As October is generally associated with Halloween, it seemed appropriate to tell you the story behind my painting “Masquerade”.
When Arteast Ottawa picked the theme “A Night at the Theatre” for their 2011 exhibition at the Trinity Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre, I was initially thinking about ballet dancers or wealthy ladies and gentlemen in fancy outfits in their boxes, the way you see them in movies. Then, I remembered the last Halloween outfit I wore. I am not a big Halloween fan but each year when we went out with our kids to go trick-or-treating the neighbourhood for treats, I dressed up a little bit. I knew how much my kids liked it, and that made it fun. That particular Halloween, I did not feel like dressing up at all, so I had just grabbed a cheap face mask with feathers, my gold shimmering winter coat, and an antique fox scarf. I looked very elegant that night.
I used one of the pictures we had taken as the reference photo, hung up the mask and fox scarf in my studio and started painting. While I had started a portrait of myself many years ago during a workshop, I am not to keen on painting myself. However, this was different as part of my face was covered by the mask. I liked this touch of mystery.
As I had anticipated, the details of the face were still the most challenging part, despite the fact that a big part was hidden behind the mask. But my eyes and mouths were visible. I was not satisfied with the detail I got from the photograph, and worked at times with a mirror, letting my eyes wander from photo to mirror to canvas and back.
I am quite happy with the result. "A Night at the Theatre" is all about diving into an imaginary world and playing roles. What better way than to paint a self portrait hiding my face behind a mask. The face and therefore the person's identity are hidden. Feelings and facial expressions are not visible. Everything is mysterious and open for interpretation.
It also reminds me of the fact that we often hide behind an invisible masque because we are afraid to show ourselves to others out of fear of rejection.
There is a long history of famous artists capturing their faces in self-portraits. What has fascinated so many to create their self-portraits?
A lot of artists used models for their paintings. However, as most artists did not make a lot of money, posing for themselves was a cheap and always available alternative. Before the invention of photography, it was the only way to capture the appearance of a person. The self-portraits would, however, often not only show physical attributes but also give you a glimpse behind the facade. The artists would present themselves in their profession, show their experiences and struggles in life, their character traits, their social status, and their style. For example, Frida Kahlo’s and Vincent van Gogh’s self-portraits let you step into their world of pain and struggle, of fight and despair. Self-portraits give the artists a way for self-investigation without restrictions and expectations from the establishment. They leave a very intimate personal legacy, an image that will outlive the artist and create immortality. Self-portraits also served as advertisement. They were an excellent tool to advertise the artists’ skills to potential customers.
Have you ever done a self-portrait or thought about having a portrait of yourself painted? Why? What intrigues you about a self-portrait or portrait?