This research has been an eye opener and very helpful to understand the various reasons artists do self portraits. Reasons to show emotions, sorrow, look for identity, improve skills, portray reality and imperfections,etc.
A portrait that blew me away is by Giovanni Bellini of the Doge Leonardo Loreda, around 1501. Though it’s not a self portrait, I will mention it because it’s incredible detail on the face and clothing.
This self portrait by Michael Landy looks simple, but it’s drawn precisely and tightly, every hair and fine detail of the face. The portrait is intense with each mark made carefully. There is no tone but you can still feel the depth of the features.
I like Maggi Hambling’s style. It has an ethereal quality that reminds you that you are in this world temporarily, makes you think of life and death. It also resembles waves of a stormy sea.
Lisa Stoke’s portrait here isn’t about looking alike but about emotions. she is expressing intense sadness she was feeling. An inner turmoil and sorrow.
Again this is not a self portrait, but I like Das Berlinner Zimmer by Owen Normand-winner of the Young Artist BP award 2013. I like his choice of colours, the way green from the wall is reflected in the eyes and the unusual angle of the face. The judges remarked: thoughtful work, contained in a quiet stillness that was impressive of a young artist.
Stuart Pearson Wright refers to his own paintings as ‘pseudo portraits’ presenting a subject’s ‘inner state’ rather than just an accurate record of their outward appearance. His self portraits are largely to narcissism but also to heal the vacuum of his identity as he was born by artificial insemination and never having known his father. By inhabiting different male archetypes, he tries to expose them as a metaphor of life as theatre. He is fascinated by masculine role-models as seen in film, art history and advertising.
When you look at self portraits of Kath Kollwitz, you see expressions of blatant emotion. She was tormented by poverty, social misery, death of her son Peter. She often used her self as a model to draw poor mother with hungry children. She kept portraying them again and again as a safety valve, to help her make life bearable. Quote: all my work hides in it life itself, and it is with life that I contend through my work.
One of the reasons why Vincent Van Gogh painted so many self portraits would probably be that he could not afford to pay models and he did not get many people commissioning him to do portraits. This could be a valid reason or when he did his self portrait something more got through, he witnessed definite moments of his life. His portrait with Bandaged ear, his back to the easel and a Japanese print could state that he was going to overcome that incident and carry on painting.
In a letter to Theo he explained that painting self portraits would help him develop his skills as an artist. Quote”I purposely bought a mirror good enough to enable me work from my image in default of a model, because if I can manage to paint the colouring of my own head, which is not be be done without some difficulty, I shall likewise be able to paint heads of other good souls, men and women”.
In this portrait of himself, in ashen tones, the swirls in the background almost makes you feel that its a hallucination. The colours are similar to absinthe. There is a lot of energy in the marks.
You can follow the change in his style of painting over the years by looking at his self portraits.
Anita Taylor’s All or Nothing- layered marks sculpt her body. She has drawn and erased, drawn again, leaving her lightest marks at the deepest level of the image and applying darker marks above. This order of light below and dark above give the impression of luminosity glowing from within.