June 1 - 24, 2023
Reception & Meet the Artists: Saturday, June 3, 1 - 4 pm
Katie Baldwin | Jill Bell | Donald E. Camp | Vincent Desiderio
Marguerita Hagan | Darla Jackson | Robert Jackson | JohN Karpinski
Alex Kanevsky | Christine Lafuente | Chelsey Luster | Kirk Maynard
Lydia Panas | Hiro Sakaguchi | James Stewart | Ron Tarver
Curated by Maida R. Milone
“With the explosion of visual self-reflective images, it is the right time to consider the long tradition of artistic self-portraits and what that practice looks like in our current culture."
-Maida R. Milone
Gross McCleaf Gallery is pleased to host The Portrait of the Artist… And Other Things™, curated by local art consultant and former CEO of The Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), Maida R. Milone. This sixteen-artist exhibition features works by Gross McCleaf artists, Christine Lafuente and James Stewart, as well as other artists, many with strong ties to Philadelphia and past group exhibitions with the gallery – Katie Baldwin, Jill Bell, Donald E. Camp, Vincent Desiderio, Marguerita Hagan, Darla Jackson, Robert Jackson, John Karpinski, Alex Kanevsky, Chelsey Luster, Kirk Maynard, Lydia Panas, Hiro Sakaguchi and Ron Tarver.
Curator Maida R. Milone organized the exhibition and selected the artists. She writes, “I spend much of my free time in art museums and art galleries wherever I go. I find looking at art, being literally surrounded by art, the calmest and yet most stimulating experience, and one of the most hopeful, too, that a person can have in this chaotic, often frightening world.
“While I am engaged by many genres of art and not surprisingly drawn strongly to certain artists’ work more than to others, I never fail to be fascinated by artists’ self-portraits, especially when I am glimpsing their other work at the same time. I often find myself stopping dead in my tracks in front of self-portraits, searching relentlessly for what the artists want to tell me about themselves and their times and their work generally. And, too, what they are saying about the nature of art and its role in self-revelation.
“We all spend so much time these days looking at (or consciously avoiding) selfies on social media. Given that contemporary preoccupation, I began to wonder if our doing that could significantly dilute the impact and significance of self-portraits – seen one, seen a million? -- or perhaps having just the opposite effect, make us appreciate even more these articulated acts of self-representation.
“With the explosion of visual self-reflective images, it is the right time, I believe, to consider the long tradition of artistic self-portraits and what that practice looks like in our current culture. How have artists working in a variety of media been impacted, if at all, by this trend to publicize personal imagery? This exhibition is an answer to that question.
“Believing that it is important for viewers to see an artist’s self-portrait in the context of their other work, I asked each artist to pair their self-portrait with another piece. For the artists, making this selection required them to consider how best to create a resonating dialogue with viewers; and for the viewers, the paired works are an invitation to an intimate exploration of these artists’ self-images and their work.”
Given the nature of this project, each artist was invited to describe their self-portraits in their own words.
“Neighborhood Garden is inspired by the photographs I took while I was a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. Through photography, I try to make sense, as a visitor in an unfamiliar world. I explored Taiwan through the lens of everyday life, which began each morning with a jog at Da’an park and fresh pineapple from my neighborhood market. Masking, contact tracing and views of fighter jets flying low over the city were a reminder of the global challenges affecting life in Taiwan. I would move through the city of Taipei discovering small gardens along the sidewalks and bike paths throughout the dense urban city.
“Tidy public bathrooms in the subway stations had small potted plants on each sink. Over the course of the year, I visited numerous public bathrooms to pose for a mirror selfie with the plants I found. These reflections capture me in middle age posing next to a bit of green, representing a moment of time in a particular place.
“I have been making quilts since 1990, when I was a young mother, working with limited time and space. Quilting was a way for me to work in fifteen-minute segments and the work could be folded up and stored away. It was when I was traveling in Taiwan that I started a new series of quilts that respond to my experience of the landscape.
“In 2021, as a Fulbright Scholar, I explored the traces of human activity, transformations, and reconstructions of the Taiwanese landscape. By bicycle and on foot, I visited wetlands, canals, mountains, farms, and neighborhood gardens. Over the course of the year, I created hand-pieced quilted textiles inspired by the Taiwanese landscape. I work with a limited palette, pattern, shape, and form, embracing evidence of labor through hand stitching.
“I began this quilt by posing a simple question: Could I represent the wetlands along the Tamsui River in color? Working with a limited selection of fabric scraps, I pieced squares (and fragments of squares) together intuitively. I arranged and rearranged fabric until I arrived at a combination of color and shape that express the wetlands.”
“Nowhere does it say a self-portrait needs to represent the person you currently are. I’m presenting these two pieces as self-portraits, as melodramatic as they are, because they reflect the person I was...and still am occasionally.
“For some time, I lived with undiagnosed depression and anxiety, and then later diagnosed depression and anxiety. Creating art gave me purpose. It helped focus my spiraling brain. Constructing simultaneously laughable and heart-wrenching ‘cute’/ ‘weird’/ ‘creepy’ figures was how I made sense of and tried to communicate what I was feeling. I secretly hoped someone would see my work and say, ‘Wait, you feel sad and crazy too? So do I!?’
“Never Without, a rudimentary human form is partially obscured by ‘rain’ from a cartoonish but ominous hovering cloud. This is a relatively cliché image for depicting sadness. Still, it’s a cliché for a good reason. There are periods when we are all viewing our world through a veil, and that veil colors everything.
“In So Happy We Can Not Bear It, I’ve incorporated non-clay elements, as I do with many of my sculptures. The figures, with their world turned upside down, have glass beads representing tears. This adds the contrast of fragility to the piece but also contributes to the narrative. Glass is fragile, and so are people.”
Donald E. Camp
Part 1: Freedom Summer: Self Portrait of the Artist as a Child
It was once my space-
We stood There like-
He thought he was me-
Part 2: Freedom Summer: 1964
“…He’d been especially active in organizing local boycotts of biased businesses and helping with voter registration. . On June 16, acting on a tip, a mob of armed … “
Andrew Goodman 1943 – June 21, 1964
James Chaney 1943 – June 21, 1964
Michael Schwerner 1939 – June 21, 1964
Snapshots and newspaper headshots have been consumed for decades with little questions of value or truth. I recognize newspaper headshots as an important part of life. The absence of headshots, where headshots are commonly used, makes a statement.
Photographs by omission influence how we see and don’t see each other.
Leo Tolstoy wrote in, What Is Art? “The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man’s expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it… It is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”
In Brothers/Bathtub, a young Vincent Desiderio arranged a group of men, including himself, around the bathtub in a house at 1018 Callowhill Street. He appears confidently in the brown shirt at the back of the painting. The companion piece, an untitled lithograph from the 1980’s, explores human connection in a more intimate form, as a woman, bathed in light, lingers over the body of her companion.
“My Grow Series cultivated fertile ground for this abstract self-portrait […]. Microscopic diatoms, single-cell organisms, live in fresh and salt water and in the moisture in the soil. The holes or areolae take nourishment in and engineer filtering and buoyancy. Water is life, and I love being in or on the water and have always lived near the sea. Some diatom species have ‘horns’ that fuse to like-species, forming jewel-like interconnected networks or colonies for mutual benefit. A beautiful and practical model for how we can move forward during our global transition, individually and collectively. ēvolvō, an intuitive process, took on the shape of a human heart but with three, not four chambers. [….] The upper passage is more internal and private but energy flows equally via the lace worked sections. The three chambers celebrate the indelible trio I share with my two daughters. [….] The design speaks of movement, growth, and progress from the inside out. It also represents spirit-mind-body…There are seven significant horns or portals on the exterior wall for reciprocal flow of downloading, self-expression and sharing. The number seven represents seeking, digging deep, and we have seven main chakras or spiritual energy centers. The gold leaf signifies the divine energy of the crown chakra at the top of our head. There are three smaller supporting portals. One side is more private, one more open. I am the ninth of eleven children and nine is the power of three. When nine months old, my mother found me walking across the mantel piece, born to discover. ēvolvō is reaching up and out with her portals stretching in continuous learning, the next adventure and celebration of life.
“Frustule Flower, Micro Grow series: A frustule is the cell wall of a diatom composed of silica, inspiring this work. Diatoms have earned the title Lungs of the Planet providing 25-30% of Earth’s oxygen. Their glass lace houses photosynthesizing phytoplankton. Being a ceramicist offers an intimate connection to diatoms for the brick of my kiln is made from the remains of diatoms over millions of years old gathered from the ocean floor as diatomaceous earth. The silica structure of the diatom is the same material in my glazes and clay body particulates. This single-cell organism not only generously provides oxygen for our planet, it makes this ceramicist’s artistic breath and process possible.”
“For these [two] pieces, I wanted to take the idea of the self-portrait literally, but also mirror it with my animal work. The figure is meant to be readying herself for larger battles to come in life...eyes to the future and trying to be prepared for whatever may come. The bird, however, is facing the daily small battles... blindly getting through day after day. My thinking here is that we often prepare so well for the worst, yet we don't prepare as well for what happens to us on a day-to-day basis...the general wearing down through repetition, monotony and the small things life throws at us. It's a bit like the saying ‘Death by a thousand cuts....’”
Myself As A Still Life
“In April 2019, I fell off a ladder onto the sidewalk outside of my studio, fracturing L1-L4 in my back and as well broke a rib or two. Pretty darn painful and scary, yet I felt extremely fortunate. Slight change in the fall and “Myself As A Still Life” would have been even more true. This is the first painting I painted after the accident. I was holding a small can of yellow paint on the ladder and the yellow paint splattered everywhere, the homage is obvious. I opted not to include my back brace. The painting was mainly painted from a small mirror in the back room of my studio, getting me walking again…from the canvas to the mirror, from the mirror to the canvas, again and again. As a result, you might say this is a painting of healing. The balloon dog is a nod to the humor still being alive and ready to emerge again.”
Putting on A Happy Face
“Of course life isn’t all peaches and cream! But I think a lot about life, well aware of its fragility and impermanence, and in my thinking, I know what I want it to be and try my best to push it towards hope. Sometimes putting on a happy face actually works.”
”An artist attempts to create a visual language to speak of things that matter to him in the hope that people will understand what is being said even if the language remains foreign to them. Understanding this language does not require any particular preparation on the part of a viewer. All that is needed is goodwill and quiet space.”
“When I was a kid, I was always making stuff. The medium didn't matter; the lazy susan was razed and spice cities ascended. Legos. Paints. Sticks. Grave markers (that's another story). Walls, eventually. Anything to shove the narrative into the next day. If you're an artist and if you reach adulthood, you may realize that you never actually chose to make stuff. The ‘stuff’ -- the ideas, the vision, the discipline -- somehow chose you. It's just who you are. It shoves you into the next day, sometimes regardless of the consequences, which can be problematic, because being an artist isn't solely an occupation. It's an identity. And the combination can corner you. I am the Mouse.”
In his second piece, Memory Bank, John explores the nature of the material we use to construct our histories. “Our memories corrode upon every recall. With each recollection, the proteins that compose the memory weaken, inevitably allowing the past to be questioned, permitting reality to be challenged. Yet, we insist that we can navigate between fact and fiction, that we innately know what is real and what is not real while the experiences that burn into our minds transmogrify into who-knows-what as we age. As we age, our origins become questionable as narratives merge. Images flash and we question if they were memories. Or dreams. Or the recollections of fictions. Or the memories of others.”
“I chose these two typewriter paintings because I am a closet English Major and writing is one of my forms of expression. Also, the pansies and the ranunculus feel like figures with little faces, the pansy face in an interior and the ranunculus in a kind garden with a canopy of eucalyptus.”
“I created [these two self-portraits] during very difficult times in my life. I was inspired by a subcategory of selfie culture where people take photos of themselves crying or having emotional outbursts.”
“My two works are part of my Periphery Series, which is an oil pastel series that seeks to address the marginalization of black people in contemporary society. The presentations of the subjects wearing hoodies are a commentary on negative connotations in certain spaces that ignore full black humanity in the presence of stereotypes. The body language that is seen in the poses symbolizes an introspective look at existing in unwelcome spaces, where emotions can range from nervousness to resignation.”
“My work explores women, relationships, and the secrets we hold. Acting as self-portraits, my photographs happen through an intimate and revealing encounter between the models and myself. I think about what lies beneath the surface and what is not being said. The portraits are interpretations of early hopes, uncertainties, reservations, and a means of processing what I knew as a child but needed to keep hidden. Motivated by empathy and compassion, my work is conceived from experience and understanding, from transparency, and empowerment. I work to create a gentle environment of safety and respect, where we both feel seen.
“Layla and Miko depicts a tender relationship between mother and child. Layla sits in front, protector and guardian to Miko, who peers over her shoulder, watching the proceedings cautiously. Their bond is one of affection, caring, and compassion as Layla holds a bouquet of flowers that have started to drop off. Posed at a similar height, the tenderness and parity of this scene speaks to longing and relationships.
“The companion piece, a floral still-life, suggests similar themes. The dahlias, suspended against a dark background, mingle throughout the scene, seeming to float, fall, and weave in various stages of bloom. There is beauty and sadness in both images, a metaphor for life in all its complexity.”
Hiro’s homage to Peter Bruegel the Elder can be read in any number of ways, including as a self-portrait. As he says, “I am a legal resident from outside this country and have adopted English as my second language. Finding my identity within this country, even after many years, has been a challenge. The painting depicts a father and daughter looking on as a [Babel-like] tower is built and destroyed….I have a small daughter, and I worry for the future of this planet. Thoughts came and went as I created this piece. It was a meditation, a hope, and a fear [all at once]. I do not consider myself an activist – I am more a daydreamer on the canvas – but one solution that I have to offer is the painting itself, possibly as a self-identity to share. [The second] fictional landscape drawing came directly from my head, and in a way, defines who I am as an individual and an artist. It is a landscape drawn as a portrait of myself.”
“[…] I can see my aging has accelerated these past couple [of] years, and often when I see a photo, I do not recognize who I am looking at. I think that lack of recognition is the most unsettling; anyway, sitting down and working on 5 or 6 (then picking 2) was more interesting and maybe self-reflective than I expected. The results, who knows? […]”
My two pieces were taken years apart. Night Tree was taken in the early 2000s at a time when I was obsessed with long-exposure night photography. It was taken using a large format 4x5 camera with an exposure time of three minutes on a very still night, and then processed using traditional and experimental darkroom techniques. The self-portrait was taken on my cell phone, about ten years later, after a family gathering around the fire pit in my backyard with no intention of ever exhibiting it. Two very different processes yielded very similar results. I guess sometimes the universe just wants to make connections. Thank you for helping it along.