Saturday, February 28, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Judith Carducci

A few months ago I began researching women artists whose self-portraits intrigued me. Some created single expressions and some faithfully committed to an ambitious series. 

In the interests of internet brevity, and because there was so much material, I grouped the portraits into categories and released the self-portrait blogs as installments over the past few months… each with a theme. The blog has focused on classic self-portraits, self-as muse, serious and fun self-portraits, youthful doppelgangers and art historical homages. For the most part, each artist was featured in only one category.

Then, there are artists, such as Judith Carducci, who defy categorization.

Judy has served as chair of the Cecilia Beaux Forum, since its beginnings as a committee formed in 2005 by the board of the Portrait Society of America. Board Chairman, Edward Jonas has long understood the gender issues that have historically marginalized women artists and felt that an organized program of mutual support and encouragement through the forum would strengthen individual artist’s work and careers. The Cecilia Beaux Forum was granted a board position that Judy has fulfilled with distinction. She serves with a generous and welcoming spirit and carries a vision for all artists in the discipline of representational fine art and a fully realized egalitarian future.

Her classic self-portrait below reminds me of a statement Judy wrote recently for the Portrait Society Conference Insider. Judith Carducci said, “who I am and what I’m like, have a big influence on what I do”…in other words, “artist, know thyself”. Judy takes time to get to know her models, and between model sessions, workshops or commission dates, Judy’s best subject is often the one looking right back at her in the mirror.
Judith Carducci, Self-Portrait

Her classic self-portrait seems to challenge the artist to know her better self, be proud of it and paint accordingly.

Working exclusively from life, Judy Carducci does as many still lives and plein air works as she does portraits. And often the various genres meet.

Many of Judy’s still-lives are narratives; stages set with inanimate objects. Fun and ironic arrangements of tools, cupcakes, Ding Dongs and teddy bears have intriguing names like Labor Dispute, Aristocrats and Plebeians and Deadly Doll

Judith Carducci, Squash, Honey and Me
She has also painted several still-lives that include self-portraits.  A strategically placed mirror makes Squash, Honey and Me, above, a self-portrait.
And Judy’s reflection brings the Akron Society of Artists sink, below, with its precariously askew Lava soap, to glowing life.

Judith Carducci, Studio Sink

In Role Reversal, Judy elevated the status of the artists’ mannequin…she even lent her visor to this newly ordained, “artist.”
Judith Carducci, Role Reversal

Judy says that, “the mannequin is an antique owned by Lynda Rimke and is made of different woods with subtle different colors that captivated me.  I just had to paint it…but how?  It just seemed like the perfect joke to have the mannequin paint the artist for a change. ”

The Widow

Art can get us through dark times too; creation can be cathartic and mark endings as well as new beginnings.

Judy’s self-portrait, “The Widow” was painted immediately after the death of her beloved husband, Dewey. The powerful composition stresses emptiness and isolation, and Judy’s poignantly rendered face and hands, glowing in the darkness, speak volumes about mourning and loss. And yet, to me it also shows hope; the intrepid force of her artistic spirit in the darkness.

Judith Carducci, The Widow

A number of years ago, this painting spoke volumes to the director of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. Judy had entered “The Widow” in the inaugural Call for Entry for the prestigious Outwin Boochever competition.

At the time, the Outwin Boochever was a “painting only” competition. This policy has since changed, and the show now encompasses all media, including photography, sculpture and video, but in 2006 this wasn’t the case.

Judy is a pastel painter.  Between the exquisitely vibrant color, the brushes she uses and the wet medium that figures so prominently in “the Widow”…her pastels are paintings in every sense of the word.

The director of the competition was so enamored by “The Widow”, he took the trouble to call Judy at home to tell her that this was the type of work that the competition was looking for, and were it not for one detail, it would proudly hang with the others at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery show. He explained to her about their “painting only” policy and why they could not accept her pastel painting.

I’m picturing Judy’s face and hearing her voice as she explained to him about the long, venerable artistic legacy of pastel painting. How the soft-pastel medium (it’s not chalk…chalk is for sidewalks and blackboards) is recognized as one of the traditional painting mediums along with oil paints, egg tempera and watercolor. Pastel paintings use color and value theory and are paintings in every way…they should be included in painting competitions.

The director was impressed with her knowledge and argument, but Judy says he was unconvinced, and told her "The jury will be looking for a painting" but that "in two years they might be accepting work in [my] medium." This proved to be true because they did change their policy eventually.

Her painting, “The Widow” has since hung at the Butler Institute of American Art alongside Cecilia Beaux, Marie Cassatt and Alice Ruggles Sohier, as part of the Inspiring Figures show in 2011. It was also exhibited in a show of pastels from their permanent pastel collection and will be exhibited at her solo show at the Butler, which Opens March 8th!

The Vanitas

Also to be appearing at her Butler solo exhibition, will be her fascinating, complex and symbolic, Vanitas III Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi.

In art history, a vanitas is traditionally a still-life showing the “vanity” of earthly achievements and pleasures, while also reminding the viewer of their mortality. They were popular in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th Centuries; inspiring the viewer to repent before inevitable death and reckoning. Some elements that commonly appear in vanitas paintings are books, maps and musical instruments to symbolize the arts and sciences. Jewels, gold and goblets are reminiscent of wealth and earthly pleasures. And of course, the skull; the classic indication that you may be looking at a vanitas… symbolizes mortality.

In addition to inspiration from her own life, Judy’s Vanitas III is inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem about the artist’s joyful reward; “L’Envoi to The Seven Seas” Ask her, and she’ll recite this poem for you from memory…or read it on her website!

Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi, cabinet in an open position

Historically, a vanitas was a classic still-life, and rarely included a portrait. 
Judy’s Vanitas III, however, features her glowing, magical, imagined self-portrait…wielding her “brush of comet’s hair.”
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Hope

Still life and landscape elements show aspects of her world that have powerfully shaped her as an artist.

Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Morning Meadow—Monhegan Island, Maine

Her first easel is depicted; it was the footstool at her father’s chair. Extensive travel to France, Italy and Monhegan Island in Maine, meaningful books, and of course, her successes and contributions to the Portrait Society of America make up the comprehensive narrative in this 13 piece tour de force.
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Awards and Portrait Society

Vanitas III is housed in a custom-designed working frame cabinet. Even in a closed position, godesses, slaves and satyrs hint at the wonders inside.  These grisailles are of casts from which she learned to draw as a child at her teacher’s atelier.
Judith Carducci, Vanitas III: Self-portrait at 80, L’Envoi,
cabinet in a closed position

There is so much more to discover in this intricate piece, which, along with a gallery full of her luxurious pastel paintings, will be shown at Judy Carducci’s eagerly-awaited solo exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art.
We had a blast with Judith Carducci at the Opening Reception on March 8th,

click here to see photos!
Show continues through May 3, 2015

524 Wick Avenue
Youngstown, Ohio

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso

One of the many missions of the Portrait Society of America’s Cecilia Beaux Forum is to spotlight contemporary women artists who are painting figuratively.

Another mission of CBF is to shed a retroactive spotlight on women artists in history whose powerful work often sits in museum storage.

Gabriela Dellosso’s ongoing self-portrait project…where she paints herself as female artists from history…could not have been more tailor-made to achieve these goals if the Portrait Society had commissioned her to do so.

In 2006, before she started this self-portrait project, Gabriela had a solo show, An Artist’s Journey, at The Butler Institute of American Art.  Director, Lou Zona praised and admired her work…

“…they are, in a sense, haunting works which recall the power of Surrealism, to transport us to other realms, times and places. In the end, art that endures […] transcends time and place. Dellosso’s work effectively does this and does so with a learned flair.”

Gabriela pays meticulous homage to the artists whom she poses as for her self-portraits. Her favorite historical woman painter, that started the project is the artist, Adelaide Labille-Guiard, here is Self-Portrait Homage to Adelaide Labille Guiard.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-Portrait Homage to Adelaide Labille Guiard

“Adelaide Labille Guiard is the reason I started doing the homages to women painters. I was working on the body of work for my solo exhibition at Eleanor Ettinger for the fall of 2008, when I first saw Adelaide Labille Guiard’s magnificent painting “Self Portrait with Two Pupils.”

Adelaide Labille Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils

Gabriela Dellosso, Homage to Adelaide labille Guiard, Self-Portrait with Two Pupils

Above is one of Gabrielas first of her large homage paintings and honors her inspiration, Adelaide Labille Guiard. Gabriela says,

I was surprised, that I had never even heard of Labille-Guiard.  As I stood there in awe of the painting, I became a little angry at my ignorance of the subject of this great work of art.  I started doing research and learned a lot about this painting and why it was painted and I was deeply moved by it. In her lifetime Adelaide was dedicated to promoting women in the arts. It was amazing what she accomplished in the chaotic times of the French Revolution. I decided then and there that I would start a series, dedicated to historical women painters.  I also decided to use my image as a vehicle to re-create these women.  The first three homage self-portraits I did, were shown at my solo exhibition at Eleanor Ettinger; to my delight, they immediately sold—collectors responded to them. I felt I was doing something of importance.   Now, the homages have become an important part of my body of work.  What started as an experiment, altering my image to describe another woman, is evolving itself into more complicated paintings, that include more elements than just a self-portrait.”

The homage painting below, depicting Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun also beautifully exemplifies Gabriela’s homages. She merges her own likeness with Elisabeths and creates an iconic homage piece that “resurrects the importance of who these women are.” She happily admits she loves painting them.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun

Below is one of the many paintings of Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun which inspired this tribute. Gabriela recently started a blog, Palettes and Pearls, which highlights and discusses many of the paintings that inspire her work.

Elisabeth Vigee Lebrun, Self-portrait

Gabriela extensively researches the subject of historical women painters. In her blog, Palettes and Pearls she writes about a supposed rivalry between Elisabeth and Adelaide. Both were admitted to the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture on the same day, May 31, 1783.  Art critics (like celebrity gossip rags) delight in fanning the flames of a female cat-fight…even if there was none.

Gabriela smiles a bit as her self-portrait series extends to the Netherlands, with her homage to Judith Leyster, below.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Judith Leyster

She takes you to the world of the American Impressionists with her glowing portrait of Lilla Cabot Perry. This painting embodies the words of Gary T. Erbe’s who curated her Butler show.

“Her world is a mysterious journey into the deepest depths of the soul of humanity. She is an intellectual artist who shows a great sensitivity and respect for life. ”

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Lilla Cabot Perry

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Homage to Frida Kahlo

Thanks to Salma Hayek, Hollywood, the juicy details of her life…and of course her paintings—raw as open wounds—Frida Kahlo is now a household word. Gabriela self-portrays Frida with an elegance and sympathy that Frida does not grant her own self-portraits.

Gabriela’s works pay homage to artists and all their accomplishments, artistic and otherwise. Varo’s Moon acknowledges the inventions and scientific interests of artist, Remedios Varo.

“Remedios Varo, was a para-surrealist, her art dealt with scientific inventions, time and all that was surreal. I was captivated by her paintings Celestial Pablum and Starcatcher, which this self-portrait pays homage to.” 

In recent years, Remedios Varos work has been gaining publicity…and the art dollars that often follow. Gabriela explains that, “In the year 2000 The National Museum of Women in the Arts had a retrospective exhibition of Varo’s work, displaying more than 50 of her enigmatic works.  One of her paintings Still Life Reviving had been auctioned at Southeby’s in 1994, for $574,000, but in a more recent Southeby’s auction (2014) Remedios Varo’s painting, Hacia La Torre fetched a whopping  $4.31 million!

I hope that Gabriela Dellosso continues this self-portrait project for many years to come. Searching through history for women artists whose legacies might otherwise be lost or hidden in permanent museum storage is a truly noble pursuit, and using their likeness’ as inspiration for a self-portrait series is brilliant way to bring these trail-blazing artists into the 21st Century.

Gabriela will be having a solo exhibition at
The Harmon-MeekGallery in Naples Florida from March 29-April 10, 2015.

And in January, 2016 she is scheduled for a second solo show at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio. Follow for details.
I shall close this blog post with a classic self-portrait by Gabriela Dellosso. It is entitled, Self-portrait Painting and Poetry and honors her own image as an artist.

Gabriela Dellosso, Self-portrait Painting and Poetry

Written by Judy Takács
Chair New Media Relations
Cecilia Beaux Forum
Portrait Society of America

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves: Focus on Alexandra Tyng

The fifth in a series where we explore the female self-portrait in contemporary realism.  

In compiling the growing list of paintings and writings about self-portraits, I found that some artists had so much work, from such a fascinating perspective that they needed a whole blog to themselves to fully explore the complexities of what they are accomplishing in paint. 

Last time I blogged about the use of the “Youthful Doppelganger” to explore self-portrait themes that are specific to the artist’s youth. Alexandra Tyng does just that when she paints her intense visual memories from her childhood. They are essentially self-portraits of Alex as a child at different ages.

Alexandra Tyng, The Unseen Aspect

Her painting, The Unseen Aspect centers around a vivid and significant experience Alex had when she was about 6. In August 2013, Alex had a solo show in Rockland, Maine which featured this painting, along with many others on the theme of her childhood.

“I was at my grandparents’ house at the Eastern Shore of Maryland. My mother told me to go upstairs, but I stopped as I saw the entire second floor enveloped in a sheet of flame. I knew it was in my mind and not actually happening, but it scared me so much I refused to go up the stairs. My mother said ‘Nonsense! There is no fire up there.’ To which I said, ‘The house is going to burn down!’ and I refused to go up those stairs, which were in the old part of the house. I had to use the other stairs from then on.”

Years later, after the house was sold, and both of Alex’ grandparents had passed away, her mother got the news that the house had burned down.

The Unseen Aspect is about Alex’s first experience of precognition. Alex says that when she heard the news about the house, she realized she already knew it and was expecting it to happen. “At the time I felt that I had somehow caused the house to burn down.” This self-imposed guilt was especially painful because Alex knew that her mother, an architect, had designed the addition to the house.

Alex describes the symbolism depicted by the girl digging in the sand at the edge of the water. Water being a collective unconscious, the edge where water meets land is the edge of consciousness, and then, the act of digging up something brings it into consciousness. Her youthful doppelgänger finds a mysterious glowing object…(the dangerous gift of precognition)…and shows it to her mother.
Alex says, “I also find the gap of understanding between parent and child very interesting. A mother, however close, cannot understand everything about her daughter. I’m thinking about my own daughter here, too.”

She also talks about the impending storm and the erosion of the land. “To me they imply that nothing is solid or dependable, and something ominous is about to happen. There are footprints in the sand walking from the right to the left. Right is usually associated with the rational and concrete, Left; with the irrational and unknown.”

“The footprints go between the mother and daughter to the boat, but no one is in the boat. I am using the boat to represent a journey over water, and this can take many forms but in this painting it is about the journey to the underworld, or death. It refers to my mother not wanting to know about the future death of her own mother.” 

The symbol of the boat also alludes to Alex’s own journey; she began the painting just after her own mother died.
Alexandra Tyng, New World
The same boat appears again in her painting, New World, depicting a mother and baby, drifting at sea, seemingly alone and unprotected, but also content and safe.

After her mother died, Alex says,  “I thought a lot about how she navigated some of the hardships she went through. In this painting I imagined how life must have been like for her as a single mother in the 1950s. She’s adrift, not steering, and there is no indication of which way she is headed. Maybe she doesn’t know. She has left a comfortable existence behind her and is venturing into new, uncharted territory. The apple is a reference to the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and to the apple seeds that were brought to New England by Anne Hutchinson—her ancestor, whom she admired for her independent thinking and feminist viewpoints—who was expelled in the 1600s from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.”

Alex was also inspired by literature about Colonial times and related it to her life situation as a child.

Alexandra Tyng, The Letter A
The Letter A is a portrait of myself at age five. We lived on a narrow street in the city where the kids used to draw in the street because hardly any cars came through. In the painting I'm annoyed at being interrupted while I'm totally absorbed in drawing. The world in my drawings is based partially on my imagination and partially on what is going on around me. The Letter A is my attempt to describe how it felt to be this age: moving away from self-centeredness, towards awareness of the world around me, and of myself and seeing my parents as autonomous human beings.”

“The Letter A refers to the theme of the novel The Scarlet Letter. The story resonated with me when I read it in high school because I saw my parents as the two main adult characters and I identified with their daughter, Pearl. Pearl perceives the truth of her parents’ unusual relationship, but she has no understanding or patience for the conventions that [keep her parents apart].”

Through her childish wisdom and refusal to conform, Pearl becomes a catalyst for positive change. In the painting I put the letter “A” in many places, including the triangular arrangement of the child and parents and in the letters and drawings on the street, and in the bodice of the mother’s dress. There’s a big A that points towards the father who is standing up the street from the mother and child. I exaggerated the perspective on purpose to emphasize the child and de-emphasize the father, kind of a visual way of showing the child’s subjective viewpoint.”

Alexandra Tyng, Legacy

Alex also depicts herself as a young adult, observing her father in the throes of creativity, but with the added perspective of being a creative adult herself.

In her painting, Legacy, Alex explores the difference between the life of an artist and the legacy he or she passes on.

Legacy shows my father in a tower, working on a watercolor. His children look in but they cannot get to him, and the glass is misty so their view of him is slightly obscured. Each of his children sees him through a different window, or different perspective. He is busy creating, making the most of his life, absorbed in the moment, while the children have their own lives to live. Legacy can refer to your creative legacy, or to material things you pass on to the next generation. While working on this painting I was thinking about myself painting in my studio and my relationship to my own children.” 

Employing the “Youthful Doppelganger” as model and muse…gives the artist an interesting dual perspective; omniscient adult observer of their own remembered and imagined childhood.  The artist is at once inside and outside the model; possessing distance and perspective, along with intimate knowledge. The artist is both actor and director in the drama she is inspired by.

Be looking for future installments, as the Cecilia Beaux Forum blog explores the many possibilities and applications of the Female Self-Portrait theme. Little did I know what a fascinating can of worms we opened when we started looking at how women artists portray themselves.

Written by Judy Takács
Chair New Media Relations
Cecilia Beaux Forum
Portrait Society of America

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves…The Youthful Doppelgänger

The fourth in a series where we explore the female self-portrait in contemporary realism.

Standing in front of a mirror with a paint brush in your hand and a canvas in your reach is only one way to paint a self-portrait. Some artists will often use a youthful doppelgänger; a child as model… to explore themes that may be more universal. These youthful muses do not usually distract the viewer to make judgements on likeness, seriousness, narcissism and relative beauty of the adult artist who painted the work.

Stephanie Deshpande, Let the Cards Fall

Stephanie Deshpande has used her young daughter as model and muse for many of her haunting and tender portraits. She says her daughter is a  “cute substitute for [herself];” a muse who is also an avatar.

Stephanie Deshpande, as yet untitled

“In this painting, [above, using my daughter as the model], I was particularly concerned about the way I was portraying a female; looking somewhat dead. Especially since I recently discovered how horribly women are treated and portrayed in video games,  I didn’t want to reflect that at all. I tried to obscure her body, and focus less on beauty of the female form. This painting is about the stress I was feeling this summer, and how I felt I was just collapsing under the weight of it. The clothes are meant to be all my concerns around me. I’m playing with a title of Atlas Shrugged, or something equally universal, so that people won’t think I’m just portraying a child. “

At this point Stephanie’s painting remains untitled but speaks volumes.

Anna Rose Bain has the distinct artistic advantage of having two doppelgängers very close to her. She has a twin sister, whom she posed with for this double self-portrait…of sorts.

Anna Rose Bain, Twin Arts

She says, “What makes it special to me though, is that it expresses so much about us —our competitive spirit, our commitment to our given arts, our desire to be beautiful and share beauty with the world through art and music, and our love for each other.”

She has gotten some comments about the painting being, “quite erotic” which left her feeling awkward…eroticism never being the intent. She even heard, “Isn’t it kind of narcissistic to paint yourself that big?” (the painting is 48x40).

Anna Rose Bain, Cece at Three Weeks

Last May, Anna Rose gave birth to her second muse…Cece. (Short for Cecilia, and named after Cecilia Beaux no less!) Idealistically juggling the “artist as mom” dream of painting well while parenting well, Anna has painted several major self-portraits…from life…holding her baby. She started the first before Cece was even born.

Anna Rose Bain, The Wait and the Reward

Anna began painting The Wait and the Reward, while   still pregnant, but had to wait until the baby came to put the final model into the painting. This work went viral on the internet and received much love as well as passionate responses from both sides of the reproductive freedom issue. Surprisingly it even ignited racial commentary…which just shows that people will find what they look for in a work of art.

Anna Rose Bain, Proverbs 31:17 (Self Portrait at 29)

Now, several months later, Anna is continuing the self-portrait with baby theme. She’s a diligent blogger and wrote about the acrobatics of painting the awake and squirming Cece in the painting above. 

Leslie Adams, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

Leslie Adams won the Draper Grand Prize at the 2013 Portrait Society of America International Show for her charcoal drawing of herself as a young girl

As a child she remembers taking classes at the Toledo Museum of Art, drawing at her wooden green easel (didn’t we all have one?) and seeing the “Draw Winky” ads for the “Art Instruction Schools, Inc.” in the back of her mom’s Ladies Home Journals. Though she took the college route to becoming an artist, instead of the instant success offered by the rendering of the baby deer profile…she also drew many Winkies in her day for fun, along with Lucky the Duck and the Pirate too.

This award-winning portrait of her younger self, pays tribute to Leslie’s artistic dreams that thrive today more than ever.

Stay tuned for future installments of Our Portraits Our Selves. Next time we’ll continue with the Youthful Doppelgänger theme and focus on artist Alexandra Tyng, who paints heavily symbolic portraits of intense memories from her childhood.

Written by Judy Takács
Chair New Media Relations
Cecilia Beaux Forum
Portrait Society of America

Friday, January 2, 2015

Our Portraits Our Selves…Why So Serious?

The third in a series where we explore the female self-portrait in contemporary realism.

When we show our self-portraits, one of the more common questions is why we’re so serious.

If we’ve spent the better part of the month staring at ourselves in the mirror, trying to perfect a likeness on a face so familiar you don’t even know WHAT it truly looks like anymore, the answer should be obvious. But, the general public…and the people who know and love you…want to see you smiling and happy like you are in your facebook party posts. That’s how they know you. Not as an intense art professional perfecting their craft.

Hey honey, smile!

Shana Levenson has often been told to smile in a painting. From her series, “Supermoms” where super-hero clad moms perform miracles, her painting, “Birthday Girl” shows a supermom drained from making life fun for everyone else. Ironically it is this work that got the “smile!” comment.

Detail from Birthday Girl by Shana Levenson

She did succeed in making her point with the painting. No one should tell a post-birthday party mom to smile, they should just hand her a glass of wine and clean up for her. The smile will happen naturally.

Self Portrait by Karen Kaapcke

Karen Kaapcke, blogged and painted each day throughout her 50th year. During the course of this project, many no-holds-barred self-portraits were created. (She is currently working on a similar project often posting nude self-portraits in stages of completion …more about this in later installments of “Our Portraits Our Selves”). At one point she was asked why she doesn’t smile in her self-portraits. Rising to this challenge, she gave this viewer a smile…of sorts…

Untitled Self Portrait by Karen Kaapcke

Self-Portrait with Beard by Terry Strickland

And Terry Strickland was told to smile…though her mouth wasn’t even showing in her painting, “Self Portrait with Beard.” It was actually Van Gogh’s mouth that wasn’t smiling!

Terry talks about how one person quizzed her at a Women Painting Women Show Opening Reception.

“I was talking about how it was Van Gogh’s beard, and though it is humorous on the surface there is an underlying commentary about gender inequality. I’m raising questions about how my life would be different if I was a man, if I could just put on a beard and instantly be held in equal regard to a man. I think it points out the ridiculousness of prejudice. But the person I was talking to thought I looked sad in the painting and said, ‘Well that’s not worth looking sad over.’ Which kind of took me aback, because actually gender inequality is a pretty big deal.”


Art Historians and museum patrons also LOVE to analyze artists through their paintings. Little do they know that we’re not flailing mental patients, but cold, calculated professionals that often (but not always) control our outcomes to elicit certain responses, visual, symbolic and emotional; we can paint happy even when we’re sad, and vice verse. And often painting makes us happy…or sad, so there’s that too.

Nonetheless, psychoanalysis and gossip about artist’s lives is a fun gallery boredom-buster for the masses that throng to art museums but didn’t get the headphone package and are forced to look at the pictures without being told the right answers… ;o)

Some psycho-analyzing visitors had fun with Leslie Adams’ portrait, while on display at her solo show at the Toledo Museum of Art.

The Art of Life by Leslie Adams

Leslie says, “I came across a group of nursing students studying The Art of Life. They all had clipboards so I asked them what they were doing? They said that, for their psychology class, they had to analyze one work in the museum and they picked mine.

I asked them what they thought, to which they responded, “Oh, you really don’t want to know.” Me, being the curious me, said, “Oh sure, try me.”

“They said that I was a hoarder, that I was an alcoholic (note the bottle of wine with three wine glasses), and that I had my head down because I was so depressed and disappointed with my life and my career. Ironically, none of the NURSING students mentioned anything about the MRI scans in the picture.”

Tucked into all her finely rendered detail, was a picture-within-a-picture of another of Leslie’s self-portraits, “Sensazione: A Self-portrait.”  The original of this drawing, depicting Leslie in front of her own MRI scans, was at the time on display at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Maybe the nurses didn’t want to be graded on how well they interpreted MRI scans?

Sensazione: A Self-Portrait by Leslie Adams

The turbulent relationship with a self-portrait

Alia El-Bermani’s The Skeptic stops you in your tracks and doesn’t let go. Of her self-portrait below, Alia says:

The Skeptic by Alia El-Bermani

 “I think I tend to accentuate my “flaws” instead of glossing over them. It’s my way of saying “here I am, accept me or not” as much to myself as to the audience. For me, the canyons across my forehead and the constellations of acne scars tell some of my stories and are as much “me” as the shape of my eye or the ball of my nose. And instead of concealing them, in my attempt to paint honestly, I think I inadvertently end up exaggerating them.”

Midway through “The Skeptic,” Alia realized that in addition to painting her face, she was also painting “the mental gymnastics I tend to go through for all my work that turns out any good. There is a part of my creative process that can be pretty brutal. It starts off all nice, in the honeymoon phase where I’m desperately in love with the idea, and the act of painting. And then, at some point doubt starts to creep in. That nefarious friend, doubt. I tend to beat myself up, disbelieving in my ability as a painter, in my validity as an artist, as a thinker. If I can fight my way through that stage, then I know I have a work that will speak volumes.”

And then, after “sticking her brush in her heart and spilling it out all over the stage” (thank you Mick Jagger) someone comes along and tells her the portrait’s not pretty enough…

If you’re not already in the choir I’m preaching to, and you’re still reading, I hope you do realize just how egregiously trivializing it is to damn an artist with such a back-handed compliment.  We know you mean it nicely, but kindly please stop saying it.

The self-portrait as an act of defiance

And now I’ll leave you with one last self-portrait. This one was an act of defiance against higher education powers that marginalize portraiture.

Self-Portrait by Felice House

When Felice House was 30, she went back to get her MFA in Painting at a major university art department. Thrilled to be accepted into the program, she says “My excitement soon turned to dismay when I realized that representational figure painting was not a genre that fit into their conception of the art world. I was required to work on campus in a studio with no door. Faculty would wander in at random times during the day and give “off the cuff” unsolicited comments.

I felt exposed and humiliated. In reaction, I made this self-portrait and placed it by the door of the studio. I think it effectively sums up the claustrophobia and depression that I was feeling at the time. My husband has the drawn study for the painting in his closet. My father on the other hand can barely look at it.

I think we, as representational figurative artists coming of artistic age in the last 30 years or so can all relate to Felice’s frustrating scenario…where the painting of humanity, so very central to our core has been dismissed by art institutions in more ways than we can count.

In searching for a wonderful closing phrase, I came up with this one, “In painting ourselves we take back the reins; the control of our selves, our bodies, our faces and our art.” But, strictly speaking, this isn’t true, unless the viewing public “gets it” and understands just what it is we’ve done!

So, in giving you a myriad of motivations and experiences, this is what the Cecilia Beaux Forum blog attempts to do…to help the viewer “get it.”

If you’re painting yourself and other people too, take heart, there are many others out there like you. 

And if you’re a patron of the arts, eternal thanks to you for reading to the end and perhaps putting some thought into what you’ll say to the next artist you meet as she’s standing next to her self-portrait that isn’t nearly as pretty as she is. Unlike artists, sensitive patrons are not plentiful and we value you more than words can say.

And, dear patron, remember, perhaps our most favorite comment of all still remains, “I love it. I want it. Here’s a check.”

Written by Judy Takács
Cecilia Beaux Forum

Chair New Media Relations
Portrait Society of America

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Our Portraits Our Selves…Self as Model and Muse

The second in a series exploring the female self-portrait in contemporary realism.

“The good thing about painting a self portrait is that the model always shows up. Bad thing is, sometimes the artist doesn’t.”



Posing for yourself

Sometimes an artist paints herself as a model, or actor in her own painting. Unlike the classic self-portrait, these paintings are often about something other than who the artist “is” as an artist…and sometimes explore issues the artist has a very personal connection to. They are self-portraits…with a twist.

The reason you use yourself as model and muse often begins with the convenience factor (see the quote above.) When your model knows the exact expression and feel you’re trying to achieve in your work, she’s an invaluable muse whose presence and creativity is vital to the painting. And if you’re lucky, and your face and body possess the qualities your painting needs, it’s truly a win-win.

And yet, even these types of paintings still elicit the same old tiresome comments about beauty and narcissism.

chaos theory 4 by Diane Feissel

chaos theory 7 by Diane Feissel

chaos theory 11 by Diane Feissel

Diane Feissel extensively explored the theme of “chaos”, using her own face, a familiar, convenient and iconic one…blurred, in motion, abstracted and representative of turmoil. These conceptual paintings, only minimally reminiscent of Diane herself, still spurred a French man at her art show in Paris, to use the word “narcissiste” (with a charming French accent of course) because she painted her own image so often.

Can’t see me like this! by Sharon Pomales

XXL Volume and Curl by Sharon Pomales

Why do people assume that painting yourself is an act of vanity? Sharon Pomales explores the theme of vanity in a series by that name. Not meant as self-portraits per se, but she was the most agreeable model to pose with foils in her hair and while putting on eyeliner.

Girl in Blue by Teresa Oaxaca

Teresa Oaxaca paints and draws herself often. Her art, her life, her look…her “brand” is a decadent baroque feast. She dresses and lives in the world that her paintings show. Of these paintings of herself, she says, “I make so many I will say that I don’t really think of them as self-portraits. Rather I am using myself as a model to convert expressions or ideas.”

Girl in Pink by Teresa Oaxaca

Suburban pastoral by Haley Hasler

Haley Hasler, who depicts incredibly complex fantasies of motherhood in crisply painted, seemingly light-hearted yet also serious detail, exclusively uses herself as the central mother character. Balancing cakes, babies, mice, violins and ponies, posing as topiaries, brunches and hamster pagaents, she embodies the sophisticated tongue-in-cheek bliss of motherhood and perfectly plays the role her paintings demand. The depth, richness and lines of her own face in these works play an integral role in showing the dazzling, magical, hard-working complexity of motherhood.
Portrait as Topiary by Haley Hasler

And yet, viewers have asked why she doesn’t Botox her face in these paintings…you might as well tell John Singer Sargent to clean up his room and make his bed before he’s allowed to paint it.

The Artist in his Studio by John Singer Sargent

“The self portrait has become important to me because I am not interested in portraying ‘Girl, Interrupted’ or, the woman being watched. Rather, it is the woman…the self, the interior…doing the Looking. Humor is a provocative tool.”

Portrait as a Sunday Brunch by Haley Hasler

“We have been trained that looking at a woman must be confined to what is typically ‘Male Looking’; from the outside, loaded with desire and appraisal of the surface exterior on display. What does an artist do when she is inside that body, and looking at the outside of it from within?

The beauty of art and painting is that the medium is meant to go beyond surface appearance, beyond cliché, beyond what we think we know. In representing ourselves we are literally “Re-Presenting.” Provocative and frightening, yes. Be prepared for incomprehension, and the occasional animosity that comes when we challenge the status quo, challenge the obligation to prettify, smooth out and display [ourselves] as a commodity for appraisal.”

Haley has a response to the usual compliments viewers will give a female artist…that her portrait doesn’t do her justice, that she’s so much prettier.
“Pardon me, but why do you think that the way you perceive me has any bearing on my own art-making act? Why do you freely insist that you know better?”
Admittedly she hasn’t actually said this to anyone yet, but I’d love to be there when she does!

Sidestepping the beauty issue with humor

Poof by Jennifer Balkan

Jennifer Balkans self-portraits sneak up on the viewer and skirt the pretty issue with humor, poignancy and painterliness.

Patriotic by Jennifer Balkan

JenniferBalkan uses her own image for her painting concepts, which have a light-hearted airy feel to them. She says that, “Because my pieces often have some absurd element to them, people usually just laugh when they see them. My recent ones though have taken on a wee more serious we’ll see what the reaction is.”

Wilted by Jennifer Balkan


Sidestepping the beauty issue with cancer

Of her battle with cancer, and the three self-portraits that she created as a result, Karen Yee says, “I guess because of the sensitive nature of the theme, I have received only positive feedback. Of course, I accept this most readily.”

Self Portrait by Karen Yee
Karen says, the simply titled, Self Portrait came about because of a discussion she had in a supportive group meeting with metastatic breast cancer patients.  “I said that living with cancer felt like constantly being under the sword of Damocles.  So I decided to portray that in a painting.  I am sitting on a throne with a cushion to recline on, to portray my good life.  The dagger represents the constant threat that the cancer could become active again at any moment.  My red necklace represents my hope, and shows that I havent given up the fight.”

What Lies In Wait by Karen Yee

Karen painted What Lies In Wait, after a conversation with her doctor about a particular medication that caused strange side effects. “He was reluctant to take me off the medicine, saying he was afraid the cancer would become active again.  I told him I knew the cancer was at the door, and I didn’t want to open it and let it in even a little bit.  Thus the painting.”

I shall close this installment of Our Portraits Our Selves with Karen’s self-portrait as a warrior, which I believe needs no explanation at all.

Fight Like A Girl by Karen Yee

In upcoming blogs we’ll explore the smile, relationships, turbulence, defiance, doppelgangers and nudes in the female artist self-portrait.

by Judy Takács
Cecilia Beaux Forum

Chair New Media Relations
Portrait Society of America