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  • Writer's pictureFatima Learn

Portrayal of a Self Portrait

Do artists ever paint themselves? I once heard an artist be asked if he has ever painted a portrait of himself. His response was – “No. I don’t think I am interesting enough”. That reply made me think he is either humble or trying to sound philosophical or poetic in someway. Possibly he has done one and is concerned about the criticism therefore decided not to share it with others.

The eccentric or lets say the poetic painter tends to paint their portraits usually to reveal their alter egos. A very serious appearance with a stare that would stop people in there tracks or the opposite, a very soft look that is enduring. Then there are portraits that fall in-between those categories which will tell a story.

For many artists, self portraiture as a process for technical improvements with their painting skills. I think we can all agree that we ourselves are the perfect muse. We are always available, we know what position to put ourselves in and we do not complain. At least you won’t lose the argument.

Self portraiture for the seasoned artist is more of an introspective journey. Its the challenge to capture their essence. As far as I know, there are no studies documented saying this about experienced artists but it has been my observation and wouldn’t it be interesting if there was.

Frida Kahlo, one of my favourite artists took self portraiture to a whole other level. It was the painting around her face that was symbolic to what she was feeling. Frida did not rely on her facial expression to reveal her thoughts to the viewer. As a matter of fact, her facial expression was never different in all her portraits. She conveyed her emotions, in particular emotional pain, not through her facial expression but rather through symbolic images instead.

If you look at “The Two Fridas” you will notice the stormy sky and the double Fridas dressed differently, possibly representing different times in her life. Both with exposed hearts and with one bleeding from the artery. The viewer understands she is experiencing emotional pain yet no sign of it in her face. Is this even classified as a portrait? The definition of a portrait is described as artwork with “a face and its expression with the intent to display the likeness, personality, and the mood of the person.”

Frida paints her face over and over in almost all of her paintings with the same facial expression but is still able to portray her mood. This is creative expression at its finest!

Image - Frida Kahlo painting `The Two Fridas’ (1939)


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