Face to face
June 8, 2010
Artists’ attitudes toward self-portraits are as diverse as the media they use to create their masterpieces. Some feel as though self-portraiture is a rite of passage; others avoid it like the plague that killed some of their notable predecessors.
Julie Nester, who owns an eponymous gallery in Park City, has always been intrigued by self-portraits. "It’s a great opportunity to see how the artists see themselves," she says.
About three months ago, she sent out a request for self-portraits to all of the figurative artists represented by Julie Nester Gallery, as well as several others whose work she admires.
While some artists jumped at the opportunity, others were hesitant. "It’s a good exercise for them whether they want to do it or not," Nester says.
Sixteen artists submitted pieces for the Self Portrait Invitational, which opens Saturday, June 12, with a reception at the gallery from 5:30 until 8 p.m.
The participating artists are: Jhina Alvarado, Philip Buller, Gregg Chadwick, Hsuan-chi Chen, Marshall Crossman, Willard Dixon, Kim Frohsin, Anne Morgan-Jespersen, John McCormick, Daniel Ochoa, Carol O’Malia, Justin Taylor, Adam Vinson, Rimi Yang, Eric Zener and Zack Zdrale.
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According to Nester, all but a few of the pieces were made specifically for the show. "The cool thing about it is there’s incredible variety both in type of work and in the artists’ interpretations of themselves," she says. "Each piece is radically different."
Her hope is that the collection will spark conversations about why the artists chose to depict themselves in a particular manner. She wants viewers to dissect the psychology behind each painter’s self-portrayal.
Each artist stayed true to his or her signature style, Nester says. "No one changed the way they paint." Instead of delving into different styles or techniques, the artists pushed the envelope in terms of how they approached the task at hand.
Only a couple of the paintings are classic self-portraits in the sense that they depict the artist straight on. Other paintings take on different perspectives depicting the subject from an unconventional angle or with props, for example.
Two of the artists Jhina Alvarado and Willard Dixon painted themselves with musical instruments. Carol O’Malia painted the back of her head with her hair swept into a bun and secured with paintbrushes. Adam Vinson painted a wallet-sized childhood photo of himself in a Ziploc bag, almost as if it were evidence from a crime scene.
Eric Zener, a California-based artist, captured a close-up view of his face as he is immersed in a deep sleep. Zener is widely recognized for his figurative paintings that take place under or around water. He has also created a series that revolves around sleep and dreaming.
"As with the water paintings, there is a sense of escape and transcendence when we exit the conscious mind and enter the mysterious dimension of sleep," he explains. "The sheets are like the tide slowly drifting us away from the shores of daily life. I kind of like that concept."
Zener says he wanted to be careful not to let his ego direct the image. "I didn’t want to paint myself more attractive than I am," he laughs. "It is tempting to paint yourself in your best light. I thought it would be more interesting to be very honest. That was my personal challenge."
Daniel Ochoa’s painting, "Veo, Self Retrato," provides another example of an artist’s quest for honesty. Ochoa grew up with the constant push and pull of two languages and cultures in his family. He reflects that duality in his self-portrait by embedding some of the labels that have been ascribed to him terms such as "Mexican-American", "Americano", and "white" into the layers of paint.
"[My portrait] is about looking in the mirror each morning," he wrote in the artist’s statement. "A dialogue between written narrative, physical likeness and emotional temperament suggest a constant transition of identity."
Ochoa is no stranger to self-portraits and says he has painted three already this year. "It’s a good indication of where you are as an artist," he explains. "It’s a measure of your perception of yourself."
His process involves layering more realistic features with more abstract qualities. "I think that portraiture whether it’s of yourself or someone else should show the emotional quality of the sitter," he says. "The reason why I chose to move into abstraction is because I felt like I could better tap into that emotional quality."
Anne Morgan-Jespersen is one of two Utah artists participating in the show (the other is Justin Taylor). She chose to paint her image in the style of a self-portrait by the acclaimed 18th century French artist Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. She calls her piece "Chard-Anne."
"Chardin is one of my favorite artists," she says. "It is my hope (if Chardin happens to be looking down on us) that he will enjoy the humor of my portrait as well as my profound admiration for his artistry."
Morgan-Jespersen has done one other self-portrait during her career as an artist.
"I think self-portraits are really an important part of every artist’s repertoire. You can keep a record of your changes and development as a human and you can also see the change that you achieve technically as an artist," she says. "It’s very personal and unique."
The Self Portrait Invitational will be on display through June 30. All portraits will be on sale and prices range from $1,200 to $9,000. Julie Nester Gallery is located at 1280 Iron Horse Drive. For more information about the gallery, call 649-785. To view an online gallery of the exhibit, visit http://www.julienestergallery.com.