It was an experience I hadn't anticipated. As I wove through the walls, deeper into the exhibition, more thought provoking concepts and challenging ideas whirred around my head. If you were asked to make a self portrait, how would you choose to represent yourself? It may sound easy, but can a picture truly show who you are? Do you self edit, to show something representative of who you want to be, who you think you are, or something that shows certain attributes while hiding others?
One of the fascinating things I noticed was how artists painted themselves. In their portraits, did the subjects gaze connect with my own, or were they posed looking off into the distance. Was there a feeling of truth in those that could look their observers square in the eye? Perhaps that gesture alone told more about the artist than the setting or clothes they chose to wear. But sometimes the stories that accompanied the artwork said more about the painter. Like Peter Kennedy's 'My ghost' showing the artists' cancer cells scanned into a mirror image of himself. Or Napier Waller's 'The Man in Black' showing the artist with two limbs, even though he had had one arm removed after being injured in the war.
This made me wonder about how much our physical image represents ourselves. Perhaps in my twenties I would have thought this more prominent. I certainly felt judged more by my external appearance, whether in reality or not, and maybe by myself more than society. And this is where it got very interesting in the exhibition. For my favourite piece was a work that showed no sign of what the artist looked like, but perhaps everything of who he is. And it blew my mind. Grayson Perry's 'Map of an Englishman' showed the humour, frailties and complexities of all humans. I could have sat and marvelled at it's cleverness and honesty for hours.
Interestingly the exhibition also tied self portraits back to more modern representations of the self, such as facebook. Peter commented that it's fascinating to note what picture we use for our profile. I use the same image I have for my blogger profile, and I never change it. Except once, to swap it for a picture of the cartoon character Daria. Peter uses pictures of writers, actors, musicians etc. Everyone from Orson Wells to Oscar Wilde. Some people change their profile picture regularly, and others use pictures of themselves from many years ago. It really is interesting to think about what this says of all of us.
Perhaps this is why I connected with Grayson's work. I feel like this blog is me trying to figure out who I am, and like his map, there is much contradiction and complexity there. This is what makes people the fascinating creatures they are. Shades of grey. As we get older, and change, do photographs, writing, or images just plot part of our journey? I saw this fabulous quote the other day. "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving" -- Albert Einstein. How true. The 'self' should keep changing, evolving, developing and perhaps these images are the breadcrumbs to help us see where we've been. I recently went back and read a lot of my earlier blog posts. It was a weird experience, but I am thrilled to have charted this course and to have it represented somewhere. And over time perhaps it will add up to make my self portrait.