1.a portrait of oneself done by oneself.
Self-portrait has just as long a history as painting itself, but often with little note. It is often considered a “stand in” when there is no model available. It’s a way painters keep their skills sharp by using themselves in place of a model. Due to the aforementioned, self-portraits are not really considered worthy of proper analysis and quickly moved aside to focus on the artist’s primary work.
The obvious decision by Kahlo to place the practice of self-portraiture as the primary methodology of her work is very interesting. That she then goes on to have so much revisionary success should also be discussed. For a proper analysis of Kahlo’s work the primary focus should consider her main point of interest. This focus can easily be identified in the relentless interrogation of herself, which is then put on display for everyone to see, in her self-portraits. It is in this simple choice Kahlo reveals a supreme understanding of reality, not fiction. Kahlo’s is unmatched in her unbiased representation of self that is completely honest.
No artist has left a loftier or more penetrating personal testament than Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 portraits of himself that date from the outset of his career in the 1620s to the year of his death in 1669, he created an autobiography in art that is the equal of the finest ever produced in literature even of the intimately analytical Confessions of St. Augustine http://www.rembrandtpainting.net/rembrandt_self_portraits.htm
It is very difficult to produce more than one self-portrait without becoming super conscious of one’s own vanity. It is then easy for that vanity to be forced onto the viewer as a vulgar statement of the artist’s ego. Vanity suggests to the artist, “you should make yourself look like a king” and it keeps suggesting until it completely takes over. It is not an easy thing to deny vanity for the purpose of internal investigation. Vanity is interested in the external.
Yes, Rembrandt is known as being one of the most prolific self –portrait artists but his self –portraits are vulgar displays of vanity. Rembrandt’s self-portraits are boring in comparison Kahlo’s. They fail to surpass the painted surface and communicate anything other than mastery of skill. Sure his paintings are filled with the bold dramatic lighting which the baroque period praised, but Rembrandt used himself as a study for developing his own technical skill.
This reveals the genius of Kahlo. She only uses the study of oneself as the primary drive behind her work. Her sketches surpass the intent and technique of Rembrandt by focusing on the on the same form and interrogating it, not for lighting or technical expertise.
Van Gogh is also another prolific self- portrait artist. His self -portraits also do not surpass the utilitarian use of the self-portrait. They are mere studies of brush work and color, investigating technique. It is well documented that he was deeply disturbed but these paintings aren’t. They are controlled illustrations of a man in turmoil. This is an artist that is too self-conscious of self to actually communicate a direct visceral response.
Chuck Close has followed the tradition of vulgar displays of ego on an immense scale. Close has dedicated the majority of his artistic career to the portrait and self-portrait. He made a name for himself with these oversized super technical self-portraits. He has used the “study” as the primary focus but only succeeds at communicating technique.
Art schools teach artists to look outside themselves for inspiration. They point artists to follow the success of artists that came before, located in the Western canon. Then, once the students have learned the Western canon, they can now think about self. Kahlo used a primary investigation of self as the driving force. There are thousands of portrait paintings made of Frida Kahlo by her adoring fans that do not succeed in more than technique. Kahlo would not want you to spend your time interrogating your own practice. She would want you to spend time interrogating yourself.
Christopher Hutchinson is an accomplished Jamaican conceptual artist, professor and contributor to the art community as a writer, critic and founder of the nonprofit Smoke School of Art. He is a Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and has been featured as a lecturer including prestigious engagements at University of Alabama and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. For two decades, Chris has been a practicing artist. His works have been exhibited in internationally recognized institutions including City College New York (CUNY) and featured at the world’s leading international galleries such as Art Basel Miami. He has always had an innate passion for creating spaces where Africans and people of African descent contribute to an inclusive contemporary dialogue—ever evolving, not reflexive but pioneering. This requires challenging the rubric of the canon of art history, a systemic space of exclusion for the Other: women and non-Whites, and where necessary he rewrites it. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of Art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama.