PAFA’s collection is rich with self-portraits by artists active from the 18th-century through the present. In 2010 this aspect of the collection was examined in the exhibition and catalog Narcissus in the Studio: Artist Portraits and Self-Portraits. PAFA’s collection continues to grow in this area in response to the myriad ways artists have depicted themselves in their studios, explored identity, and played with the conventions of portraiture.
Many of the works on display entered the collection within the last few years. Sometimes funny, dark, deeply revealing or evasive, each carries clues about how each artist wants to be seen and who they want to be. The variety of approaches is delightful: Luis Azaceta represents himself as a giant cockroach, Joy Feasley turns her back to the viewer, Susan Eakins depicts herself sensitively in old age, Peter Dean imagines himself as a macabre clown. Gregory Gillespie’s painting of his friend the artist William Beckman blurs the lines between portraiture and self-portraiture. He posed his friend in his own studio, surrounded by Gillespie’s studio materials and props. He even used his own body in the image, topping it with Beckman’s head.
Everything and nothing is at stake in a self-portrait. It is an intensely private yet knowingly public declaration of identity. Although numerous artists have reassured us that they make self-portraits because of convenience—they are their own perpetually available model—self images are never straightforward transcriptions of what the mirror reflected back. Unconscious or deliberate choices about style, pose, props, symbols, and the suppression or revelation of character traits affect the resulting image. Self-portraiture is always a partial view of the sitter at a particular moment—emotional, intellectual, physical, political, and psychological—a trace of evidence left about identity.
The artists featured in this installation are Luis Azaceta, James Brantley, Joan Brown, Peter Dean, Susan Eakins, Joy Feasley, Gregory Gillespie, Anne Harris, and Eamon Ore-Giron.