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Questions about unusual self-portraiture…

April 29, 2010
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From time to time I get emails from students with questions about various aspects of my work and methods.  A while back, one such student got in touch with me as she was doing a dissertation on unusual self-portraiture and was contacting artists for her primary research.  She wanted to know whether I’d ever used myself in any of my work and had various questions regarding how I might use myself in my images.  Below I’ve posted her questions to me and my responses as I think it might be interesting for anyone wanting a bit more insight into the way I work…

Why do you use yourself in your work?
Because of the way I work  (combining photography, painting, drawing and mixed-media with digital work) I don’t tend to draw or paint any figures completely from scratch any more, but use photos I’ll shoot of people as a starting point, which I’ll then adapt and alter, and layer other drawn/painted elements over.  So although I use other models in my work as well, sometimes it’s quicker and more convenient for me to just use myself as a model and take photos of myself as the starting point.  Especially as a lot of times it’s just to get the main pose I want for a figure in the image.  And sometimes it might be just parts of my body that I’ll need to use such as hands, arms etc rather than a full figure shot.

Do you intend for them to be self-portraits or see them as being more personal works?
As I’m primarily a working Illustrator, the majority of work I do these days are commissioned pieces, such as for book covers, so even if I’m using myself as a model it’s not intended to be a self-portrait or as being any more personal than pieces where I’ve used other models.

Do you only use yourself for particular characters? e.g. strong, powerful and if so does this represent yourself or how you would like to be seen?
I don’t ever consciously think that I’ll use myself only for particular characters, but obviously I’ll only ever use myself if it’s suitable for what I’m doing.  So it’s more to do with physical attributes and whether I have the right body type for what is needed.  As an obvious example, if I needed to illustrate a female character, I wouldn’t use myself as the model.

Do you think your audience would see your work differently if they knew it was you in your images?
I don’t really know…. But the images are never meant to resemble me but the characters I’m illustrating and because I tend to alter the photos a lot and also combine different photos together – so there might be various parts of photos of different people going into building up the final image (for instance using different features to create another face) people are not so much looking at me as being the model but are seeing the character.  Even with the photos I’ve used of me that are less altered, it’s still meant to be visualizing the character rather than depicting me – it’s a bit like watching actors in films, with good actors in different roles, with all their make-up and costumes on, when you watch them you can forget that you’re watching that particular actor and just see the character they’re portraying.

Do you see the work which has your self in it different from your other work which doesn’t?
I don’t see it differently as such, but as with any image I’ve done where I’ve used any models at all, because I’m the one that’s put it together, and know what photos I’ve used, I’ll look at it and will be deconstructing it in my head and seeing where each part came from – so I might be looking at an image and thinking, ‘there’s my eye!’

And if you could possibly tell me the title of one of your “self-portrait” images that perhaps has some sort of meaning behind it or a story that would be great as I can deconstruct the image in my essay.
‘Duality’ is one of the first images I did in my style and it was done when I was still at University for a project.  I was still experimenting at the time, exploring different working techniques and developing my own style, so it’s a bit more simplistic and maybe not quite as polished as some of the images I’m doing now. But it was a big step for me in developing my style and techniques.  The concept behind the image was the question of whether people are dual creatures with both matter and spirit – is there anything left when you strip away the body…?  So the image ties in to my interests in philosophy and was my representation of one of the fundamental philosophical questions, and so I thought it was more suitable to have myself as a model.

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