Blog / 2009 / What I Learned from Paul Missal’s Self-portrait

November 30, 2009

In May 2003, I had just graduated from Willamette University in Salem and I was already working on the first series of my professional career. Critics Critiqued was going to be portraits of Portland art dealers. It was going to make the would-be authorities in my new art world into the subjects of their own critique.

The series may or may not have fulfilled its original goals, but it did teach me at least on important lesson: portraits are an especially fascinating window into how an artist sees.

painted portrait of the artist Paul Missal by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Paul Missal (Blackfish Gallery)
acrylic on canvas
48 x 34 inches

The lesson came to me in the form of Paul Missal, a founding member of the Blackfish Gallery and longtime PNCA professor. But it didn’t come until well after my 2003 series—which includes this painting of him—had been exhibited.

Oregon artist Paul Missal’s Self Portrait 2004
Paul Missal Self Portrait 2004

In fact, the lesson came with this painting, Missal’s self-portrait from a show at the Blackfish in February 2005.

The first feeling I remember from my encounter with this work was “I am so stupid.” I was disappointed in myself for not seeing Missal more as he saw himself—for not being able to intuit his self-mythology more in the half hour I spent interviewing and photographing him before making my painting.

Then, slowly, it dawned on me how fascinating our two portraits were together. Sure, I could learn about how I might tap into a person’s self-mythology from what I saw here, but, more importantly, there was something insanely interesting about two versions of the same subject. Though hardly a novel idea, I could sense that there was something to it.

Enter the amazing and talented Becca Bernstein. After years of refining our concept for the show, securing venues for a tour, soliciting writers for a catalog, and painting paintings, Becca and I are finally ready to present Subjective. Our collaboration opens this January at Portland Community College’s North View Gallery!


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