Blog / 2008 / The Look That Looks at Itself

April 23, 2008

I’ve painted one or two self-portraits in my short time as an artist. Okay, the number is closer to twenty in the last eight years. Clearly, the self-portrait is something I enjoy! I feel freer to do a certain kind of learning with my own face rather than with someone else’s.

Adding significantly to the tally is the fact that I include a self-portrait in each one of my conceptual series as a way of acknowledging my biases in the work and anchoring the series in my own experience.

high school self-portrait by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait
1997
acrylic on canvas board
14 x 18 inches

I painted this self-portrait for a Continuing Education painting class at the PNCA when I was sixteen. Until this piece, I had completed just one painting in acrylic: a rather unconvincing copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night for a project in a high school French class when I was fourteen. There’s a certain Van Gogh thickness to the way the paint is applied in this portrait. I’ve since taken to watering down my paints instead of painting in relief.

self-portrait of an artist painted on colorfully printed fabric
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait
2000
acrylic on printed fabric
24 x 24 inches

I was still at university when I painted this. It was my first painting on stretched material. I painted on a printed fabric wall decoration that my mother had put up in my room when I was a child. The fabric was a bit flimsy to be working on without a backing, but I was hooked!

self-portrait painting by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
My Own Worst Critic
2003
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

This portrait is part of the series Critics Critiqued. I was putting the final touches on the series, when I realized that I had omitted at least one critic worth putting in the hot seat. I am still my own worst critic!

painted portrait of a powerful woman
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait
2004
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

This is how I like to think I am—strong, almost Amazonian!—but my friends tell me I really look more like My Own Worst Critic. Self-portraits are a separate kind of truth.

painted portrait of the profile of a white woman’s face
Gwenn Seemel
Self-portrait
2004
acrylic on canvas
17 x 11 inches

Part of a group of five portraits I painted for my parents’ thirtieth wedding anniversary: portraits of the whole family, including the dog.

self-portrait of Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Artist as News Anchor
2004
acrylic on canvas
36 x 24 inches

This painting is from Snow Days. I cast myself as the narrator, helping the audience access a different side of the trusted strangers whom we invite into our homes every day.

painted self-portrait
Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Monkey
2004
acrylic on canvas
19 x 13 inches

This portrait is from the Trickster Project, a series in collaboration with a theater piece.

self-portrait painted by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Portrait Artist
2005
acrylic on canvas
17 x 21 inches

This painting belongs to the series Private Masks. The subjects in this series all work with death on a daily basis, so I almost didn’t include myself in the series. Then it hit me that portraits have everything to do with posterity.

painted self-portrait
Gwenn Seemel
Artist as Contributing Member of Society
2005
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches

This portrait is part of Public Faces. An artist should be a contributing member of society.

portrait of Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Delightfully Naïve
2006
acrylic on canvas patchwork
20 x 20 inches

Part performance art, part traditional portraiture, this piece belongs to Mutually Beneficial. It’s the first self-portrait I painted as part of a pair with another person.

feminist self-portraits
Gwenn Seemel
Before and After: She Can Call Herself a Woman
2006 and 2007
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
34 x 96 inches (combined dimensions)

This diptych brought together everything I was thinking in my series about what it means to be a woman, Swollen.

a French-American woman as the Statue of Liberty
Gwenn Seemel
Liberty (French-American, Self-portrait)
2007
acrylic on linen
42 x 19 inches

I painted this self-portrait for Apple Pie, which is all about what it means to be an American.

painted portrait of an artist on a canvas patchwork bag
Gwenn Seemel
Me Bag
2007
acrylic on a canvas patchwork bag
13 x 13 inches

This is the first of my portable portraits, which I call You Bags. I have since painted several more with other people’s faces, including my nieces, my brother’s sweetheart, and my dear friend.

UPDATE

January 12, 2015

For more about the psychology behind a self-portrait and the five factors that impact the way artists represent themselves, check out this video.

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