Self-portraits let artists represent themselves

Posted: Thursday, May 13, 2004

When appointments with models fall through and sketching random people on the street just isn't working out, there's one person an artist can turn to who's always a reliable subject in a pinch -- themselves.

Whether to gain deeper insight into themselves or just because they're there, most artists at one time or another have done some kind of self-portrait.

"It's the standard thing to do because models are sometimes difficult things to come by but artists always have themselves," said Marty Hapeman, owner of Art Works gallery in Soldotna.

With that concept in mind, Hapeman is hosting a self-portrait show at Art Works through May. The show was open to any artist from any medium and any age group to enter. Hapeman got the diversity she was hoping for -- from sculptors to painters, a 28-month-old through senior citizens and everyone in between.

"I love the idea of having kind of an open show that anybody can enter," said Hapeman, who usually has single-artist shows at her gallery. "I love that children entered, too."

The idea for the show came from Kenai photographer and digital artist Jay Barrett, who said self-portraiture for him can be a healing endeavor.

"Over the years I've seen many artists create self-portraits that have been some of their strongest work," he said. "I find that true when I tackle the subject. After some tragedies last winter, I felt the need to really express myself as a catharsis. I did several self portraits and then I thought that other artists I knew might have interesting works they've done of themselves as well, and suggested the show to Marty and she ran with it."

Artists' representations of themselves ran the gamut from straight-forward self-portrait style to more abstract art.


"All My Lies Are Wishes" by Maryann Alfano is an acrylic-pastel painting that doesn't actually depict her face.

"I was hoping it wasn't all representational and I was pleasantly surprised," Hapeman said.

Most pieces submitted have at least a face on them, though not all of them do -- and not all the faces are of the artists themselves. Maryann Alfano has an acrylic and pastel piece -- "All My Lies Are Wishes" -- of a man and a woman in a car, though apparently neither are supposed to be her.

"The drama and mood of it is the self-portrait, but it's not a literal rendition of her face," Hapeman said.

Laurl Pepi has the most three-dimensional nonrepresentational piece in the show, and the added distinction of having the only piece that's shedding. Her submission is an overflowing basket of fabric scraps called "A Year of Quilting."

Chris Jenness also had a piece displaying no discernible human figure, called "Self Portrait in Progress." The pastel piece of linear shapes is more a portrait reflecting his artistic development than his physical characteristics.

"It kind of has elements of the way that I drew when I was very first starting drawing and elements of the very latest stuff I've done," he said.

Jenness has three other pieces in the show that do include a representation of him, combined with a representation of his artistic style. "Self Portrait as Cowboy 1 and 2" are inkjet prints of photographs of himself that he enhanced with pastels -- combining his two preferred mediums. "Self Portrait in Halftone" is another photograph of Jenness that's been printed in the half-tone style of American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, a style Jenness is interested in.

Jenness said he hadn't done much self-portrait work in the past, so this was a fairly new experience for him.


"Thursday, April 1st, 2004," by Natasha Ala Johnson includes pictures of the artist and a running commentary of stream-of-consciousness comments.

"I was a little uncomfortable with the whole concept of self portraits," he said. "It somehow seemed more daunting, this whole idea of doing a picture of yourself."

The up side to self portraiture, though, is that it's solely based on the artist's interpretation of his or her self. Even if it were possible to somehow misinterpret yourself, who would ever know?

"That's the nice part of a self portrait -- whatever it looks like, that's your impression," Jenness said.

Some artists chose to work off Hapeman's suggested "Artist As Jester" theme, which came about mainly because the show opened on April Fool's Day, but also because Hapeman thinks the role of jester is an apt metaphor for artists today.

"Artists have a specific role in society," she said. "The jester's role was to show the truth to the king but in a way that people can handle. Artists reflect truth in a way that people can kind of take or leave at their own volition."

There's plenty to take in at this show, although no one but the artists will know whether it represents the truth about them or not.

"I liked it," Jenness said of the show. "To be honest, I was afraid of what my work was going to look like compared to other people's but I think it came together nicely."

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