Self Portrait, May 2016
It's just before 6am on a Monday morning. I'm having my coffee and my son is still with his dad for the long weekend. I will be heading to the cafe soon.
Yesterday I completed the first self portrait that I have attempted since my undergrad days as a drawing major at MIAD. That was in the 90's. I convinced myself during those days, that I was a failure at drawing the human figure. Yes, even after weekly 6 hour figure drawing classes with some of the greatest teachers out there. I'm still not convinced I can pull it off. But I'm at the point in my life now that I'm finally starting to realize how powerful that negative voice in my head is, and I'm trying really hard to shut it off.
The self portrait has always been a tricky thing for me. I was amazed at all the baggage it carried when I began this experiment. As *most* girls do, I had horrible self-esteem as a teenager, and as much as I tried to hide that in college, it followed me there. And wow, did it ever show up in the self-portraits. I could never look myself in the mirror and not portray myself as some boyish, ugly, angry, way older than my time....girl. Even though I was small, I still struggled with body issues and I (gasp) never saw myself as a beautiful woman.
I took this baggage into my first relationship at age 19 and we stayed together for 15 years. We were babies and looking back, we didn't have the tools to understand the loads we each carried. My ex-husband, who was also a drawing major, is an amazing portrait artist. So, for 15 years, that was not my space. Humans (in the made-up rule book of my brain) were off limits to me. Until grad school. But that's another story...
My beautiful, artistic, and smart Aunt Cindy, with whom I have looked up to my entire life, sent me a text message last night as I was going to bed. She expressed that I did not capture my "warm" expression and my "radiant" smile. She says "You look angry in the painting. Perhaps you are angry. Maybe you are struggling with the painting and not happy with it." It's this message that has me typing away this morning, trying to understand this a little better.
I feel very vulnerable to criticism with this painting. I mean, just making it and sharing it made me feel naked to the world. I know it's not my best work, but it's an attempt to try something different. I have been expressing emotion through wild animals for the past few years. My approach to this painting was to begin as if I was doing a wild animal portrait. I prefer a serious face. No tongue hanging out. Straight ahead. So I did the same. But her message has me questioning my anger and my intentions. I suppose, yes, I could say I am angry. I am not an "angry person" in general. I giggle a lot when I'm nervous and I am little in size. I'm often called cute.
I'm digging here for this little gem of insight about self image, culture and self-esteem, but I keep watching the clock because I have to go to work. Yes, I am angry, because our world is an angry place. I miss my family and I wish a lot of things were different. We are all feeling trapped inside a culture that we have collectively formed, but feel as though we are all victims of it. We are struggling so hard to be free, happy, healthy humans. I can't look myself in the mirror or the camera and giggle. I guess when it's just me and I'm looking into my own eyes, for hours, I begin to frown. The voice that says I can't make this painting is always there, so perhaps it's that voice I am frowning at.