It is undeniable that the “selfie” has become a fixture in mainstream culture. Equipped with cameras constantly within arms’ reach and myriad social media forums that encourage personal exhibitionism, our generation is obviously the most documented the world has ever known. As an artist whose creative interests lie in the subjective representations of reality, I find the selfie phenomenon just as fascinating as it is cliché. While the inconceivable amounts of image data describe and define our culture in ways unimaginable just a decade or two beforehand, the ‘accuracy’ of this ‘reality’ requires more than a little skepticism. It doesn’t take a cultural anthropologist to realize (with little effort) that the images we share of ourselves and our lives are very often staged, edited, and/or curated, providing our audience with an extremely idealized- I would even go so far as to say ‘contrived’- sense of our personal reality . ”You think I am _______, therefore I am _______.”
Yet if we rewind to a time before Facebook, before we had cameras in our phones (or before we had cameras or phones at ALL!) we still had the selfie. Only then it was known by its full name: l’autoritratto, or, the ‘self-portrait.’
Artists have been representing their likenesses through drawing and painting since as far back as the fourteenth century and using technology no more sophisticated than mirrors. Among the most iconic of these include Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Renaissance German printmaker Albrecht Durer, Egon Schiele and the contemporary Chuck Close. While the work of these and other self-portraitists share many of the traits and tactics of today’s smartphone selfies (such as a staged environment, pose, costume or countenance) there are fundamental differences in the means, motive and impact of expression. Perhaps the most important (but easiest to overlook) difference between a handmade self-portrait and a selfie is the dimension of time. While a selfie captures a fleeting instant- a moment frozen in digital time- a self-portrait requires time to produce: sometimes up to several hours, weeks, or even years. Meanwhile, the artist is engaged in a conversation with him/herself, their canvas/paper, their mirror/reference photo and is both consciously and unconsciously negotiating the conditions of their self-representation. The artist’s method and work habits, state of mind, state of health, state of finances, choice of medium, time of day, time of year, background noise, artistic influences, chemical influences, geography and genealogy are only a handful of factors that can- and do- affect what and how an artist creates.
The thirteen artists in this exhibition have been selected not only for the quality of their work but for the diversity of personalities displayed. As you enjoy the work in this exhibition, I invite you to consider what the artist communicates about him or herself through the choices they have made in the piece’s color palette, medium, and scale, or the environment they have depicted. Can you infer something about the artist’s mood or emotional state through the kinds of lines or marks they have made? If an artist has multiple works in the exhibition, what differences can you perceive from one piece to the next? Most importantly, consider these works the next time you’re on your preferred social media platform(s).
This exhibition has been made possible by InLiquid and I would especially like to thank Mat Tomezsko, Exhibition Manager and Matthew Hall, Graphic Designer for going above and beyond their normal workload to make this happen. Most importantly, I would like to thank the artists of this exhibition: Diana Balderson, Barbara Oertel Compa, Corey Compa, Ghislaine Fremaux, Randall Graham, Robert Gorchov, Elizabeth Livingston, Bryan Magonigal, Kyle Andrew Phillips, Lauren Rinaldi, Daphne Smallwood and Randy Williams. Some of you I have been working with for years and others I am excited to be working with for the first time. Thank you for sharing your selves!
Take a selfie with your favorite work of art in the exhibition! #originalselfieshowphilly