There is something about her that haunts me.
A few months ago I posted a painting on Facebook along with this comment:
“It has been over twenty years ago that I took a painting class at Flathead Valley Community College in Montana. One of the assignments was to do a self- portrait. I started it, but never finished it. I wasn't too excited about it as I thought it made me look old....fast forward to this week as I was cleaning out my studio for the move to Oregon. In a corner, behind a pile of misc stuff I find the painting. I had totally forgotten about it.
It was surreal to see this person staring back at me!
I thought of the story of Picasso who when someone commented that his portrait of Gertrude Stein didn't look like her said, ‘it will!’”
After posting the work on FB I had it framed. A framed painting takes on a weight of permanence, like it finally finds itself. I like that this self-portrait is unfinished. Perhaps the painting has found itself, but I get the sense she still has something to say.
The difference between Picasso’s Stein painting and mine is that he was painting another person. Mine is a self-portrait and there is a world of difference. How does an artist approach doing a self- portrait? Are you painting how others see you or how you see yourself? What lies beneath the paint that no one else knows or can know? Perhaps it is something totally unknown to you, the “self” in the portrait. The other curious thing is that at the time this was done I was very early in my artistic journey as a painter. She is a bit rough around the edges, and I like that about her.
But I also find there is something about her that haunts me.
When I look at the framed piece I feel somewhat detached from it and from her. Is she me? Did I really paint her? Enough time has passed that I don’t even remember much of the experience of even doing the painting.
But still I am intrigued.
Is she looking past me into a future that I am now living? Or does she see a future that never came to be? What does she know that I missed? I look into her eyes and sense she knows much more than she is letting on. Like she knows me more than I know myself. Is she that part of me that lives in the shadows of my psyche thinking, “she doesn’t have a clue.”
Picasso’s comment that in time his portrait of Gertrude Stein would indeed look like her speaks to this mystery. In time our outward appearance will reveal the wear and tear of life; all the good and bad that has come our way; the highs and lows; loss and sorrow; joy and laughter; love found and love that walked away; of traveling the roads of choice and chance that lead us to here. The lives we have lived, and those not lived we carry with us, and it shows.
Is she the person who was left behind when life moved on? Is she gazing at me from a life I did not live, longing for what might have been?
Or can it be that what I see when I look at the portrait is the little girl I once was, looking out to see what I have become and where she goes from here?
What will this painting be saying in another twenty years? Or fifty? I wonder what my children and grandchildren, and theirs, will see in it when I am gone. Will she still be trying to be heard, to be known? Will she still be showing others the way?
Looking at this painting after all these years I feel puzzled and a bit vulnerable. Is it foretelling something I should have learned? Or is it a mirror reflecting a truth that even now I avoid?
After over thirty years in Montana, contemporary painter Tabby Ivy now lives and works in Carlton, Oregon. Painting came late in her life. Her home studio is a sanctuary for working, and reading her extensive collection of art books. Learn more at www.tabbyivy.com.
Now available! The second printing of "Between Artists, Life in Paintings and Prose", by Damon Falke and Tabby Ivy.
Juke contributors Damon Falke and Tabby Ivy worked for over three years in collaboration on this beautiful body of work. The first printing sold out during their 2022 exhibition at the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Montana. The book can be purchased at www.tabbyivy.com/books
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