Artwork / Private Masks / Portrait Artist

self-portrait painted by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Portrait Artist
acrylic on canvas
17 x 21 inches

I die.

This portrait is part of Private Masks, one of two conceptual series I showed in 2005. Its sister series is called Public Faces and the two work together and inform each other, exploring two eternal themes, death and taxes.

Private Masks depicts some of the people we hire to deal with death and, in doing so, the collection resuscitates the dance of death. The medieval European image primer showed skeletal images of death coming to every kind of person—powerful and oppressed, young and old, all professions from barber to bishop. And, in this updated version, the death’s head no longer looms as a symbol of mortality. Modern, sterilized, second-hand death bans such a lurid show, and specialized death workers take on the roles that relations once held as well as the awareness that came with those roles.

Meanwhile, Public Faces portrays public officials and appropriates the tradition of portraits of rulers for the modern audience. At one time, a king’s image commanded the same respect as the monarch in the flesh. In today's democracy, a commander-in-chief cannot insist on the same obedience as a king once could, so their portrait has little chance of requiring a curtsey. Still, in a visual world populated with photographs, a painted portrait retains a certain gravity. It seems to say that this person must be unusually important, if a little old-fashioned as well.

I enjoy remixing art history and sometimes I do it in more obvious ways like with this painting.