Facing the World | Self-Portraits Rembrandt to Ai Weiwei
16th July − 16th October 2016 | Scottish National Portrait Gallery
Artists have always created self-portraits. And whatever their motivation: as a showcase for their talents, a political statement or a conscious projection of their best self – the result is always the same: the creator becomes the subject. This idea is celebrated in Facing the World, which presents a breath-taking selection of portraits, in various media, spanning six centuries, from Rembrandt’s paintings to Ai Weiwei’s instagram posts.
Artists represented in the exhibition include: Simon Vouet, Rembrandt, Hyacinthe Rigaud, David Wilkie, David Octavius Hill, Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Oskar Kokoschka, Andy Warhol, Marina Abramović, Tracey Emin, John Coplans, Ken Currie and Alison Watt.
This 1981 Polaroid is like a hall of mirrors, reflecting and distorting pop culture icons. Unmistakable Andy Warhol collides with his best-known subject, Marilyn Monroe. She’s suggested by her most basic tokens – blonde hair and red lips – adapted by countless imitators, including, in a way, Warhol himself with his own signature silvery hairpiece.
In the 70s, Warhol began using a Polaroid camera to deliver thousands of instant portraits. Typically, these were source material for his flat, impenetrable screenprints – but as with his penchant for role-play – they tell their own stories, too.
Show, don’t tell
This shot, along with others in dress up, was taken while he created three slots for Saturday Night Live, including one about death – an increasing obsession in his final decade. Like the makeup on his face, the photo both amplifies and conceals.
Is it me you’re looking for?
The artist hardly seems disguised, though. The mouth is tense, the eyes haunting, the face gaunt. This could be intentional: other self portraits from the time seem to tackle ageing and anxiety head-on. He was nothing if not knowing.
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