The Examined Life
I'm on my third self portrait in what I've come to think of as my Hopper series. It's funny, because the first of these sprang out of my time at the Musee d'Orsay looking at Odilon Redon, but I guess I just don't have it in me to go quite that far out. I do hope I'm capturing some of the sense of mystery and narrative that draws me into his paintings. Pure landscape (and TREES) will always draw me in, but I am enjoying working more figuratively the last few weeks. Story telling is a powerful thing. But I definitely seem to be in a Hopper place of people alone in spaces, caught at odd moments of their lives.
Self portraits can feel like the most self indulgent art form ("Here's another painting of ME!"), but one friend while I was still in Paris responded to my first one (my small form against a big window and bigger sky) by saying she felt exactly that way herself and that my painting gave voice to her feeling. That's what I hope for in this series. We all feel small in this large, crazy, heartbreaking, magical world at some point or another, and by expressing that, I hope to somehow invite people in to that place with me so that none of us feels as alone with it. Sometimes all we need to know is that other people have that same experience. But I also have the buttresses of art, music, and dog to keep me company in those spaces. This piece is also a celebration of the space I have to make my art, and the quiet that is necessary for it.
I got a lovely response from a fellow creative across facebook last night. Jude Dippold is a poet and photographer whose work brings me daily beauty in my feed. He saw this and wrote, "The sense of a life alone is profound with the way you placed yourself in the deepest space of that room; yet the banjo and your dog give both meaning and existential dignity." That understanding and sense of fellowship is what I most hope for with the self portrait series and whatever else might grow out of this work.
Here are several of the stages of the self portrait as I worked on it across two fullish days.
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Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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