A self-portrait is a representation of an artist that is drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by that artist. Although self-portraits have been made since the earliest times, it is not until the Early Renaissance in the mid-15th century that artists can be frequently identified depicting themselves as either the main subject, or as important characters in their work. With better and cheaper mirrors, and the advent of the panel portrait, many painters, sculptors and printmakers tried some form of self-portraiture. Portrait of a Man in a Turban by Jan van Eyck of 1433 may well be the earliest known panel self-portrait. He painted a separate portrait of his wife, and he belonged to the social group that had begun to commission portraits, already more common among wealthy Netherlanders than south of the Alps. The genre is venerable, but not until the Renaissance, with increased wealth and interest in the individual as a subject, did it become truly popular.
Self will be just that, after five on-line shows from Cultivate during this destructive Covid period starting with the #43Artists show back in April 2020, five on-line shows that, combined, have now been viewed over 120,000 times, Self will be another carefully curated on-line show brought to you once more by Cultivate. The five on-line shows during the period of Covid including the show that opened at the start of this year, ReCultivate, have all been carefully curated “themeless” group shows, all five have had an open call element to them. Self will be by invite only. Self will be strictly about inviting our fellow artists to take part. Self will be a little different.
Self will be about inviting artists to produce self portraits. we might invite artists who you’d maybe expect to produce self portraits, we might challenge one or two people to come up with something, let’s see where this one goes, maybe we’ll ask people to dig deep into old sketch books, we’ll ask painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers…
In the earliest surviving examples of medieval and Renaissance self-portraiture, historical or mythical scenes (from the Bible or classical literature) were depicted using a number of actual persons as models, often including the artist, giving the work a multiple function as portraiture, self-portraiture and history/myth painting. In these works, the artist usually appears as a face in the crowd or group, often towards the edges or corner of the work and behind the main participants. Rubens’s The Four Philosophers (1611–12) is a good example. This culminated in the 17th century with the work of Jan de Bray. Many artistic media have been used; apart from paintings, drawings and prints have been especially important.
Women artists are notable producers of self-portraits; almost all significant women painters have left an example, from Caterina van Hemessen to the prolific Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, and Frida Kahlo, as well as Alice Neel, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Jenny Saville who painted themselves in the nude. Vigée-Lebrun painted a total of 37 self-portraits, many of which were copies of earlier ones, painted for sale. Until the 20th century women were usually unable to train in drawing the nude, which made it difficult for them to paint large figure compositions, leading many artists to specialize in portrait work. Women artists have historically embodied a number of roles within their self-portraiture. Most common is the artist at work, showing themselves in the act of painting, or at least holding a brush and palette. Often, the viewer wonders if the clothes worn were those they normally painted in, as the elaborate nature of many ensembles was an artistic choice to show her skill at fine detail.
Self will be about the tradition of the self portrait which explains the first poster for the show, a poster that has caused a bit of debate here. We do debate these shows and the art shown quite a bit. Where will Self take us? I guess to some extent that depends on who we invite and what the invited artists come back with (or don’t come back with).
Self will open on-line on Tuesday February 23rd.
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