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"SELF-PORTRAITS 2000: A Twentieth Anniversary Celebration" offers work by 66 artists who have been associated with Printworks Gallery, Chicago. The gallery visitor has until February 17, 2000, to examine still more works by noted artists who together offer nearly every approach to the self-portrait as a genre. The art in this showing ranges from deeply emotive studies of personality; through oblique and objectified precis of individual lives; to light irony and the 'tongue-in-cheek' -- a tentativeness toward 'self' and about the very idea of anyone capturing or comprehending 'self.'
Heather Accurso's self-portrait in colored pencil reflects a devilish provocateur. She wears a medusoid cap, while at upper right another jellyfish floats at liberty in space. To the left of her headgear, whether as ornament or companion, sits what appears as a multicolored monarch caterpillar. The artist, sporting a Dali-esque, painted moustache, is flanked at lower right by a smaller version of a recurring theme within her art: a baby, outlandishly attired and painted ostentatiously; one strikingly koala-like in countenance.
In "SELF-PORTRAITS 2000," Nicole Hollander also incorporates references to her art in a pen and ink self-portrait. As she sits in the alter ego of Sylvia -- Hollander's popular cartoon character -- her familiar cat (or feline familiar) keeps company, while a rendering of the artist, bundled for a cruel Chicago winter but smiling nonetheless, is presented at lower right. Past masters have included a painting within a painting. Here, a popular surrogate self-symbolizes self. A close examination here will yield enduring warmth.
Gladys Nilsson presents a whimsical self-image of the artist, who appears in this work at upper mid canvas, a mirror midway to the right. Nilsson favors small-scale work, with whimsical images, often in complex, busy composition, and her self-portrait is a delightful exemplar of her art. Indeed, much of Nilsson's art is to a certain degree self-portraiture, and all of it delights. Nilsson first came to prominence as part of the Chicago Imagist group, the Hairy Who. Her favored medium is watercolor, although she occasionally employs acrylic. Gladys Nilsson studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She appears in Spirited Visions (1991).
Karl Wirsum is also linked to Chicago Imagism, and his work is characterized by a free-floating humor, perplexing associations and figurations, often accompanied by puns and word-play. Wirsum's self-portrait in pastel appears as a robotic humanoid balancing a table spoon on its nose. At center left, one reads "spoon"; at lower right, "rivit": the only, and enigmatic clues, as to context. There is a lively, popular spirit to this piece, which seems to draw upon American Comic strips, Japanese Science Fiction... and none of the above. In Spirited Visions (1991), James Yood characterized the spirit of Wirsum's work as "never-abating reminders that truths are no less profound for being direct, and that much knowledge and wisdom can come with a smile." He is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Lori Gunn's work is generally cited for its dynamic implied motion, intense color and harmony of form and pattern. In the mid 1960s, Gunn was noted for her 'grotesque' portraiture and fantasy faces, and her art frequently employed repeated pattern. Here, Gunn's self-portrait in colored pencil and a light, 'glowing' palette, seems a popular and surreal spirit in keeping with Chicago's Imagists.
Audrey Niffenegger is well noted for fine handmade artist books; books for which she executes the artwork, writing, typesetting and presswork, and bindings. Many of her volumes are expressive, stylized, and display a studied innocence of style. Past influences for her art include Max Ernst, Aubrey Beardsley, May Klinger and H.G. Wells, as well as numerous mystery writers. In her self-portrait, Niffenegger exploits the traditional wisdom that eyes are the most communicative aspect of the human face: while her skilled rendering is overtly two-dimensional -- an artistic object -- Niffenegger adds two taxidermic glass eyes for a startling gaze which, literally, emerges from out of the representation. Niffenegger is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Since the mid 1970s, Nancy Spero has become increasingly involved with themes of women in her work, presenting both images of struggle and of triumph. Nancy Spero's self-portrait resolves a nebulous semblance in building up diffuse blottings; small, aggregating linework; and a fleck technique. Nancy Spero studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
Holly Greenberg builds upon a popular genre with a past of centuries to play a clever pun with the material result. Particularly in the 19th century, portraits for the middle class were often rendered as cutout-paper profiles, frequently by itinerant practitioners. Greenberg's black paper cutout silhouette is centered above the caption, "Wallflower." Here, the Victorian epithet is made concrete -- woman as fair blossom; art as object adorning a wall -- and ironic, for the artist, by virtue of wit and skill, is anything but.
Barbara Rossi's self-portrait in pen and ink is entitled "Head and Garden," and the artist has incorporated the salient facial features -- eyes, mouth, etc -- into the architectural rendering of a garden plan, producing both a combined metaphor of interest, and an analytical modernist image. Rossi is featured in Spirited Visions (1991). There, critic James Yood observes: "There are moments in experiencing Rossi's work when one feels in the presence of some medieval Celtic manuscript illuminator now set loose on the streets of Chicago. Rossi shares with those forebearers a kind of dogged pictorialness, a determination to wreak harmony out of chaos, to impose through artistic will an order on this world." That the garden plan follows the most formal of 'French' style (in contrast to 'English' scenic informality), accords well with Rossi's oeuvre. Barbara Rossi studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which includes her work in its collections. Her art is also collected by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
William Conger presents a strict realistic interpretation rendered in pencil. It is an unexpected departure from the body of his work. It is what the artist very much wished to do. And it confirms both the skill and intentionality in his art. Conger studied under Elaine de Kooning and Robert Mallery, and initially nourished an art both figurative and surreal. Since the 1970s, he has pursued a style of sharp-edged 'organic abstraction,' often veering into compositional approaches which imply illusionistic space. His self-portrait in this showing reveals a little of the amount of underlying analysis and evolution that informs his other works. In a sense, a portrait such as Conger's may reside more in a deeper revelation of self -- an act by the artist, for that individual -- than the self-ironic or experimental approaches -- a concession to the role of artist. Here, there is less impulse to 'perform' for others, and a greater demand that we meet the artist on his own terms, as he comes to terms with himself. The artist demands, rather than proffers. William Conger is featured in Spirited Visions (1991). He studied at the University of Chicago.
Antonia Contro is among several artists who touches upon bas-relief. She employs as background a map of Lake Michigan, with Chicago located at the lower edge of the image. Two eyes are collaged midway onto the paper, and below these a ladies fan covers the focal triangle formed by eyes and (here) a hidden nose.
Dennis Nechvatal carries a melding of 'flat' image and a countering relief still further. Nechvatal fashioned a raised painting surface constructed of cut-out faces, arranged 5 by 4 in what forms a uniform grid. Using this relief as his ground, the artist then painted a larger, dominant overlying portrait upon these. Thus, the painted image seems to advance from a ground of 20 cut and flexed masks. Here, image foils against images, and flat depiction vies with cut surface relief.
L.J. Douglas's self-portrait is an intaglio print, one of ten impressions pulled. It is expressionist: the face rendered in bursts of dynamic shades and active, restless contours. Although earlier influenced by naive and visionary artists, and Magic Realism, Douglas has often united illusionist space with an abstractionist treatment of technique.
Leon Golub's self-portrait is entitled In The Pink! Golubian Cyberman Circa 2030, and appears as a modernist, analytical study in lean geometric reduction. The artist's title brings the art's allusions closer to current youth culture with a Punkish overtone. Golub studied at the University of Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and, although a Chicago native, he has spent much of the past years in New York City. In the 1950s, he was counted a member of the Chicago "Monster School" of art, but a large body of his work has been strongly political and strikingly expressionist, although here his self-portrait exhibits strong, formal Modernist tendencies.
A number of works in "SELF-PORTRAITS 2000" abandon objective expression, and some evolve further into strong geometric stylization. Theodore Halkin offers an image sectioned into four components. In Halkin's self-symbolization, a viewer finds at lower left a face; at lower right a far more abbreviated bust; while at upper left and upper right the artist's geometric reductions appear fulfilled. Halkin's self-portrait leaves the artist's self 'drawn and quartered.'
Michiko Itatani creates a varied composition: two triangular constructions of linework form a basic ground and these are arched as if upon a spherical surface. Further, blue, yellow, brown and pink ovals intermix with excerpts of Japanese text to form the work's entirety. Itatani, too, is featured in Spirited Visions (1991), where critic James Yood wrote that her works "use a calligraphy of figures as a metaphor for the way we perceive the world -- piecemeal, incomplete, unsatisfying, inchoate, and somehow dissonant and disturbed."
Vera Klement's self-portrait builds with a trapezoid at upper left; a doublet -- two green-tinted boxes at upper right; and below, what seems crumpled cloth. Klement studied at Cooper Union. She is also profiled in Spirited Visions (1991).
Bruce Thayer studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and at Central Michigan University. Industrial themes and social satire have intertwined in his past watercolors and mixed media. His self-portrait parodies historical advertising's now collectable posterwork: here, a cigarette lighter centers below the artist's face, and still further below the copy reads "Gulf Lighter Fluid...."
Claire Wolf Krantz represents her self, a smaller imposition left of center, through a dark, murky semblance of what seems an Asian temple. In the center facade of that structure a large spoked wheel is enshrined. Utilizing photographic image, the artist has then painted the final state in oils on synthetic fabric. Krantz has traveled widely, with particular interest in East Asia. She has evidenced a great interest in the technology of creating images and how such images interact and develop image reception. Krantz studied at the University of Illinois, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Sylvia Sleigh's colored pencil portrait employs an overt reference to Asian interests: at image right and in the background, an image of the Buddha lingers.
Elizabeth Lanyon's career has drawn attention for her involvement with surrealist and fantastic imagery. The predominant hues of Lanyon's self-portrait rest with greys for the bust, on a black background ornamented with flowers rendered in white linework. In this pastel, the artist's red cap stands out and captures first glance. Lanyon studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Iowa State University.
Richard Loving's portrait, although painted, captures effects native to etching or aquatint. Using blue-green washes as a ground, the artist develops an expressionistic portrait with white and black ink lines. Loving studied at the New School for Social Research. His art has often ranged through figurative surrealism to a metaphysical abstraction. Loving is featured in Spirited Visions (1991). In that entry, James Yood commented: "Despite the essential abstract qualities that make up Loving's universe, they often reflect a kind of organic and biomorphic origin."
Jeanette Pasin Sloan has executed, to great effect, what is actually a triple portrait. A downward blur of the uppermost image leads the eye to a repetition at mid image, only to resolve that dynamic disruption in a third, stable depicture in the lowest third of the piece. Sloan appears in Spirited Visions (1991). Commenting on Sloan's consummate realism, her urge to challenge that realism ever further, and her restlessness with what illusionism can achieve, critic James Yood said: "Realism can be a pictorial obsession, a never-ending struggle between the determined will of the artist, the limits of artistic mediums, and the elusive quality of the world in which we live."
Hollis Sigler studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the mid 1970s, Sigler built upon her interest in Outsider Art, developing a faux naive approach. An undercurrent of mistrust toward Fortune pervades much of her work. In Sigler's self-portrait, a angel, amid companion birds, heralds the banner: "Me and My Triple Salvation." Below is parked a tricycle carriage, complete with metal carrying baskets at back. She appears in Spirited Visions (1991). Critic James Yood noted there, her "vibrant and candy-colored palette" and said of her art: "Love, death, meaning, and loss are to be found not only in Arcadia but in suburbia as well, with Hollis Sigler their tenderest chronicler." Sigler teaches art at Columbia College, Chicago.
Mr. Imagination (aka Gregory Warmack) has rendered a collage portrait, using flattened bottle caps from Newcastle Brown Ale as hair, a portion of costume jewelry for a forehead adornment, and artificial hair for the beard. Throughout this artist's work one finds both a jeweler's sense of color and form, and a love of disparate, salvaged materials. Mr. Imagination is included in Spirited Visions (1991). There, critic James Yood stated: "Mr. Imagination forays into the detritus of modern urban life, and discovers there things of great value; his art is a charmed recognition of the many wonders in our midst."
Another self-portrait which incorporates unconventional mixed media is Mary Bero's oil painting, in which colored threads are embroidered throughout as a mixed media.
Fred Stonehouse's individual style, taciturn and eerie, was developed under the influences of Outsider art, North American folk art, and artists such as Bosch, Ensor, Giotto, Frida Kahlo and others. Stonehouse here employs an approach which suggests Mexican muralism in execution, and Posada in theme. The artist sits, three nails impaled at the back of his head, and with tear in eye. A line of text below declares: "Caballo de los Suenos." Stonehouse studied at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Ray Yoshida studied at the University of Hawaii; the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; and Syracuse University. Although born in Hawaii, Yoshida has been a prominent figure in Chicago art for decades. His art has been noted for its gentle modulation of color, geometrical forms expressed in dots, and the use of minute patterning. Yoshida presents as self-portrait what, at lower center, appears as Buddhist reliquary or stupa, surrounded by arrayed jigsaw pieces of cartoon citation. He is pictured in Spirited Visions (1991). In that volume, James Yood wrote of Yoshida: "His images are richly labored, totally absorbed episodes of naming and describing things which are themselves completely ambiguous and indistinct."
The artist, Martyl, has executed a series of historical costume studies, utilizing acetate overlays upon dress. In her self-portrait she appears superimposed over what seems a Russian medieval helmet, one as if from Boris Godunov. However, close inspection confirms that what seems like decorative filigree is a free-form printed circuitry, thus yielding an image which unites past and present. Martyl is the widow of the late Alex Landsdorf, creator of the Doomsday Clock, and a noted worker on the University of Chicago Manhattan Project which developed the Atom Bomb during World War II. It has been remarked that Martyl's exhibitions draw the largest following of Nobel-Prize winners outside of an academic venue.
This exhibition offers a wide spectrum for its genre, but a very contemporary tendency is prominent among many in "SELF-PORTRAITS 2000." Already in 1965, historian Herbert Read noted in his Icon and Idea:
Read further notes:
Certainly, there are numerous fine representations in this showing, but there are many more for which the portrait is nebulous and open, or resides in objects, environment, or purely formal, visual effect. A visitor finds personality analyzed in talent and technique; but, in addition, there is a free play of identity and sensibility in line, color and material which often suggests what image cannot directly convey -- internal states of personality, and a continuity, a wholeness to individual life. "SELF-PORTRAITS 2000" is as much a continuing exposition and experiment in genre, as it is a display of fine and established artists.
The artists are: Anne Abrons, Heather Accurso, Mary Bero, Phylis Bramson, Paula Campbell, Susanna Coffey, William Conger, Antonia Contro, L.J. Douglas, Roland Ginzel, Leon Golub, Holly Greenberg, Lorri Gunn, Dan Gustin, Richard Hass, Theodore Halkin, Nicole Hollander, Richard Hull, Richard Hunt, Mr. Imagination, Michiko Itatani, Gary Justis, Vera Klement, Linda Kramer, Claire Wolf Krantz, Paul LaMantia, Ellen Lanyon, June Leaf, Daniel Leary, Riva Lehrer, Robert Lostutter, Richard Loving, Tim Lowly, Robert Lucy, Martyl, James McGarrell, James Mesple, Dennis Nechvatal, Audrey Niffenegger, Gladys Nilsson, Ed Paschke, Philip Pearlstein, Lorraine Peltz, Tony Phillips, Claire Prussian, Judith Raphael, Barbara Rossi, Robert Schultz, David Sharpe, Hollis Sigler, Nicholas Sistler, Sylvia Sleigh, Jeanette Pasin Sloan, Nancy Spero, Fred Stonehouse, Donna Tadelman, Bruce Thayer, Maria Tomasula, James Valerio, Claire Van Vliet, Charles Wells, Margaret Wharton, Richard Willenbrink, Karl Wirsum, Ray Yoshida.
"SELF-PORTRAITS 2000: A Twentieth Anniversary Celebration" -- works by 66 artists -- at Printworks Gallery, Chicago, embraces almost every conceivable convention of self-portrait; and some directions are exceeded, transcended. A visitor will see how a veritable Who's Who of Chicago artists see themselves; or wish to be seen; or experience their artifacts of life as a rendering of self. And in several, the artist eludes any such expectations altogether. "SELF-PORTRAITS 2000" offers a rare opportunity to view a genre which has often presented an artist's most telling work. The gallery visitor has until February 17, 2000, to take it all in.
Finis Part II
--G. Jurek Polanski
Editorial Note: Books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews are often in print and may be ordered through this site's Barnes & Noble link. Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (Crow Woods Publishing: 2000) has been reviewed here (October 2000). Of additional interest are Spirited Visions: Portraits of Chicago Artists by Patty Carroll (University of Illinois Press: 1991), which includes photographs of the artists, and Art in Chicago: 1945-1995 (Thames and Hudson/Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: 1996). An excellent volume on Barbara Rossi is Barbara Rossi: Selected Works 1967-1990 (Renaissance Society/University of Chicago: 1991). "Gladys Nilsson: 60th Birthday Show" was reviewed in www.artscope.net (June 2000); and she is treated in Gladys Nilsson: Greatest Hits, by Whitney Halstead (John Natsoulas Press: 1995). Chicago Imagists were reviewed in www.artscope.net in "Jumping Backflash" (April 2000).