For artist Holly Lee, many of the works featured in her new solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum hold a special significance.
Artists have been making portraits—artistic representations of people—for at least 5,000 years, and since the time of the early Renaissance, many of these have been self-portraits. This type of portraiture is particularly interesting since it helps us understand how artists interpret themselves and the world around them. “Portrait of the Artist” explores some of the ways artists represent themselves and their peers. Each of the works in this exhibition features an artist as the subject, utilizing both straightforward representations as well as more nuanced interpretations.
Mary Beth McKenzie, a realist painter who works from life, has been making self-portraits in her New York studio for nearly five decades. Sarah McEneaney’s autobiographical paintings document her life and surroundings, presenting an intimate glimpse into the artist’s domestic and studio spaces. Judith Brodsky created a series of monumentally scaled self-portraits in response to the isolation and restrictions she experienced during the pandemic lockdown.
Self-portraiture sometimes allows an artist to assume an alternate identity or disguise.
Julie Heffernan’s fantastical and allegorical self-portraits incorporate references to art history and her growing concern for the environment. In Judith Henry’s photographic series of self-portraits, “Beauty Masks,” the artist poses behind masks that juxtapose images of fashion models’ faces with her own.
Even when the artists in this exhibition portray other artists, they reference self-portraiture, with their subjects consciously posing as artists. Rodríguez Calero reimagines and reinterprets a well-known self-portrait of Puerto Rican artist José Campeche, updating the imagery to reflect his Afro-Caribbean identity. Donna Bassin invited artist friends to pose with objects meaningful to their practices and photographed them for her ongoing series, “My Own Witness.”
Performing parallel roles as creators and subjects each of these seven artists brings a unique perspective to the merging of artistic and personal identity. As we increasingly turn to contemporary artists to help us make sense of our world, it is all the more important for us to understand how they see themselves.