“I am trying for something more specific than movies of my everyday life: To define a feeling.”
Historically artists have created self portraits to show their significance, particularly in terms of social class, and roles in society as artists. Almost always they showed themselves at work. So often self-portraits tend to be one-dimensional images creating realities similar to Selfies posted on Facebook. These showcase an idealized version of one’s life that capture the surface but not the emotions and the complexities of life.
By contrast, a painting like Diego Velazquez’ Las Meninas explores the entirety of King Phillip IV’s life. It shows his pets, the members of the court, his children, and his wife. It puts his palace on display and includes the painter himself, who creates a self-portrait within this portrait. There is something so truthful about Velazquez’s painting, a quality that I am aiming for in my self-portraits.
My works are not about being perfect. Part of the paintings is the imperfections. They are not meant to look effortless and pristine like a John Currin painting. The corrections in the paintings are visible, making the missteps apparent. They are multilayered, messy and complicated.
Like Las Meninas, I am creating portraits that show a more complete scope of myself than a traditional self portrait. These works magnify my roles as an artist, mother, wife and pet owner. They are my own palace and world within. Upon reflection I came to see my most powerful and meaningful roles are those that happen within my private walls. This is my sacred space: My studio and house with my cats, kids and husband.
Through working on these paintings, I came to realize a paradoxical nature of my artistic choices for my self portraits. I define myself in traditional roles in this series and this seems contradictory to my feminist beliefs that woman can have public personas and roles. While I do have these roles, my choice to focus on the private sphere made me reconsider my self-perception.
In my studio practice, I approach this paradoxical situation through a style I refer to as gestural symbolism. As a gestural painter influenced by Abstract Expressionism I am concerned with mark making and juxtaposing incongruous colors to create a unified and absorbing image. As a symbolist, I develop a set of symbols in terms of colors, shapes, and underlying images for each series. In these paintings, I represent all of these relationships through symbolic imagery and colors and items that I use to make marks or paint with.
Holland Cotter asks, “How do you approach an art empty of figures and evident narrative? How do you find what, if anything, is in it for you?” My answer to these questions is to go beyond the surface. We live in a world that is always trying to put labels on ideas and objects to understand them. All too often they are too superficially understood and lack the complexity and richness of our inner beings.
As Joan Mitchell said, my paintings are trying to capture feelings that are often beyond words. Through the Self-Portrait series, I am defining feelings.