A Symbolic Self-Portrait

This is a second self-portrait based on the same yellow selfie as my tonal self-portrait but this time I applied an expansive, symbolic abstraction instead of a reductive, representational one.

I started with a found canvas that was already painted bright yellow and there were at least two layers underneath – an eye and a face – but I didn’t know what sort of paint it was so I applied gesso to make sure the next layer would stick, and then painted it with yellow acrylic.

Next, I applied metallic magnolia with a plastic bread bag to represent my presence in the photo (it was the only dark colour I had available that even kind of matched what I was wearing). The bread bag was because I’m not just mental, I’m experimental! Seriously though, it lets me get really gestural without worrying about strokes and angles of attack and too much or too little paint on the brush. It’s an extremely liberating technique because I can’t make a precise mark on the surface whatever I do so I automatically give myself permission to not even try.

 Also, I’m painting upside down because it makes me look at and think about the image as a collection of shapes and tones rather than specific objects like eyes or ears. This is more useful when I’m painting figuratively but also comes in handy on something super abstract where I’m trying not to make specific shapes at all.

Next, I added some metallic fuchsia and collaged in a few buttons, shoe laces, and Christmas trees, followed by throwing around a few more layers of paint, much of which went on the canvas rather than the furniture and pot plants in the courtyard.

Then I glued on sparkly Christmas decorations followed by gold and silver glitter glue drawings followed by pressed bougainvillea bracts/flowers.

How is all this symbolic? Because it’s a self-portrait; everything in the painting represents me as much as the photo does.

  • Found canvas: I collect street treasure (a dozen canvases in the last year)
  • Yellow: the colour I painted the walls of my bedroom
  • Metallic colours: bling that matches the blooming bougainvillea in the courtyard
  • Buttons and shoe laces: the clothes I’m wearing in the photo
  • Christmas decorations and glitter: it was late November which seems to be the start of Christmas these days
  • Bougainvillea flowers: my little plant was dropping flowers all over the courtyard

So, clearly this is a self-portrait, symbolically.

Finally, I installed the finished work at uni by hanging it from the ceiling with hooks and fishing wire, taking full advantage of the great lighting so it floated trippily in front of the wall, slowly wafting as people walked past.

Matti, Symbolic Self-Portrait, 2019, acrylic, glitter glue, plastic (buttons, shoe laces, and Christmas decorations), and bougainvillea flowers on found canvas, 99.5 x 75.0cm, installation view

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