One of the basic primary forms of painting is the self-portrait. With a long and distinguished history the self-portrait has told us about people, their times and their attitudes. They tell us of scrutiny, of desire, of ego and of the passage of time too, but they can also seem like a whispered secret sometimes, that winks knowingly to us of shared knowledge and experiences and has the added frisson for us of knowing that this is the artist ‘talking’ directly to us through time and geography. A great self-portrait tells you something of the artist but of ourselves too.
Following the first known self-portrait by Jan van Eyck, in 1433, to Durer’s self promotional works and the haunting self-portraits of Rembrandt, art history has since been full of the subjective gaze of the artist upon themselves. Today the practice continues, often for very widely differing conceptual reasons, but the telling self study still hints at mortality as well as exploring that strange meeting point where the introspective self gaze meets the objective outward look and attunes itself in order to displace the subjective/objective dichotomy.
These self-portraits acknowledge and play with this, telling us about the artist and telling us about modes of representation, about a time and place and last, but by no means least, about us.