A discussion in my Drawing Faces class this week: when we draw a nonspecific face, the face of no one in particular, is this a self portrait?
As noted elsewhere in this blog I acknowledge that self-portraits both reveal and conceal their subjects.
I’m also interested in the vertiginous shock of recognition I experience through these drawings. Recognition not of myself in the present moment, but of myself in the future and the past. Myself in and through suddenly vivid familial resemblances. I see other faces within my own—faces both familiar and strange, comforting and frightening.
Work in progress, graphite on vellum
I experience a certain tension when I draw a face. While I am moved to represent its features and unique characteristics, I am also interested in the non-specific aspects of the face. Humans have an inherent willingness to see and imagine faces, even where none exist. How far can a face be abstracted and still remain a face? Drawing provides endless possibilities for prevarication.
Over the past ten years I’ve produced numerous drawing projects depicting faces. This is an ongoing investigation. Each project accumulates over an extended period of time and involves multiple representations of a single face. As I’ve noted elsewhere in this blog, these multiple drawings reject the idea of a portrait as a fixed, singular image. They represent portraiture as an ambiguous, shifting field of interaction and interpretation, that explores the relationship between the self and other, as well as the selves within the self.
Through the process of repetition and accumulation, as well as the vagaries of the process and materials used, the faces shift and transform in ways that are both engaging and repulsive, monstrous and transcendent. These transformations imply the changes that occur within lived experience, as well as the externalization of psychic projections.
I’ve produced a number of self-portrait projects over the years and each time I’m conscious that these images simultaneously reveal and conceal my identity. I’ve used one of these drawings to represent myself on my “About me” page, for instance. This evasion acknowledges the problematics of being both the subject and the object of an artwork. As Marsha Meskimmon writes in The Art of Reflection: Women Artists’ Self-Portraiture in the Twentieth Century, “‘Woman’ has been the object of art for centuries, while women have remained marginalised as producers. To act in both roles, simultaneously, is to stage a crucial intervention.”