Today Bill Barrell reflects on the painting of a self portrait, instead of the observations of the world, an observation of the self….
– It is always a good idea to have a good look at one’s self once in a while. Rembrandt, Picasso and van Gogh were at it constantly. Why do they do it? Well, because artists are always searching for the truth. I believe that by looking into their own eyes they can tell if they are still on the right track. I think Rembrandt never looked unsure in his self-portraits. Even when he hit hard times, he still looked sure of himself.
Picasso, on the other hand, I don’t know. To me, he always looked a bit surprised that he could still come up with something totally original and yet still catch himself not cheating. I had a friend who at one time owned the painting “Yo Picasso”, Picasso’s portrait of himself when he was about twenty-two, which was done in a realist style. My friend and his wife had it hanging in their breakfast nook. I visited often and loved to sit across from that piece and just absorb it. Picasso stood looking out with his coal black eyes as if to say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”. My friend once showed me where he and his brother had thrown darts at it when they were kids. He told me that they hadn’t made a habit of the dart game and knew what they had done was wrong, so they had found some shoe polish and filled the holes. That same painting was later sold for $47.8 million dollars – holes and all.
Van Gogh looks out of his painting with such intensity – as if to say here is my soul, take a good squint at it, I’m laying it all out for you.
It is not easy to look through that mirror and into your soul. In my portrait, I look a little wonky – as if to say I am seeing what I’m seeing and being a little terrified by it. –