Feb 20, 2023

This Project has been led by an idea and concept proposed by Margaret Fenton

I have no idea where this idea for a self portrait project came from although last year someone recommended ‘ Drawing and Painting People’ by Emily Ball. A fresh approach to extend and develop my own painterly language. I wanted to dispel another limiting belief, to challenge my preconceptions and have some fun in the process of being my own readily available model for a year. Free to investigate all possibilities.

All I needed was a mirror!

“I’m a mirror. I see everything except myself.” (Rita Dove)

The mirror, a flat glass surface was invented around the 15th Century in Venice on the island of Murano. Images from previously existing mirrors were either discoloured or distorted by their metallic or igneous polished surfaces. They were extremely prized possessions, in some cases made from gold and silver.

A technical piece of equipment that possibly enhanced the development of portraiture, was a glass bubble made by glass makers in Nuremberg used by Albrecht Durer (1471-1528). Look at his self portrait. Geoffrey Chaucer mentions Alhacen (Alhazen) and the strange properties of certain mirrors in his Canterbury Tales of 1387-1400:

“And some much wondered on the mirror’s power,

That had been borne up to the donjon tower,

And how men in it such strange things could see.”

The power of the mirror enabled self-portraiture, a representation of an artist created by that artist. Leon Batista Alberti (1404-1472) was an architect, humanist and principle initiator of Renaissance art theory who credited the invention of painting to the myth of Narcissus. He was so captivated by his own reflection in the water and his inability to possess the image therein, that he killed himself. Alberti asked “What is a painting but the act of embracing by means of art the surface of a pool?”. In Caravaggio’s painting (1599) the artist seems to admit that even he cannot recreate the mirrored likeness of the figure above. In the 16th and 17th Centuries the portrait generally was regarded as a status symbol, an expression of personal achievement and a way of ensuring a place in posterity.

Nowadays we have the selfie!

The Project

The project will run from February 2023- February 2024, to give it some structure.

There is no plan as yet for a finished goal but we hope some pop up exhibition opportunities will emerge. It is a project that can be part of your work for the year or something that remains as an idea to be undertaken next February!

Open to anyone, your self portrait can be produced in any medium whether it is a five minute blind drawing, an oil painting, a poem, a collage, a photograph, a print or a sculpture.

There are no rules and the size, and format will depend on your own enthusiasm

Updates and Prompts

Throughout the year a number a guest artists will share some aspect of self portraiture, either history, favourite painting, artist or on any other related topic. Please get in touch with Margaret directly if you would like to contribute or if you have ideas. As an added introduction the artist will set a suggested exercise to challenge or extend your practice. An activity to respond to or to simple file away for another time.

Getting started

To contact Margaret directly her use this link to email her.

To start us all off Margaret has this suggestion:

My activity for this month is ‘ blind drawing’. Look at your image in the mirror and draw on the paper or other substrate and start drawing without looking at your page. In any medium, superimpose drawings one on top of the other, make lines/marks with varying pressure or use your non dominant hand.

So get out your mirrors or find some reflective surfaces and off you go……

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