I applied to my first art competition and it’s a doozy of a competition. The Smithsonian has a triennial (yes, that means once every three ennials) portrait competition and the pieces that are accepted go on tour for three years. Also you can win cash moneys. I decided to enter “The Mirror Stage” and when I was submitting it, it asked for an artist statement. Here’s the painting and the statement I wrote, along with my answer to a question about the creative process surrounding the painting.
“The Mirror Stage” is a self-portrait that aims to blur the distinction between subject and object. Unlike a more traditional portrait which displays the sitter as the object of perception, this portrait emphasizes the observational agency of the painted: the subject of the painting has her own subjectivity. This effect is expressed by making the back of the subject the foreground of the painting, urging the viewer to take on the experience of the woman in the painting. This makes the reflection in the mirror–the more traditional portrait–a reflection not of only the woman facing away, but also of the viewer. The object in the mirror shares the agency of the viewer of the painting. This effect is amplified by the painting’s frame (not pictured) which is identical to the frame of the mirror in the painting; the viewer is left disoriented, wondering which level of the painting (the viewer, the subject, or the reflection of the subject) has observational agency. Is it perhaps all three? And which one is the object of the gaze?
As an inside joke for the philosopher, the book featured on the table is Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits which analyzes the relationship between subject and object in the process of viewing the self in a mirror.
The squirrel (and its lack of reflection) are a mystery to the artist.
“Are there any special circumstances surrounding the creation of your portrait?”
This self-portrait is highly personal and was inspired by a period of upheaval in my early twenties when I shifted my life’s work away from philosophy, which I’d been studying professionally. During this period (which may have begun while studying the work of Jacques Lacan) I felt a sort of dissolution of the self. I felt as though I had lost the thing that gave me my identity, yet I still had all of the agency I had previously. Basically, I was left adrift and this painting attempts to encapsulate that experience.