Why do artists create self-portraits? What’s it like to create something so intensely personal and how does the artist “step back” enough from knowing the subject too well in order to be the artist and the subject at the same time?
Vladimir Kezerashvili creates the most extraordinary still-life paintings. As I was perusing his portfolio, I also noticed a fascinating series of portraits. Several of the paintings seemed to resemble one another and they all had the same mysterious title, Portrait of a Man. Kezerashvili admitted that they were, indeed, self-portraits, which led me to an interview on the inspiration behind artists who become the subjects of their own works of art.
I have always wondered why artists choose to create self-portraits. Why do you create yours?
“It’s hard for me to find a model and even harder to get the right pose from the person I want to paint. Using myself as a model, I am always available to get painted or drawn anytime. I don’t have to care about what the model will think about the likeness or execution technique, and the only complaints I have to face are self-complaints.”
“The deeper reason is my strong preference to paint from life. That’s why I paint so many still lifes. In a sense, a self-portrait for me is just a still-life of myself. There are moments when I get tired of painting still lifes and landscapes – when I feel I’m getting nowhere and what I’m doing seems worthless. That’s the right time to paint a self-portrait – time for cold, unflattering self-examination. An attempt to exit the closed cycle from a bad infinity of failures …”
How do you compose the work? From pictures of yourself? Or do you paint yourself from memory?
“I paint from my mirror image, but capturing a likeness is not really the reason for that. Chiam Soutine painted directly from life, but I doubt anyone can say that it was for the purpose of creating a likeness. He just needed the life presence of the objects he painted. I guess I am the same kind of painter. It is usually very easy to see how a self-portrait was painted. You just need access to the artist’s photo or know the location of some facial feature. Van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear’, for example, is painted from a mirror image. He cut the lobe off his left ear, but the bandaged ear in the painting is the right one.”
“My self-portrait in front of an easel (right) is after Soutine’s self-portrait, painted in 1918. The same goes for the compositions of my other self-portraits – all of them, to some degree, are inspired by the works of great painters. I think that the world created by painters is a reality in its own right. This reality is enough to provide extremely rich and fruitful ground for any artist, in addition to direct observation of nature. There is no need to seek something new for the sake of newness itself, at least not for me. I study the masters, observe nature, and paint to follow my destiny.”
Have you ever been surprised by the final result of any of these self-portraits? Something perhaps you found in the painting that revealed something new to you?
“My self-portraits are more unexpected for my viewers who think they know me. In my portraits, they do not see the happy man they know me to be. They do not see me smiling. Of course not! In general, people cannot hold a natural smile or extreme expressions long enough to get painted from life. Nowadays, the self-portraits with a smile, an extreme expression or an awkward pose most probably are painted from photos. Very rarely from imagination. You need to be as good a painter as Frans Hals to paint smiling people from life. Hals is the only one I know who can do that. Or you need to be as good as Rembrandt to draw a self-portrait from the mirror, like his ‘Self-Portrait, Wide-Eyed’ (1630)”
“We live in a society that demands standardized behavior. Part of it is to smile often and look happy. We have to obey that standard to some extent and I am not an exception. Otherwise you risk rejection. In my self-portraits, however, I am truly alone, completely outside that standard, with a certain aimlessness of life that may be apparent, and this is hard to accept to most people who think they know me…”
Vladimir Kezerashvili’s artist statement sums up his creative process, whether he’s painting a still life or a self-portrait: “Hours of silent observation opens a path to the object’s beauty from its intrinsic nature… I feel human when I paint, perhaps because painting is reminiscent of love and I hope this love is reciprocal… I need only to search and follow my inner calling. I am not sure if I will succeed or fail in my search. At least, in the end, I will have no regrets for not having tried …”
And that is worth the courage it takes to look at oneself in the mirror…..
Vladimir Kezerashvili, New York
Paintings: acrylic on canvas, oil on canvas
All images are used with permission of the artist, and are subject to copyright laws.
Vladimir Kezerashvili’s artwork can be viewed at: Vladimir Kezerashvili
Serena Kovalosky is the founder and CEO of Artful Vagabond Productions LLC, specializing in cultural projects and film production for the arts. Kovalosky is also a professional sculptural artist and curator.