From blank canvas to a semifinalist in consideration for the 2018 BP Portrait Award; this is the journey of my piece from creation to London and a behind-the-scenes look at my artist life.
Last year, I specially made time over the summer to explore new themes in my portraiture. One hot June evening, I glanced at myself in the mirror and something about the lighting, angle, and mood created an intense inspiration to paint a large self portrait related to my experience as a female. So began my two month journey creating Reduction (Self Portrait).
As I began work on my portrait, I had two goals in mind:
This piece was challenging to create because its meaning existed within me as a collection of memories, experiences and feelings, rather than something easily articulated. In the early stages of my portrait, I came across a poignant quote by John Berger in Ways of Seeing: "Men act and women appear." My mind went to years spent studying art history and the lack of female representation in Western art as it is taught in school and books. Most nudes are female, but most painters of them are male. The male gaze has dominated our understanding and formed our conception of not only the female form, but of a woman’s value, role within society and view of self. I wanted to challenge this.
My self portrait presents myself in many ways, including: one view of me looking outward directly at the viewer, and another, my reflected figure contained in an antique gilded mirror. My face, turned out to confront the viewer, is active; my reflected figure is passive. My piece takes on the complexity of subjectivity and objectivity, suggesting and provoking many layers of understanding of the relationships between viewer, artist, and object.
I used a limited palette of colors because I wanted to focus on the subject matter. This created simplicity and harmony on my canvas. I used warm and cool representations of each primary color, plus titanium white for tinting and toning.
From more than 7 weeks I obsessively toiled over my painting. Translating my gut feeling into a composition that articulated my experience both as a woman and an artist proved to be a difficult journey that consumed my every waking moment. Furthermore, I had never painted myself at such a large scale, and the concept was complex. It was hard to put my brushes down finally and declare it done because I am a perfectionist and I knew this was one of my most important paintings to date.
I documented the work on the day of the eclipse, August 21, 2017, only it was overcast so there was nothing to see in the sky. However, the overcast conditions made for excellent lighting to document my painting. A short while after photographing the work, I applied to the 2018 BP Portrait Award, but I didn't tell anyone I had applied because it's such prestigious competition, literally the show for the best contemporary portraits in the world, run by the UK's National Portrait Gallery.
Fast forward to February 9th, 2018 when just as I was checking my phone before heading to my studio to work I saw the word "congratulations"! It was notification that my painting was one of 215 portraits (out of 2667) selected by the curators at the National Portrait Gallery to travel to London for consideration for the exhibition. I was instantly floored-bouncy-hyper-happy-stunned and then after my brief celebration I realized I had about 2 weeks to:
Not long after I received the good news, and by not long I mean that same morning, I was off to my framer, Hammerfrier. We looked at frame options, but there was only one clear choice and by some miracle we were able to do the impossible; frame up Reduction (Self Portrait) in a beautiful custom gilded frame in a week's time (it should've taken 4+ weeks minimum). The frame was made on the east coast, and shipped west in a crate that was perfect for sending my painting abroad as well. Whew! Thank you so much to Charly and Glenn at Hammerfrier for all your work and support!
After much research I decided to work with FedEx Air Freight. I had a background check for homeland security purposes while setting up my account and then was set to go... filling out a number of forms, applying for licenses, etc... I was both excited and nervous when FedEx arrived - it was scary to hand over my painting, and I had never shipped such a large piece with such a tight window for delivery. Everything was moving along perfectly as I tracked my painting's progress from Healdsburg to Oakland to Memphis and then Stanstead Airport in the UK and then... it just stayed there for hours and then days. I was held up in customs, but after a number of middle of the night calls to the U.K. everything was squared away and my work made it with two days to spare!
I had to wait until March 9th to find out the results, and it turned out that I was not one of the 48 works selected to exhibit this year, but I'm not feeling too shabby because it is a HUGE honor to have been a finalist and considered by the museum curators - wow. Byron and I celebrated the news straight away with champagne at 6:30am - I'm really proud of my painting, Reduction (Self Portrait), and happy that myself and my painting had such an outstanding opportunity.
P.S. I was successful in bringing home my painting too - it just arrived in ship-shape and Bristol fashion on Friday!
I created this space to showcase my past work, chronicle my current projects, and share my inspiration.