Wednesday, August 4, 2010

This blog post is different from the rest. I wanted a place to record this event. I recently had an exhibition at the Cotuit Center for the Arts in Cotuit MA that included this self portrait titled "Remember Me". Next to it was posted the following text:

I celebrated a milestone birthday this year, inviting reflection on where I’ve been and where I’m going. Different quotes about the passage of time and acquiring wisdom played through my mind. One was “The face you have at 50 is the face you deserve”. This spurred the idea that this might be a good time to do another self-portrait.

While working on this, I had time to contemplate the meaning of this quote as I spent hours studying the contours of my face. About halfway through the painting I came across a quote by Soren Kierkegaard, “We create ourselves by our choices”. There is a certain double entendre that wasn’t lost on me as I was physically creating an illusion of myself through my painting choices.

There is an ambiguity to the gesture of this piece and I am struck by the different ways people have chosen to interpret it. I have strived to capture subtle nuances of expression. However, the reality is, the viewer brings their own experience and will interpret the gesture based on their own response which reminds me that we can never really control the way others respond to us. We can only remain true to ourselves or be destined to spend out lives attempting to understand what others want or expect of us.

So, I would like to conduct a bit of a survey. I would very much like to know how you interpret this piece. I have given you clues but do not let that influence your response, which is not the point. How you respond says as much about your experience of life as it is about what I intended the painting to elicit. In fact, that is really all it is about.

If you would take the time to jot down your thoughts I would appreciate it. Either write them here or drop me an email at a later time. Those who leave me their contact information will receive both a summary of other responses as well as my initial intent.

Thank your for taking the time to contemplate this.

The number of responses I received from my little social experiment was overwhelming, 75 total. This is why it has taken me so long to follow up on this. Thanks so much to all of you that took the time to respond. I resisted the temptation to read through them first, as I wanted to express my experience with painting the portrait first. Then I read through them all and I will share some of those insights as promised. I have opted to post this on my blog to reach those that didn't leave an email, or left an illegible one. I believe every response is valid, and although I may not have intended what was interpreted, I cannot deny that there may be truth in the observations. Please feel free to forward this to anyone you feel would be interested.

I have always had a fascination with the idea of leaving something behind that would live on after me. I love old cross stitch samplers that often had the words “Remember Me” painstakingly stitched by some 10 year old girl long dead and forgotten, such irony. So this is where the title came from. But I believe the seeds of my inspiration to begin the portrait were sown when I visited a Rembrandt exhibit in CT last fall, entitled “Rembrandt’s People”. All those faces, looking so intently at the viewer, all that antiquity staring at me and the realization that all of those bright eyes have long ceased to shine and that this was all that was left of them. The Rembrandt’s also inspired my choice of color palette; I loved the way the faces and hands emerged from the darkness of their ambiguous bodies. The painted portrait reveals more than a photograph because it requires contemplation and is filtered through a human rather than a mechanical device. A portrait by Rembrandt manages to capture the aura of the person, their very essence and life force. To achieve this is rare, but this has been my attempt.
The hand, what is that about? There were so many interesting interpretations, but first what was I thinking? Well, after looking intently at myself in the mirror, it was actually a natural gesture to reach out to that reflection in the same way we instinctively reach out to touch something we are curious about. But upon further reflection, it also reaches tentatively from the past toward an unknown future. The painting says, “I remember being there, where you stand, I once stood.” If by some luck of fate this painting stays in tact as long as the Rembrandt’s, I will be long gone. There is also the realization that someone I know and love might look upon it when I am no longer alive, so the expression is a bit wistful – it longs to be on the other side and be re-connected. It asks you to “Remember Me”. It is that simple and complex.

Your reflections, which I have had to abbreviate and condense:

On the hand:

Feeling of connecting with people, as on the other side of a glass wall, no matter how hard we try to connect we have only ourselves.

Still feeling my way.

Hopeful searching.

A blessing.
The painting reminds me of the idea that a photograph steals a bit of the soul. The gesture is trying to prevent the painter from making the image so as to preserve the soul. Glossy surface is like someone trapped behind glass, but the face is serene, the soul can’t be robbed.

Wait a minute, I’m just shifting from drive to overdrive, come back in another 25 years!

At first I thought you were saying “keep your distance”, then I decided that you were pressing against and invisible wall of glass saying I’m not through or there yet, I’ll keep searching”.

A sightless woman, hesitant to move, hand in front searching for objects as she starts forth.

Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and be true to you.

You are saying STOP. I am happy as I am … don’t let time move me.

This reminds me of Sarte’s “Being and Nothingness”. If we let others define our existence, we cannot truly exist as individuals and can never be free but prisoners of the interpretations of others. The artist is free to construct herself in this painting.

Stop, you have come close enough – I am only wiling to share so much of myself and the rest is off limits.

The hand seems to limit the approach of others. It means that she wants boundaries even though she enjoys interacting with others.

It makes me think you’ve raised your hand in a gesture of complete presence. Reaching out to absorb the “energy” that your reflection offers. Open and asking and accepting.

“I am stopping time here in the present. I am living in the moment”

“Do not come too close to me, back off”

“Hello” but at the same time “I can’t talk yet. Wait a second for the speaker to finish, and then we can talk ourselves.

Thought provoking. My first feeling was she wants to get out of this picture, but then your face looks very content and comfortable. But then I thought maybe there is always a piece of us that is striving to get out of our control place and change.

The hand feels as if you are pushing open a door.

Holding someone back, saying “enough”.
Looking out tentatively for something you needed… lost? The face says in answer – look. It also seems that you are wistfully saying “goodbye” to something.

The hand says stop the physical process of aging. I want long life but I want to look just like this from now on.

You are saying “ok, but enough already” It is the gesture of a mom!

You’re leaning on yourself in a way, putting all of your weight on the 5 tiny points of contact between self and reflection that are your fingertips.

I’d like some distance. I’ve earned it – let me have time to contemplate – what do I want to do with the next 50 years?

I think you are happy with yourself as you are at this point - but are still reaching forward – open for more.

“Leave me be with my thoughts” Are you a standoffish person? Are you a person that you can’t get close to? On further reflection – “making way – one step at a time – with feeling and confidence.

The arm is not up, and the hand is open – it could be reaching out to touch something or reaching into the unknown – questing gesture – in combination with the expression and overall relaxed feeling of the body, it could be a gesturing of peace or acceptance.

The hand gesture is an inherently spiritual one. The phrase “Balanced Stillness” comes to my mind; a person who is willing to look at life, and themselves, not merely to look, but also willing to SEE.

Go forth, create, continue to grow in ways as yet uncharted, unknown.

My first impression was of a reike healer offering healing with her hand.

Wait – don’t be too quick to judge.

What are you longing to touch?

To me you almost look sightless and are feeling your way.

Wait. What is it you say? I think I see but wait.

I see fingers meeting in a tentative exploration of communication, less formal than a handshake, less intimate than a hug.

You are here, it is now, but it is not now anymore.

I see an artist reaching out to the illusion, which is self. Wondering about her passage of time. Reflecting in the image of self. Maybe life is an illusion, or an infinite quest never ending.

You are about to step through an unknown but compelling place and time Your life experiences have enabled you to accept and be compelled to enter the new place/time.

You have chosen to create yourself to be optimistic, hopeful, yet understand the pain we all endure.

Reaching, yearning, hesitant, reflective, reluctant, eager, and yet… the power! Made me cry.

(a little comic relief) Must not sleep, must warn others.

You strike me as someone that wants to touch the world somehow, so I hope you get people to reach back.

The painting seems to be mirror vision – your right hand is touching it- so you can now feel this person – you are not afraid but there are questions. I can see it in the eyes – you almost want to smile but are not sure.

(more comic relief) Ice maiden with man hands.

Stop, I’m 50 and I don’t have to listen to your BS anymore! or I’m 50 and I’d like time to slow down as I have so much more to do or It’s okay, don’t worry, you’ll get through this.

Reach out and touch someone, connect. Be one with the universe. Realize unity with all creation.

Facial expression:
Calm, almost serene, comfortable with who you are.

Calm, curiousity, whatever comes will be of interest - but not so fast!

Her eyes seem to welcome others, but her smile is only somewhat inviting.

Friendly, thoughtful – you’re recognizing someone whom you want to see.

Proud, affirming and excited about the future.

I see a depth of emotion in your eyes, wistfulness, sadness, wisdom gleaned through the years of experience

Expression of wanting something, beseeching, searching.