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.

Tag: U.S.A.

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.)

Double portrait of the artist in time.

Helen Lundberg - Double Portrait of the Artist in Time 1935

If you liked the time-travelling artist, Helen Lundberg’s Double portrait of the artist in time (1935) is the thing for you.

It is played on the same paradox. How can the little girl with the budding shoot pose in front of a painting of herself in her blossoming twenties?

The shadow (also appearing in Bailly’s painting as his wife’s ghost) seems here more polyvalent and opaque — Is it the artist’s? Her older self perhaps, older than both her representations? Or might it not be her ancestors’?

The artist loves wood.

Lynch, David - Self-portrait 2012

Commenting on this self-portrait he produced in 2012 to raise funds for another documentary on himself (Lynch Three), David Lynch explained to the New York Times, last month: “It’s a portrait portraying my love of wood.”

As part of the same article (incidentally, on self-portraiture), the notoriously eclectic artist was commissioned a further self-portrait in a form of his choosing. He came up with the–“very Lynchean”–photo below.

Lynch, David - 2013

(Every self-portrait has a few fundamental questions at its core — What relationship does the artist-as-creator have with the artist-as-subject? Do the two find a balance? Or are they struggling against each other? And if they are, who is winning?)

Private self-portrait of a public man.


When released these two paintings some time ago, they attracted much ridicule on the web for their naïve style and unpoetic subject. Yet George W. Bush‘s leaked self-portraits tell us something about our times which few of us now lazying about on the web can dismiss so easily.

What I mean is, often that moment of privacy when we take a shower or a bath is the only time we are alone with ourselves. So unaccustomed are we to the absence of others (people, tasks, or stimuli) in our lives — what are we to do with our own exclusive presence?

The private work of a public man, Bush’s self-portraits pose exactly that question.

Image(Compare the number of photographic portraits of feet and selves-in-mirrors that are found on any social network or blog — few of us are wholly immune to the strange feeling.)

Animated self-portraits.

In 1989 animator David Ehrlich asked eighteen colleagues to produce a twenty-second animation each representing themselves.

The directors are, in the order, Sally Cruikshank, David Ehrlich himself, Candy Kugel, Bill Plympton, Maureen Selwood (from the U.S.A.); Mati Kütt, Riho Unt, Priit Pärn, Hardi Volmer (Estonia, then U.S.S.R.); Jan Švankmajer, Pavel Koutský, Jiří Barta (Czechoslovakia); Bordo Dovnikovic, Joško Marušić, Dušan Vukotić, Nikola Majdak (Yugoslavia); and Kihachiro Kawamoto, Renzo Kinoshita and the “father of manga” Osamu Tezuka (Japan).

To me, it is particularly interesting how one can tell the shared features of each nationality.