I Am That I Am


Medium: Oil and string on wood Size: 1000 x 1000mm

Artwork Story:​​​​​​​

Self-portraiture, until perhaps a few years ago, was often an elevated, odd kind of thing, embarked on by artists sometimes as a practice of technique, sometimes to immortalise one’s identity, name or sense of self. Self-portraits were largely, before the dawn of the selfie, permanent, painstaking things, taking a long time to curate and create.
Nowadays, selfies are fast and furious, a dime a dozen – which isn’t to say some aren’t created with great thought and immense energy. Is their purpose a narcissistic self-celebration, a wannabe illusion, or simply a silly way to pass the time? And, really, when you sit and think about it, is their purpose really that different or removed from self-portraiture or, for that matter, general portraiture of traditional art? After all, Oliver Cromwell’s command to painter Sir John Lely to paint him “warts and all” was just as taboo breaking in the 18th century as #nomakeup selfies have been in the 21st century. Perhaps nothing much has changed at all, there are just more people engaging – selfies have made portraiture and self-portraiture democratic.
Centuries ago, you commissioned your portrait artist to add rich colours to your garments (much like an Instagram filter, perhaps?) to convey wealth, power or even fertility. You positioned everything from fruit to skulls to animals and plants to ‘tell your story’: religious, devout, morally upright, astute, conqueror. Today, you ensure your Birkin bag is positioned just in shot (rich, powerful, iconic), and your three-week puppy is curled up cutely in your arms (loving, approachable, nurturing). If you’re posing on a car, it better be a status symbol, and if you can glimpse food in the shot, it can convey ‘healthy’ or ‘slob’ in a flash. Just as in traditional art, we know that in digital creations everything from abstract symbols to physical objects act as powerful messengers in our self-portraits – the meanings have simply adapted, the still-life objects evolved.
What I am also fascinated by is the idea of capturing yourself as an invitation to others – whether it be vulnerable and honest, intimidating and strong, or a completely false impression of reality. Ultimately, a selfie still tells others something about who you are. That you created a self-portrait, or selfie, in the first place is very revealing.
My self-portrait is an exploration of this idea – what you present to the outside world, to friends and to strangers, and what it means. It’s an exploration of looking more deeply at imagery and self-presentation. It’s a modern selfie underpinned by traditional self-portraiture techniques.
Enveloping this is my own utilisation of symbolism – the heptagon – embodying understandings of containment, the inward directing of emotion, the ‘love inside’. As much as I invite you to see and know me by my selfie, it is fundamentally contained and constricted by my own self-perception and sense of identity. Can you really know me through my self-portraiture, whether made by hand or snapped on a smartphone, or do I remain contained, swallowed by my own sense of self and the trappings of your (and my) perception of me?
Or perhaps it is all a staged, carefully curated construction that – just like the perfect angle of a camera or the right, blown-out filter – makes me look entirely different to who I really am.