Self-Portrait of the Artist

An untidy history of artists' representations of themselves in pretty much any form you can think of (painting & sculpture, poetry & prose, photo & film…) — updated every third day and open for suggestions.

The artist is not human.


This is the last installment of a series of posts set in space, I guarantee, but originality, no matter how nerdy, has got to be showcased.

So while you are at it, take the time to appreciate the aslant shot in the non-human self-portrait above (which Curiosity sent us from Mars, on 7th September 2012).

You will thus experience the once-in-a-lifetime thrill of feeling superior to the people at NASA. They didn’t really appreciate Curiosity’s untraditional angle, seeing that they felt the need to make the horizon — well — horizontal.

But worldly-wise people like you and I know all too well that the artist is often misunderstood.

Curiosity 2

(Curiosity also has the enviable skill of taking a photographic selfie that gives the illusion that someone else is holding the camera. [It takes a movable arm and 55 pictures stitched together to achieve that, but still…])

The artist is larger than his planet.


Of the dozen or so self-portraits that were taken in space, the one above, taken by Japanese ISS astronaut Aki Hoshide in September 2012, is by far my favourite — I particularly enjoy the concentric circles of lens, Earth and visor (alternating black and white) and the glamorous touch of the polka dots around the Sun’s glare.

Glam aside, note that you have never seen a picture where the artist takes more space than his planet of origin.


(To my knowledge, the first out-of-this-world self-portrait comes from the Moon, where Apollo 12 astronaut Charles Conrad captured his own reflection on colleague Alan Bean’s helmet — the lunar horizon in and out of his visor quite cleverly linked. This was in November 1969, just a few months after the first moon-landing.)

The longest distance self-portrait.


Taken 6 billion kilometers away from the human being that “pressed the shutter-release button,” this picture is at once the longest distance self-portrait and greatest group photograph ever shot.

Our home the Earth can be seen as the pale blue dot taking just a few pixels in the brown, bottommost sunbeam. (All images are as Hi-Resolution as you get, so you may zoom in and see for yourself.)


The probe that took the picture on 14 February 1990, Voyager 1, also shot a wide-angle photo of the Sun (right) which NASA composed with narrow-angle photos of the Earth (left) and Venus (centre).

Below is another composite, yet wider, picture, known as Family Portrait or Portrait of the Planets, composed with the same mosaic technique.

Voyager 1 - Family portrait

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object from Earth, believed to be at the borders of the Solar System, if not already out of it.

As Carl Sagan, who campaigned for these pictures to be taken, suggestively commented, the pale blue dot, barely visible, is where “every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”

The artist WANTS YOU.

James Montgomery Flagg - I WANT YOU (1916-17)We are all familiar with this famed poster of Uncle Sam urging you to recruit in WWI, but I, for one, was not aware of the fact that his traits resemble very closely that of James Montgomery Flagg, the artist himself.

(But perhaps Mr Flagg would frown upon my use of the word “artist”. Indeed, according to this article, he once stated that “[t]he difference between an artist and an illustrator is that the latter knows how to draw, eats three square meals a day and can pay for them.”)

James Montgomery Flagg - Your red cross needs you

Flagg also produced some posters for the Red Cross during WWII, once again posing, this time expressly, as Uncle Sam. As his granddaughter Cathy O’Brien noticed, “he was beginning to resemble his painting more and more.” Witness the photograph below, where he can be seen reenacting the poster with one of the few models he did not marry, Georgia McDonald.James Montgomery Flagg(Cathy O’Brien forcefully rejects the claim that Flagg did in fact pose for his best-known poster. If that is the case, then this may support the theory that all doodles are in fact self-portraits — Just consider the fact that people who do not draw professionally almost always depict figures of their own (perceived?) gender. Is that the case with you?)

The artist cross-dresses.

Mapplethorpe, Robert 1980

It was roughly in the same years that Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol shot their self-portraits in cross-dressing.

In his 1980-82 series, Warhol chose an extreme make-up (the white foundation almost clownish) and different wigs of unnaturalistic colours, plus an ironic diva expression — but he downplayed the “artistic” conception by shooting the pictures on a prosaic Polaroid (which thirty years later we would all unconsciously imitate on Instagram).

On the other hand, Mapplethorpe (1980) went for a natural hair style and a more sober make-up — his pose at once more artistically self-conscious and less affected.

Warhol, Andy

(Both also chose androgynous elements — contrasting male and female accessories such as the tie vs the wig in Warhol and the male shirt vs the fur in Mapplethorpe.)

Warhol, Andy 1980-82?

My preference (for all it matters) instinctively goes to Mapplethorpe’s 1980 self-portrait below. The role of make-up is more baffling, not as self-consciously parodying as Andy Warhol’s and not quite advocating for the persuasiveness of the cross-dressing. Staring straight at the camera and bare-chested, the artist is more vulnerable and exposed than Warhol would ever find it in him to be.

Mapplethorpe 93.4288Self Portrait2/19/2004photo by DH

(This post was conceived when I chanced upon this recent article from The Syncretic Aesthetic — which I recommend and say Thank You to.)