Self portraits are good, because if you like doing portraits you have a readily available model who is willing to sit as long as you want to work and won’t be grumpy about the likeness.
The first time I spent some serious effort on a self portrait was the summer between 8th and 9th grade. I wanted to figure out how to paint a nose, mine was convenient. However, I didn’t really start doing self portraits much until I was going to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and attending Barnes Foundation classes. The earliest one in this collection is The Purple Peril. That was done in 1952, when I was intoxicated with the pictures at Barnes Foundation, especially the Cezannes.
In the 1960s self portraits became a regular feature of my birthdays. When I was little and wanted something my mother might say “What do you think this is? Your birthday?” so I decided birthdays should be spent doing what you wanted to do, and what I like to do is paint portraits of people.
As I went on doing self-portraits, people came to expect them. I often entered them in shows where they sometimes got prizes. The expectation was a form of pressure, but the reactions were interesting. My own reactions often showed me what I was feeling that I hadn’t quite registered myself. I came to call the self portraits The Annual Report.
When I was going through my “archives” recently, I realized what historical records these pictures are. I used them to work out times like my husband’s cancer diagnosis and death. I used them to celebrate and commemorate, with artifacts from trips, or sketches done on trips as part of the background. In one, I used a photo of my grandmother in her youth, and other things that connected with her. The cats are a regular feature – one time when I didn’t include them I put a note in the picture saying “the cats are fine!” Here is a journey through the years.