A small excerpt of this written piece was published in a local zine this week. Zines are where I first started my drawing and writing sharing experience. I chose this self portrait to publish and write about, I was thinking about self portraiture especially for female identifying artists and in my own practice. Then someone posted a quote by John Berger and I was off. Sometimes social media can be cool like that.
The flowers had all started blooming in my garden around a really tricky time this year. I had forgotten all about planting the seeds on an afternoon I had to myself in autumn, a rare occurrence then. I was glad for it, as it was a reminder to myself that I am happiest and most creative by myself. And these are the things I can share with my daughter.
Enjoy the reading and at the end I have included a photo of the easter rabbits my daughter and I drew.
I like to draw everything that I can. But I also need to sustain myself: I need to eat and sleep and clean the house; to look after my daughter, make an income, to pay rent. All that of work is important, too. And sometimes the necessary wok of living can detract from art making, while other times it adds a richness to it.
Pursuing an art practice is a lifelong endeavour. Social media, marketing and neat packaging of The Self As One Thing can really crush this. I find myself thinking:
What if this work doesn’t sell? What if it doesn’t meet criteria for this publication or that art prize? Should I be focusing on getting “likes” and generating a following? And what if I just want to draw everything? Sticking to one theme is hard!
I like to look at it in this way: everything I create contributes to a portfolio that spans the entirety of my life. If I am lucky enough, I still have a long journey ahead of me in both. The idea that I am yet to make my best work really puts a flame in my belly.
John Berger writes that women are conditioned to see themselves through the eyes of others, specifically the eyes men. Women in art ‘appear’ whereas men in art ‘act’.
I am a woman and even though I have struggled with what that means and spent a large part of my youth wishing I was a boy; I accept that I am one. Further, I am a woman who makes art (Art Woman).
Self-portraiture is an expression of art that I find deeply fascinating. It is a view into someone’s inner life, their every day, an impression of how they see themselves.
My final year at university was an exploration in self-portraiture. I had seen a photograph of myself, and I hated it; the strong, physical disgust that I felt looking at that image of myself really struck me and stuck with me. So, I explored it. This was a challenging project but it led to a large body of work in paintings and drawings – repeating and repeating a likeness to this photograph. Some of the works were so large I needed to stand up on a step ladder with my graphite pencils, while others were tiny paintings close-up of the face or just an eye using the tiniest brush. I didn’t see this as a vanity project, even though I wondered if others might – a common accusation made of women who focus on themselves in anyway. Instead, my need to explore this image overrode that.
The result is I have about 15 years’ worth of self-portraits. I haven’t kept them all – I’ve sold some and lost some and I’ll be honest, thrown some away. But it is interesting when I look back at them. I can see when I was in dark places, I can see hurting, I can see strength, I can see silliness. I look back with kinder eyes now and think about who I was and who I have become. It is a profound experience and I’m not sure words do it justice, but that’s OK because there are drawings.
My Teenager also loves to draw, and we draw ugly and funny things together. (You should see the results of the “who can draw the worst Easter bunny?” competition we had). This connection is a gift that I am always thankful for.
If it wasn’t for drawing, I simply wouldn’t be. That’s the truth. In my drawing I can explore all that I have no words for; I can render an escape when things are impossible. For me, drawing my self-portrait can be grounding – especially when life falls to pieces. This self-portrait I drew in August. My face emerges through spring flowers. Flowers grow in shit.