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Am i in the picture? The self-portrait.   [nederlands]

A piece i wrote in 2001:

Some years ago, i found a somewhat strange photo in a box with many other photos, and i couldn't remember what situation i had found myself in at the time. It could well be that i had taken the photo myself in a mad rush - it is exactly at arm's length; the cheap flash lighting had caused the background to fade away into darkness, so i might as well have found myself in a nighttime forest scene from The X-files. At the time i decided to paint this portrait, i could not yet have fathomed the philosophical and other nettle issues i would get into.

In an interview (Volkskrant, November the same year, 1997), contemporary and painter Jurriaan van Hall said:
"And when you're in that meadow and you have to paint a flower, it's not easy. You don't learn that at art school."
"I think a lot more forms of art can coexist now, that's a gain [of the After Nature group (1989-1992), whose members include Bart Domburg and Peter Klashorst; ed.]. And I see young painters trying to master the technique that you are still not taught at the academy."
As a self-taught person, i thought i had missed something all these years.
Van Hall: "Our objection to modern art was that everyone took Malevich's black square as a starting point. Whereas for that man it was an end point in his oeuvre. We wanted to start where he had started, painting nature. But nobody said where it should end."

In this way, many a cultural barbarian can be silenced the moment he or she claims to be able to make such a painting (standing in front of a blue surface with some stripes on it). Take Mondrian, who made his initially clearly recognisable landscapes increasingly 'abstract' (the question remains whether it is then actually abstract?). It becomes more difficult to parrot such a remark to an unknown artist. However, it's also about what you think of it yourself (and that could just be nothing).

Following this line, i wondered how i will fare. Would i too at some point have learnt a fixed trick, as seen in many other artists. Herman Brood, for instance, is a very gifted artist, but whether it is a tie or a breadbox, the trick remains the same. Of course, bread and such other necessities of life have to go on the shelf, and in that respect he does good business. But there are examples of well-farming artists, who do continually examine what they are doing, and are clear about that. That seems more interesting for the artist themself.

You have to keep challenging yourself to go beyond where you left off. Where had i left off?

Oh yes, the self-portrait. Some practical sticking points i described in my painter's diary at the time:

"What was hard for me was the lips, and then again especially the lower lip. Proportions, that's what it's all about anyway. If it's even slightly too big, the whole face is different. Just now, in walking past, i noticed that the eyes do not look straight into the spectator's eyes, but look just a little to the left behind the spectator. How annoying now, because that is absolutely not the intention.
Problem was, though, that in the photo the pupils cannot be seen because of the blinding flash light. Maybe instead of the dark pinheads, i should try some larger pupils. In any case, it's otherwise pretty good, those eyes, even if one is a bit bigger than the other, that's not such a disaster. Probably has its charms. And when i hadn't painted pupils, those eyes did look straight at me. So it should be a small thing to improve this. I hope."

After reflecting on Francis Picabia (of whom one often wondered whether he could actually paint), i found the following struggle:
"After fumbling around for a while, yesterday i finally had my lips in such a way that i am satisfied with them. Only to find again that my chin is too long, and probably too wide. So i will continue with that tomorrow.

Like a plastic surgeon, i painted my self-image. Chin too long? Doesn't matter, little lady, we'll have that plastered away in no time. Failed floppy ears? We'll just paint some hair over them. No problemo.
The philosopher woke up. Because how do i see myself? Every time i see a picture of myself, especially those shot at unexpected moments, i am overwhelmed by the fact that i cannot look like this after all. When i look in the mirror, i see something completely different. Logical question then is: how do others see me? And: which way of seeing me is reality?
In that context, two anecdotes:
- In the room where i was painting then, the self-portrait (almost finished) hung on the wall right opposite the usually open door. One evening, lost in thought, i walked past the open door, unconsciously looked briefly into the room, straight into the face of.... myself! What a strange sensation! For a split second, i thought there was someone else in the house, only to realise immediately afterwards that it was myself looking at me there so reproachfully.

- Sometime later, the self-portrait had long been finished and was on top of the cupboard in the same room, and my mother was visiting. At some point, she came into the room, looked around a bit sparingly and spotted the portrait. Her response: "Who is that woman?"

Quite coincidentally then, another (in retrospect very appropriate) section from the painting log:
" "Am I in the picture?" will be the title of this self-portrait. And that's not just anything. I often feel that people don't really care about what you do or say, they only look at your appearance and react to what they think of you. They react to the image they already have of you. So that I often ask myself, "Hello, do you actually see me standing? Am I in the picture?" It is also as if I look somewhat reproachful, a kind of silent indictment against excluding people who are different from yourself and your own group. Every person is different anyway, so in fact it's already wrong, yet it happens everywhere. I find that very annoying."
"(1 December 1997) The portrait is ready. After reading the above, I think it is also something of a questioning look, like: when is it coming? Well, that can be interpreted in several ways. Everyone will see something in it. Personally, I am very satisfied with the result. Yet I notice that I am very fussy, sometimes I want to perceive everything exactly as I see it, or rather, as my eyes see it. I made the pupils larger anyway, the face is a bit less harsh that way. And so yes, I do see 'mistakes' in it. But I don't think I should touch it any further. It's done, it's good the way it is. And I can hardly wait to move on to the next one. Although I don't know what that will be yet."

More on that in the accompanying write-up to the portrait that became the follow-up to this little self-indulgence (which has popularly been given the already very familiar name 'the scream', but i thought it inappropriate to call it that too, so the title is 'Argh').

Afterthought 2022:

As an autodidact, you do miss some of the things you automatically get during an academic study: the network, and recognition. How often i was at openings, surrounded by other artists, and completely ignored after someone asked where everyone had studied, and then a cosy and exclusive chat started about who they knew and so on. You have to try ten times harder, only to still be ignored.
Furthermore, it is funny to read my words from long ago. Would i do differently now, but then again, over 20 years have passed.
And as for the eyes: i think one of my eyes sometimes turns a tiny bit out of kilter, because i sometimes see it in photos of myself. According to one of my exes, that was not the case at all, but he said the same about a number of other things, which turned out to be true in the end. He also thought my rubbish as well as my poo never stank. If men weren't so strange to and about women, it was almost touching.

The origin of the photo I based my self-portrait on was simply an analogue selfie, of which I do have more. Only I don't remember the occasion; given the clothes, it might have been on the morning before a performance.

Kijk Tip: Jurriaan van Hall in googlese afbeeldingen

english text below the images

Part of the painters log, with a painting by Picabia, and the photo it was made of.

My self-tormenting self-portrait. Unfortunately i haven't been able to find the photo this is based on yet.

Collage: The self-portrait with glasses in 3D.

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© 2023 hannah celsius