, creating a photograph of myself that also incorporates symbolic meaning.
For my work I am drawing inspiration from a number of artists, who have created exceptional self-portraits that function, ‘independently from the intent of the artist’ (Burness, 2015).
My first case study is the self-portrait of Sir Thomas Lawrence by Richard Evans, painted in 1825 and currently residing in the National Portrait Gallery. I was primarily interested in this piece because it is a perfect example of traditional self-portraiture, a commissioned painting showing a famous oil painter proudly displaying his profession. It also visually stood out to me because of its background colour, a dark brown, causing the subject’s clothing to become almost invisible. This means the viewer is immediately drawn to his face and features, a subtle yet effective technique. Whilst I actually visited the National Portrait Gallery last summer, I only noticed this trend in 18th century portraits when I reviewed some of their exhibitions online. I made a note of this method, using light to emphasize detail, so that I could mimic it myself during the project.
My second example of inspirational self-portraiture is a modern series of black and white composites by artist Noell Osvald. Similarly to Rupert Vandervell, Osvald’s arrangements adhere to strict geometry, creating a contrast against her subtle body movements. Despite her face rarely being shown, Osvald’s use of light allows her to create expression and an almost secretive narrative, something that I wanted to incorporate in my own work. Whilst I initially believed these images to be photographs, I eventually discovered that they were mostly created in post-production. This fascinated me even more, as I have never seen self-portraits that use this medium.
My final case of a self-portrait is one by Tim Etchells, who you may have seen featured in my previous blog post. As well as his neon sign artwork, Etchells is also the leader of performance group Forced Entertainment. In 2005 he toured the UK with his solo lecture-performance ‘Words & Pictures’, where a projected silent film of the artist’s face was combined with his own live commentary. This blend of mediums was an original and immersive take on self-portraiture, demonstrating that our own self-portraits did not have to be conventional.
Excuse the very long intense blog post, please go check out all of this incredible artists if you get the chance!
Burness, A. (2015) What’s the difference between a Selfie and a self-portrait? Available at: https://museuminabottle.com/2015/01/22/whats-the-difference-between-a-selfie-and-a-self-portrait/ (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
Collier, C. (2010) Self-portrait. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online-resources/glossary/s/self-portrait (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
Etchells, T. (2015) Words & pictures. Available at: http://timetchells.com/projects/words-pictures/ (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
Evans, R. (1825) Sir Thomas Lawrence [Oil on canvas]. Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw03804/Sir-Thomas-Lawrence (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
National Portrait Gallery. (2016) Selected archive documents relating to 18th century and Regency portraits. Available at: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/about/primary-collection/documents-relating-to-primary-collection-works/18th-century-and-regency-portraits.php (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
Stevenson, A. and Dictionaries, O. (2010) Oxford Dictionary of English. 3rd edn. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Vandervell, R. (2016) Fine Art Photography. Available at: http://www.rupertvandervell.co.uk (Accessed: 11 May 2016).
Zhang, M. (2015) The minimalist B&W self-portraits of Noell Oszvald. Available at: http://petapixel.com/2015/09/22/the-minimalist-bw-self-portraits-of-noell-oszvald/ (Accessed: 11 May 2016).