Assignment 3: Thematic Self Portrait

Summary of Assignment (Formal and Thematic Requirements):
This assignment will entail emotive Painting in conjunction with thematic subject matter. Students may use visual references (photos and or mirrors) but will rely primarily on their imagination and or memory to depict themselves in metaphorical, symbolic and or allegorical contexts.  The use of icons, motifs and signifiers may also be incorporated into this work. Using these thematic devises students will depict the self in terms of narrative, which may be theatrical, fictional and or involving a personal history.* 

Ultimately the work’s goal is to present the self in a thematically layered manner that is unique and innovative. As in all the assignments for this course there should be a synthesis of aesthetics (formal visual languages) with concepts/themes. Various coloured media of choice will be explored focusing on formal concerns regarding: colour, space, mark making, figure-ground relationships, soft and sharp edges, and different levels of detail and sensibilities. 

Research Surreal, Magic Realism and Contemporary Approaches to Self - Portraiture (and Portraiture):
This project may entail using surrealist approaches, provided the chosen approach does not use cliched imagery such as melting clocks (like Dali) and other surrealist work which have been over saturated in popular culture and media. Try to look at contemporary artists who use themes of self in their work in a unique, experimental and conceptually more innovative way than the typical historical surrealist work. 

Thematic Content:
Through your research try and think about things and discover concepts that have not been seen before or have very little circulation in popular culture and media. This project does not just have to be the face, as an option the project may also include parts of or the entire body. As well do consider the use of an environment around (in front and behind in the background) of the subject matter (you) Don not use a single sheet of colour as your background, instead incorporate subject matter that relates to your thematic content. 

*Options: Do you dress up, is the project a fictional/theatrical/fantasy self portrait? Or do you discuss a personal history? Or both? 

Using autobiography, dream, confession, fantasy, or other means invent one’s self in a new way, or to evoke the variety of selves in our imagination. Overall the Thematic Self Portrait Assignment experiments with and explores the rich possibilities available to the contemporary artist and their own persona.

Evaluation Criteria  of Assignment
Formal Content 60%
Thematic Content 30%
Connecting Formal and Thematic Content 10%

Ideas Related to Thematic Self Portrait Assignment:

Martin Kippenberger’s Self Portrait explores the idea of the self as clown, fool, self-deprecating and or challenging notions of the idealized classical nude.

Martin Kippenberger Self Portrait (1988 
oil on canvas 200 x 240cm ) 
In Martin Kippenberger’s series of self-portraits from 1988, he pictures himself with a touching lack of vanity. An exaggerated beer belly, folds of fat, a thick neck, and dejected posture present a melancholic, awkward and somewhat grumpy figure. He wears immense white underpants pulled up high on his hips – rather like a well-known photograph of Picasso.

One example of an art historical Icon or motif such as the Halo that may be integrated into a self portrait or portrait

Standing Buddha with a halo, 1st-2nd century AD (or earlier), Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara.

Fra Angelico  Virgin and Child with Saints, detail, Fiesole (1428–1430)

Painting 1 Student:  Thematic Self Portrait 
School of Art, University of Manitoba

In this student work the artist depicts himself in front of a planetarium background. Is this artist questioning his place and or his indecision among the debates between religion and science? Is he attempting to make a commentary on one’s position and relation within an artificial and simulated environment such as a planetarium?

The above student work presents a very good beginning but as one option for the Thematic Self Portrait Assignment this particular work could have explored the relation ship of the planetarium further by perhaps giving the viewer more information regarding the environment. 

Overall the above student work offers a very interesting use of having the globe operate simultaneously as a halo and an object in the background. This subtle reference of a religious motif is a great first step and demonstrates one potential way art students can develop conceptual layers into a class assignment. If an artist researches and begins to investigate various ideas presented in contemporary art practices, the possibilities are endless where an artist can take a work in terms of conceptual layers. For example: what could this artist have done to bring even more conceptual layers into the work? 

One Example of an Artist:

Starting with Page 10 of PDF on London UK artist/photographer Sam Taylor-Wood from link:

Work by London artist/photographer  Sam Taylor-Wood who uses portraiture with had gestures and some thematic environments as content  in her work.

Allegory and Symbolism 
Self Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare   by Sam  Taylor -Wood         
Personal events are referenced in the work Self Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare (2001). This image deals with Taylor-Wood’s experience of living through cancer. The work functions on a highly personal symbolic level. She says, “It was a portrait in a single-breasted suit, as I had breast cancer, with hare, I’ve still got my hair after chemo.”The artist resembles an androgynous dandy or a magician in this image. Her gaze directly confronts the viewer’s gaze, as if daring them to confront the miracle of her continuing existence. 

In Self Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare (2001) the artist appears almost like a magician, the cable release cord in her hand revealing the trick of appearing in her own photograph. Of Strings (2003), she says, “I wanted to make the dancer look effortless…yet reveal the workings of my constructed fantasy.”17

Other Examples of Artists to Research 
(for Portraiture and Self-Portraiture)

Contemporary Artists:

Dana Schutz

Kerry James Marshall

Jenny Saville

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Luc Tuymans

Kehinde Whiley

Kent Monkman

Gina Beavers

Yue Minjun

Zhang Xiaogang

Historical Artists:

Frita Kahlo

Max Beckmann

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