How Others See Me Illustrated with portraits done by various artists.
Although I have tried to give myself great freedom in the creation of the portraits, I also feel my limits. I am who I am, and it is much more difficult than one might imagine to break away from the habits and preferred ways of doing things that govern our work.
On the one hand those habits are a great asset. In learning one’s craft the artist, through training and practice, leaves behind those ways of seeing and working that inhibits success. Likewise those techniques and ideas that garner praise and admiration are reinforced. Eventually a personal style emerges that characterizes an artist’s work.
The risk is that one could become stuck, relying too heavily on this or that trick. I am a restless person and I have often thought of myself as someone who flits from this to that without developing a coherent visual style, but when I compare my portraits to those that other artists have created of me, it is clear that even though I have explored a wide range of ways of seeing myself, there are as many ways to see as there are artists. Each artist has their own personal style and there is no escaping who we are.
The mood of my portraits seems somewhat somber in contrast to how others see me. The works here depict me in a range of emotions from good natured to scary. In some ways, seeing these images reminds me of my limits. Each artist approaches the subject from their own perspective and I as much as I may wish to render with the fluidity of David Small or see the world with the untrained eye of my wife or Beth Gehred O’Connel, I have no choice but to be myself.
The diversity of results from artists approaching the same subject is remarkable. On one summer day in 2003, while I was attending Chris Gargan’s painting party, I painted my own image once and two other artists created or started to create my image on the same afternoon. It is no coincidence that I wear the same shirt and hat in both Kelly Doering’s photo and Peg Cullen’s two works. All those images have thier genesis on that same day The self-portrait in a VW emblem (page 56) was also painted on the same day. What is remarkable is how little the works resemble each other. The works are a product of what the artist brings to the process as much as what one sees and seeks to portray.
I have come to the conclusion that the desire to find a definitive image is an illusive goal. Is there one work that stands above the others as the real me? Some works may exhibit more skill, but they all have something to add to the composite understanding of the subject.
Some people might be tempted to look at the photos in this set of works and say, “That is how he really looks.” But the photos can be just as subjective as the drawings. Photos are shaped by the equipment used and the skill of the photographer. In looking at the diverse range of photography one can see the camera used in a range of methods which are shaped by the photographer’s goals in the same way that a painter shapes the image to suit his or her own goals. The id photos may seem to accurately document my features, but they are also devoid of emotion and movement, which is something that other works capture well. If there is one thing that becomes clear in the photos, it is how much an image is a product of a particular time and place. One sees changes as the body ages over the years. The early photos look youthful and hairstyles change from year to year...at the same time one notices that a photo is a record of the exact moment that the shutter opened. The two images of the Kansas wheat field share a similar composition, but the expressions reflect that particular moment.
A photograph or a highly realistic drawing can lull one into believing that the image is an objective representation of reality. The truth is that each image shows one aspect of a reality that has many facets The drawings done in an expressive mode make one much more aware of the role of an artist. Rumi O’Brien’s painting of me neglects to show such obvious traits as my beard, nevertheless her painting captures my experience of being a parent. When I asked her about her depiction of me Rumi told me, “All the people in my paintings look like that.” Her paintings and quilts they are all populated by the same figure and in most of the works that figure is Rumi. I think her approach illustrates the degree to which all artists inject themselves in to their work no matter who or what they are depicting.