Tag Archives: self

Self! Self! Self!

One of the most contentious submissions in the Show Me the Monet series was a painting entitled ‘All by myself’.  It comprised 81 small self-portraits of the artist, David Cobley, 80 of which were in the styles of established or famous painters whose work has influenced Cobley.  The exception was a portrait painted in the artist’s own style.  The work was contentious in the sense that it provoked greater disagreement between the members of the judging panel than any other painting.

All by myself (section from TV screen)

The debate focused on whether ‘All by myself’ satisfied the criteria; originality, technique and emotional impact.  On the technique aspect, the judges agreed that the artist is an accomplished technician, although they observed a certain unevenness in quality between portraits.  Emotional impact is inevitably a subjective dimension and is heavily dependent almost as much on what the viewer brings to the picture as on the response the artist seeks to evoke.  Originality proved to be the particular area for dispute.

Self-portraiture has a long history and the introduction of better quality mirrors in the fifteenth century gave an impetus to the art form.  Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) painted at least a dozen self-portraits, and in the seventeenth century Rembrandt is said to have painted more than 90, several of which he incorporated in larger compositions.  Van Gogh painted 37 between 1886 and 1889.  In short, Cobley is certainly not the first prolific self-portraitist, but he may well be the first to include so many in one painting.

When introducing his painting Cobley said, ‘I think it explores the question of identity in quite an interesting way.’  If he means personal identity then I don’t think it does.  A very high percentage of the images are front facing and are very heavily cropped to the extent that we do not see above the hair line, do not see the point of the chin and seldom see an ear.  It is a technique enjoyed by film directors wishing to create an inquisitorial tension.  There is limited change of expression.  The eyes attempt to outstare the viewer.  Often they present a barrier, not a window.  It is difficult to penetrate beyond them  to learn anything of the person within.

Despite Cobley’s introduction, the impression remains that he has been pre-occupied with capturing the styles of others rather than finding himself.  I agree with judge Charlotte Mullins: ‘No.  It’s an exercise’.

The asking price of £100,000 reflects further the artist’s miscalculation of his own worth.

(See also Show Me the Monet and What’s in a Name? )

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To hear or not to hear: that is the question.

A few weeks ago my wife and I visited Stratford to see a production of Hamlet.  As so often happens on such occasions, my mind was taken back to my school days and my first encounter with the play as a set text.

One of the things that baffled me at the time was, what I felt to be, the unfair criticism of Polonius.   He is, afterall, a caring father of Laertes and Ophelia, and to describe him as a ‘tedious old fool’ and a ‘busy-body’ is somewhat unkind.

Polonius’ ‘fault’ is that he is over-protective.  His advice to Laertes, prior to his son leaving for France, is a long catalogue of do’s and dont’s  –  all very sound but far, far too long.  We can well imagine Laertes ‘listening’ but ‘hearing’ nothing as the words pass in one ear and out of the other.

This typifies the relationship between advice given and advice received.  As parents we feel a responsibility for giving advice, whether or not it is sought.  At the receiving end we only hear advice when the situation and the advice match  –  when we need help.

From childhood days on, two pieces of advice have influenced my behaviour and actions on many occasions:

  • Remember, you’re as good as any man; better then none (my grandmother);
  • Never spoil a ship for a ha’porth of tar (my father).

The first was important because, by temperament, I am naturally reserved and somewhat short on self-confidence.  As a consequence I have needed to recall my grandmother’s words.

The second, I had always assumed, had something to do with keeping the ship watertight and seaworthy.  Only recently have I discovered that ship is a dialectal pronunciation of sheep.  Tar was used to protect sheep’s sores and wounds from flies.  Whichever  –  don’t scrimp, don’t cut corners!  That is false economy.

I have to confess that over the years this second injunction has cost me money.  Too often I have used it as an excuse for being extravagant or over-indulgent!

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