Self Portraits


Pippi Longstocking by Ingrid Vang Nyman

If you were to paint a self portrait, not just to capture your physical form, but one which encapsulated how you see yourself inside and outside, how would it look. Or if you were to choose an image by an artist or a photographer as a representation of yourself, which speaks to you of all the things you are, were, and perhaps will be, what would that image be.

These are the sort of wanderings my mind likes to pursue when I am relaxing. I was floating on Twitter and saw a tweet which asked a similar question. I paused all activity, and sucked the idea like a large sweet. It tasted delicious, but it was quite hard to bite into.

I’m guessing one image would not be enough to express all of you, a collage of images would be better suited to the task, like a blog, which is in many ways what blogs are. But with my blog, not every image I post is one in which I see myself, sometimes I see a reflection of someone I know, or someone I would like to know, something I desire or aspire to, an idea which tickles and tantalises me, or I just simply love the image without projecting anyone or anything onto and into it.

I know an artist who groans every time someone commissions them to paint a portrait. They create very beautiful paintings, bursting with colour, and the people in their paintings are a wonder to behold. There is always an element of fantasy, as though they are capturing the soul and making it visible, rather than just the physical form. This, for some reason, never goes down well when it is applied to portraits. ‘That’s not what I look like.’ is the typical complaint they get once they’ve unveiled a portrait. ‘That is how I see you,’ this artist always replies, ‘I can only paint what I see, I can’t paint what you see when you look at yourself.’ If the person insists that they start again, this artist refuses. They know they will never be able to satisfy the client. They often ask why people come to them knowing what their work is like and ask for a portrait, then reject it for the very style which attracted them to the work in the first place.

I can see both sides of the issue. This artist has painted me a few times, not portraits, they just used me as a model because they do that with all their friends, and all the people they meet. We are all just muses, waiting to be turned into works of art by passing through the eyes, mind, heart, soul, then hands of this artist. I can recognise myself in a couple of the pieces they have painted of me, but none of them are what I would have painted if I could paint, and if I were to create a self portrait. The pieces are lovely, flattering, and very intriguing. This is the me they see when they look at me through their eyes. It is rare to be able to see yourself through someone else’s eyes in such a visual manner.

It is very different from having your photograph taken, because if someone shows you a photograph they have taken of you, you invariably see it through your own opinion of yourself, and most people can’t help but see their perceived flaws. I know I do. Unless the photographer uses the image as a basis of a photo-manipulated creation. Then the result is similar to a painting. It is you, but seen through the mind of another.

When someone tells you how they see you, it is too illusive, the words enter your brain and are interpreted by your mind to suit your version of you, and your version of the person who is speaking to you. Even if they use you as inspiration for a piece of writing, you still only read what you read, not what they have written. Whereas with an image, although there is still an element of seeing it through the filter of your eyes, it is harder to manipulate, though not impossible. If you see it during a moment of being empty, detached from yourself, then you catch it as it is, and that can be very revealing. Sometimes it challenges all your beliefs about yourself.

As to what image I would choose. I’m still sucking on the hard sweet. There are several images I have loved consistently throughout my life. Which seem to hold a clue to a part of me that appears to be consistent whatever phase of me I am traveling through. A few of these are from illustrators of children’s books. A couple are from artists who are no longer alive, and who were alive during a period in history way before my time. To choose one seems rather difficult. But if I was backed into a corner and forced to choose… Agh! Decisions are my nemesis!

The the most consistently ‘me’ image that I can think of is of Pippi Longstocking illustrated by Ingrid Vang Nyman. Even if it doesn’t incorporate everything, it covers the basics. Which is fairly accurate, and as close to the real me as I can get without being overly complicated. I think my choice may cause some surprise and confusion. I’m a child at heart, my inner child keeps me open to learning new things enthusiastically. Let me know what you think. I’m always intrigued by how others perceive me versus how I perceive myself. It often surprises me and leads to some very interesting thoughts.

So, What about you, what image comes as close to the you that you believe yourself to be as possible?