Thoughts on Self Portraits
I'm hanging the show "Autobiography" tomorrow at WKNO, and it will be up for the month of March. There will be a closing reception Friday, March 31, 6-8pm.
As part of the preparation, I'm preparing an artist statement to go with the show, and it's been interesting to think about. This is a much more personal show than I have ever mounted, and the statement reflects that a bit. I've always been fascinated by other artists' self portraits, and it's exciting to get to show my own series at this point in my life.
Here is the statement I've written for the show:
I live a solitary life, which is not the same as a lonely one. This series of work examines my solo world in times of loneliness but also in times of fulfillment. My life is rich with art, music, canine company, and periods of romantic company, but it is still in essence a life lived alone. Society does not give us good images or models for women navigating life alone. There is tremendous pressure to couple up as the only truly appropriate state of being. The word "spinster" contrasted with the word "bachelor" speaks volumes. Society's image of women needing to be coupled ignores the demographic realities that at some point or another in their lives, women are likely to live alone. Women benefit from being able to find happiness and fulfillment within themselves. This exhibition portrays me in moments of varying success at that endeavor. I make art, dance, play music, and walk in forests regularly. Sometimes I do these things alone and sometimes in company.
I go for years without painting any self portraits, but I find myself doing them again when I am in periods of self examination, upheaval, or transition. Self portraits can feel like the most self-indulgent form of art, a feeling made only stronger by selfies, Facebook, and the proliferation of the appalling selfie sticks. However, they are a centuries old art form. Artists tend to make sense of the world around them by examining it and distilling it onto paper or canvas through the lens of their art. It makes sense that we have the same urge to make sense of ourselves in this literal and tactile way.
This show began with me looking at portraits by Odilon Redon, Edward Hopper, and Andrew Wyeth. It contains not only traditional self portraits but also scenes and places that are deeply personal to me.
One friend told me that the more particularity there is to any story, the more universal it feels. These paintings show me in my own particular world. What I hope is that they are personal but also deeply recognizable on some level to others. I want them to reach and touch and give a feeling of solidarity to others who are navigating solo or examining their places in this enormous, crazy, heartbreaking, magical world that we all live in and have to make sense of for ourselves.
More Self Portraits
I've been working on two more self portraits this week since getting home from Washington. Here's one inspired by a poem called Polka-Dot Sky. I've always loved those cloud shapes, and the poem made me think back to those Redon portraits in the Orsay I saw last summer with people placed against clouds.
It started off well. I always struggle with faces and almost liked this level of finish better, but I pushed on. Here is the partway through version.
I'm also finally back to working on the self portrait at my easel. I hate the Arches gessoed paper it's on, which sucks down paint, and I had gotten discouraged weeks ago and set it aside for a while. But I finally decided to use my figure painting momentum and pull it back out again. It's close to done but still needs some finishing. The show hangs Tuesday, so I'm racing to both mount and prep everything and also finish as many of the ones in my head as I possibly can in that time.
Plein Air Kitchen Painting
I have a pleasant enough view out of my kitchen window, but I don't think of it as particularly paintable. In Concrete, however, there are tall and graceful cedars. One morning was mid 40's and a bit drizzly, so I decided that painting from life but indoors with tea was the perfect solution to getting in a day's work.
Rockport State Park
I took another hike in Rockport the other day and tried a new and lovely trail before coming back around to the Evergreen one. I'm going to have to do some more serious painting in there, but in the meantime, here are two sketches from my journal.
I fell in love with this enormous, dancing cedar tree and had been thinking about it. The second time past I had to stop and sketch. I may go back out with oils as well.
Here is a photo of me painting at Rockport that Jude Dippold took.
Hilt Run Waterfall
Jude took me to Hilt Run waterfall yesterday. It's a mad scramble down a slope to get a good view, and I'm only just learning to use poles. It was raining a little as I painted, and then I had to close the book to put it in my pocket for the climb back out, so all my nice white areas got splotchy. Watercolor just doesn't dry at all quickly in the humidity here. I do at least have this memory in my journal, though it's not as pristine as I would like.
The lower part of the falls is 90 feet, and it was stunning to sit there and drink it in. Here's a short video I took so you can hear the water.
We took the ferry today as a day trip to San Juan island. It's a bit over an hour's ride, and it's utterly beautiful. The ferry weaves between tiny humps of islands that dance on the water. I sketched almost nonstop. Here are the full set of sketches from the outbound trip.
Plein Air Oil Painting
The trees at Rockport State Park in Washington State have been calling to me. I came back out this time with a set of oil paints, a portable easel, and other on site painting equipment. I've done pastel and watercolor plein air painting for years, and all of my work begins with at least a sketch from life, but I haven't done oils on site since I was in college. The richness of the forest, though, made me decide to try. I set up and did two quick ones this afternoon from the easy trail next to the ranger station.
They're both quite small. 10x11" paper or so. I'm hoping I can get them back home with me on the airplane. I'll be leaving all the gear, however, for my longer trip this spring, once I get my show done and seminary work in a good place.
Here's my set up as I was cleaning up. The brushes are back in their holder already, but you can see the rest. I was sitting on the ground because my lightweight travel easel isn't tall enough for me to stand. I'll try to bring the French box back with me later, but it's too heavy to hike terribly far with. It would be nice to have options though.
Welcome to Concrete
I'm in Concrete, WA, again painting and working on some illustrations as well as having a little much needed vacation time. I started the trip off well with lots of tea. Since I left 73 degree weather for 37 degree weather, it seemed called for.
5b's bakery here is delightful and does a pot of tea just right, which is rare. They also have a quite lovely cinnamon roll, and it's a beautiful place to sit.
It's been rainy, but I got some landscape sketches in today as research for the book illustrations I'm working on. I'll post them when I get them scanned in. In the meantime, I also visited Sauk Pottery, a local potter who uses enormous wood fired kilns that hold 300 pieces each. Just amazing. Not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, I also bought a tea cup.
Rhodes College library
Recent Oils on Paper
I'll have a bunch of these in my spring show "Autobiography" at WKNO.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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