Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The Art of the Self

Alice Priory explains the philosophy underpinning her art. She is exhibiting her work in the Residency Studio (O1) on Thursday, 17th March (4-5 pm, refreshments available). 

Socrates states, ‘know thyself’. This exhibition explores the issue of identity, with a female focus. Colours, media and technique within portraits, can show that humans consist of complex layers, which continuously evolve. Our external image is a vital aspect of our identity; however, it can become distorted by technology and natural reflections, hindering the pursuit of our true self. My artwork considers the limitations of only viewing myself in the form of reflections; perhaps, I will never truly ‘know [myself]’.

 Technology hegemonizes our society, making identity a particularly relevant issue; the publicization of our lives on social media instigates hyper awareness of how we present ourselves to others. The Selfie Grid enabled me to explore whether the ‘selfie’ phenomenon fosters narcissism or authenticity. Ironically, these photos show a lack of self-consciousness, as I unapologetically gaze into my own eyes, and this absolute focus on the self removes any external context, narrowing the perspective. In The Ethics of Authenticity, Charles Taylor says our reliance on technology advocates individualism, and to live authentically we must acknowledge horizons of significance (external reference points), along with our inner voice. 

The Selfie Grid highlights the internal and external imbalance, which prevents us discovering our identity. The staged selfies may be a sterile interpretation of my identity, as they do not represent my true self. On the contrary, perhaps we do not have one nature, but are continuously re-defining ourselves, as Sartre says: ‘existence precedes essence’. This series of 9 quick, spontaneous selfies are therefore a simple means of self-exploration, allowing me to share who I am at that particular moment.

 In the Spoon diptych, I move away from our controlled public persona, towards a more personal exploration of how we view ourselves. It emphasizes our reliance on an inverted image of ourselves, and that this does not necessarily reflect the truth. The vague context and assertive biro drawing encourage the viewer to ask, what is reality? 

Ken Currie uses an absence of light to warp the subject, establishing an ominous atmosphere, as the eyes are concealed. This inspired me to take my own high contrast photos, from which I produced four A2 self-portraits dominated by a dark colour scheme. These portray the sinister side of my personality, and imply I am hiding something from the viewer, or even myself. I exhibit the three face-on portraits at a standard eye level height, creating a confrontation between myself and the viewer. Self-Portrait no.3 is presented above eye level because my head is tilted down; making the viewer feel disparaged and criticized. The notion of being observed draws upon Sartre’s belief that it is through the ‘other’s gaze’ that we become aware of ourselves; my art impels the viewer to become self-conscious.

These natural, chaotic pieces contrast with my Picasso inspired acrylic painting, where there is a tension between vibrant colour and controlled technique, as if the outwardly radiant part of my personality is a constructed persona.

During Year 12, I learnt to reduce complex images to their basic form, resulting in abstract compositions. I have utilised this technique of extracting something’s essence in my Year 13 project, particularly in The Nest: each object symbolizes a memory that forms my identity. Hung centrally in the exhibition, viewers can engage with the sculpture by looking down into it; interpreting each concept for themselves and contemplating what would be in their nest. Frida Kahlo includes significant objects in her self-portraits to reveal subtle messages about her history and feelings. The abstract process has helped me adopt a looser approach, giving my art another depth and greater expression. The body of self-portraits illustrates this journey.

The idea that mirrors do not reflect the truth is disconcerting. I explore this by inverting text in a mirror to display the true message. This was challenging, as I had to find the correct angle of reflection. It suggests that the truth can be found through mirrors, even if, like selfies, it is a transient fragment of our identity. Art, similarly, is distorted by subjectivity; however this does not diminish its authenticity, as it gives the viewer a glimpse of the artist’s perspective. Picasso concludes, ‘art is a lie that tells the truth’.

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