Portraying themselves in paint, print, or sculpture, artists share intimate insights into their personal lives. Presenters will share a wide variety of both traditional and unconventional self-portraits. To gain another perspective, participants will also compare photographs taken of the artists with their self-portraits. These images and activities help viewers explore fascinating issues of how we perceive ourselves and how others see us.
Examining several self-portraits, such as those by William H. Johnson (above), shows how an artist's style and self-image evolve.
Helen Lundeberg includes four aspects of herself in her Double Portrait of the Artist in Time—as a child in a pose copied from a family snapshot, as a current self-portrait on the wall, as a shadow connecting child and adult images, and as a signature! For Latino artist Jesse Treviño, community and family are his reference points, so he includes himself in a group portrait.
The History of Her Life Written Across Her Face is Margo Humphrey's amalgam of image and word. In this lithograph, her face becomes a page upon which she narrates her life as an African American artist.
In sculpture, Robert Arneson and Man Ray provide twists on the self-portrait. Arneson's 35-Year Portrait uses the concept of the classical bust, but with a satirical note he creates it in glazed ceramic. In Autoportrait, Man Ray uses a bronze cast of his face, adds glasses, and contains the image in a wooden box.
Altogether, these and other self-portraits tell us about the creators and how self-concept can be defined and expressed in visual art.
Pictured top: William H. Johnson, Self-Portrait, about 1923–26, oil, 29 3/4 x 23 3/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Pictured second: William H. Johnson, Self-Portrait with Pipe, about 1937, oil, 35 x 28 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation
Pictured third: Helen Lundeberg, Double Portrait of the Artist in Time, 1935, oil, 47 3/4 x 40 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase
Pictured bottom: Margo Humphrey, The History of Her Life Written Across Her Face, 1991, color lithograph with metallic leaf and chine colle on paper, 32 x 29 1/2 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Norvel and Mary Perry Smith