I address a photo from 1955
You are less
than I remember,
and more than
I superimpose myself
like a mask of light.
I’m not really sure this satisfies the dVerse prompt to write a letter, but I immediately thought of the stitching and Photoshop layering I had done using some childhood photos, trying to make a composite of is and was.
It’s been a while, friends, and I’ve missed WordPress. Luckily for me Kerfe pushes me mercilessly and I promised I would post today. “Painting is good for the soul”, Kerfe says, and you know what? She’s right.
The last few months have been stressful as my husband closed his private medical practice and joined a group. They hired me also. We have been putting a lot of energy into this endeavor and I haven’t picked up a paintbrush.
In thinking about content I realize that I really like to paint people, either from old photos or from photos taken of faces I like. I’m going to concentrate on that for a bit. Not sure if I’ll post ever day but will try for a few times a week. This venue is wonderful for artists and we have made many friends here. Thank you for your patience!
Self Portrait #21 (after Klee)
Water, and fire above it
How I say to you the truth as I know it.
How I am lost in words.
Subtle gradations implications explanations.
Do they reveal tenderness or terror?
Do they echo feeling or imagine it?
How to adjust memory.
How to maintain and reflect.
Erasing magnifying refining touching failing.
Safety features are not built in.
Evidence is not self.
To delete is to open.
I wanted to do a final self-portrait inspired by Paul Klee. There are so many wonderful Klee works to choose from, but I chose this one because of its title: “Seventeen, Insane”. I didn’t put the geometrics in, instead choosing to try to replicate the feeling, with loose ink portraits of myself now and at 17. I think the feeling of being unable to understand what’s going on is an apt one, and Klee seems to me to be indicating that age doesn’t really clarify things at all. I agree.
For the poem, I took one from my early 20s and revised it, but only a bit. Mostly I redid the way I had the lines set up; rather than breaking up each thought into several lines, I made it into a single one. I eliminated two lines altogether and changed 3 or 4 words. And then I broke it up into stanzas. And yes, that’s my original title. And yes, also, I wrote that last line in the early 1970s, before “delete” and “open” had the meanings they hold in this digitized world. That’s pretty strange.
My notebooks from then contain notes from books I was reading (Otto Rank with this one–we were reading him in a class I was taking), and poems mixed together. From what I could tell, I started with a title, and had a complicated system of construction involving numbers, syllables, and first letters of each line. I have no idea how to replicate it, because I don’t remember where it came from, and it makes no sense to me now. “Insane” indeed. (but I still like to play with numbers of syllables and words, so…)
You can see the entire self-portrait series here. Above is the drawing I did before simplifying it for the painting. Somehow I managed to make the present “me” look much younger in the process as well…
Self Portrait #20b (after Klee)
Lune shining through me
like a galaxy
Wings I can not see
This self-portrait uses the same Klee painting for a reference as my last one, but I have done it in collage, as I said I hope to do. I’ve taken more liberties this time as well. The round face reminded me of the moon, and that was my inspiration for my choice of collage papers.
The poem uses the lai form, which I saw on dVerse in early June, but did not have time to attempt then.
It’s a New Moon today…start something!
You can see all the self portraits so far here.
Self Portrait #20 (after Klee)
imperfectly caught life–
between thinking and acting out–
completed inside the border, this face,
this arrangement of edges on intersections
intersections on edges of arrangement–this
face, this border, the inside completed
out—acting and thinking between
life caught imperfectly–
Instead of painting this one, I used Neocolors, which worked well through layering to give the irregularity of each color Klee produced with paint. It was a real challenge–trying to get the geometry while maintaining at least a little resemblance. I think I want to try this one in collage as well. It would be like assembling a puzzle.
The circle shape of the head inspired the poem, which was also a challenge. It uses the palindrome form, where the second half reverses the word order of the first half with one word as connector. Finding words that work in both directions is also like solving a puzzle…well I do like to play with words.
You can see all the self portraits in the “100 Self Portrait” series here. Four-fifths to go.
Self Portrait #14: More Man Ray
What kind of alive am I?
Each morning, nothing new:
I drink coffee, I drift into the usual black.
Can I change into colorful costumes? Can I?
Today a gypsy, perhaps a fortune teller too,
surprise myself and try something new,
an animal, a vegetable, an entire zoo:
I could become the old lady who
doesn’t care what other people think or do.
I could ignore them and be free
of any laughter or unkind words that come my way.
Can I sing and dance too?
Be the mask and have the mask be true?
Words have feelings,
and feelings have words:
but both need to sing
and both to begin
without self-censorship or fear.
Innocent joy: I want to
find that lost
forgotten what to do.
I’m not sure how
to make this change of black to red or blue.
Yet it’s false, not right
to pretend I couldn’t choose
if I wanted to.
I could give out rainbows;
I could create a few.
Today is selfie day, and not only have I channeled my inner Man Ray once again for self-portrait #14 in my 100 Self-Portraits series, I’ve channeled my inner Delmore Schwartz for a riff on his poem “I am Cherry Alive“. When I found the print out above from a long ago Illustrator class that used Schwartz’s work as a source , I knew where this selfie-with-poem was going.
Anyone who knows me is aware that 90% of my wardrobe is black. It wasn’t always that way though…
In this portrait I tried to give myself a little color, while also honoring the way I might have actually dressed back in the day. No, I don’t think I have the nerve now, but it’s a nice thought!
Delmore Schwartz, supposedly the model for Humboldt in Saul Bellow’s novel “Humboldt’s Gift”, was a gifted New York writer of short stories, poems, and essays, an editor, and also a witty conversationalist. He had early success, but like so many before and after, abused drugs and alcohol and suffered from mental illness in later life. You can read more about him, and read more of his poems, here.
Self Portrait #13 (after Man Ray)
can you see?
lost in the web of
white, a black
the surface, just a shimmer
of a lock and key
Once again Man Ray’s work is a photograph; the web is superimposed over the face. I stitched my web over a drawing, and I think perhaps I should have used either thread or one strand of embroidery floss instead of two. On the other hand, two strands makes it harder to see the drawing–the web becomes more like a mask than a veil, an effect which I also like.
At first I tried to create this self portrait by contorting myself in front of the bathroom mirror. Luckily, my daughter was home and agreed to taking some photos of me in a similar pose to Ray’s photograph, and that worked much better.
Teresa at One Good Thing sponsors Selfie Art Day on the 25th of every month. It gives me a deadline each month for my “100 self portrait” series which is also a good thing.
The poem was inspired by Weekly Writing Prompt #29 from The Secret Keeper. The words fit perfectly into my stitched drawing.
Not sure if we’re still doing selfie day on the 25th of the month, but here’s a quick sketch.
This is for my “100 self portrait” series, except it’s definitely not the final version. There will be changes and additions…stay tuned.
Self Portrait #10: a collaboration (after Marlene Dumas and her daughter Helena)
At one point Dumas gave in to her daughter Helena’s desire to draw and paint on top of her mother’s paintings. There were some very interesting results! My daughter Caroline gamely agreed to work on top of the painting I made of my 4 0r 5ish self, and I like her more subtle but colorful choices, above on the left. Of course Helena was 6 at the time, and Caroline is 21, but then I’m a lot older than Dumas was when she did her originals, so I think it balances out.
Here is the process for the painting before being colored: wet wash (left) and with added detailing.
And then I did a painting from a photo of Caroline at around the same age. I overworked it a bit, but I think it captures a spark of the child she was.
You can see all of the 100 Self Portrait series so far here.
Self Portrait #9 (after Marlene Dumas)
Based on a childhood photo I have always loved. I’m not totally satisfied with either attempt, although I learned from doing both.
The one on the left was done without any pre-sketching, in a loose and quick way. It doesn’t look like me, but my chief dissatisfaction is that I colored in the bear. Maybe if I also colored in the pajamas it would work better. I’m still thinking about that.
The one on the right was sketched out in pencil first, and I carefully painted layers of grey. It looks more like me, but less like a child I think. And I got too heavy on the hair. But the coloring is more in the spirit of Dumas’ painting.
Dumas is a good exercise for me, because I’m still uncomfortable with watercolor. The only way to get better is to keep painting.
You can see the whole “100 self portraits” series (so far) here.