We have evolved from the need to draw and paint in order to capture a moment in time. The ease at which we can take photos compared to when cameras were first introduced has seen us instinctively delve into our pockets to grab our phones when a worthwhile snapshot is presented to us. Whether it is a snowy landscape, a warm sunset, or the uncontrollable laughter of our friends, all we need to do is pick up a phone and take a picture. This momentary action immortalizes our most endearing memories.
Has the canvas and the brush become obsolete tools for those who yearn for times gone by? Are selfies the natural recasting of self-portraits?
It is difficult to answer such questions, because as easy as it is to capture an image via your phone, it is enough to simply observe some self-portraits to realize the value of painting: construction and deconstruction; colors and lights; said and unsaid.
An intriguing art form, the self-portrait gives us a profile that is much more than a faithful representation of facial features and has the ability to tell us about the artist in all their complexity as a human being. The self-portrait can often tell us more about the internal than it can about the external.
Naturally, the subject of the story varies from artist to artist. For example, Karyna Iglesias opts for a faithful representation altered only by tone, almost all of which is cold. The face is caught in an expression of surprise, with the open lips insinuating a search for words to articulate how she feels in that moment.
It is a realistic self-portrait which is part of a very long tradition that sees artists immortalize a snapshot of their life through their own pictorial reworking.
Paul Beel prefers a different approach: a self-portrait steeped in contemporaneity to describe current affairs, inevitably linking it to a personal and common experience. In recent times, behind the mask we have all been forced to wear to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, there is the artist.
Would a selfie have had the same result? Maybe. However, in this case, painting is not an exercise in style or narration of the self, it is rather a testimony of a moment that will go down in history as one of the most dramatic of the 21st century.
Then there are the more conceptual self-portraits – those that do not perfectly follow the human figure of the subject, but rather try to give themselves to the viewer in a way that rejects linear forms. This is the case of Barbara Fragogna‘s self-portrait, an apparently confused work that perfectly expresses the difference between a selfie and a self-portrait.
Here we see the limitations of photography as it cannot escape from reality, unwilling to allow the viewer to peak into the subject’s true state of mind (unless it is badly hidden or, rather, voluntarily exposed to the public). Painting, instead, has the power to draw on the intricacies of human emotion and bring them back to the canvas in a creative act that fluctuates between the real and the surreal.