Searching for models, artists only have to look as far as the nearest mirror or to their family and friends (often fellow artists). Artists have portrayed themselves for centuries and some did so frequently. Rembrandt created over 70 portraits of himself, in different mediums and guises, and at every stage of his artistic career. The 20th century German artist Kathe Kollwitz repeatedly recorded in poignant detail the trials of her life reflected in her face. John Coplans’s photographs of cut-off parts of his aging body, -- his torso, feet, hands--, are unrelenting images of the wrinkles, flab, and marks of age that nevertheless represent the whole. Like Rembrandt, Cindy Sherman role plays, dressing up in costumes in order to self search.
Artists Portray Artists explores the theme of artists portraying themselves or other artists. Among these are: painters, printmakers, sculptors, photographers; poets, essayists and critics; actors, dancers and musicians. While many are familiar, even legendary, -- Sarah Bernhardt and Jo Baker among them--, others are no longer recognized. For the most part artists portrayed their contemporaries but in a few cases, such as the depiction of Sappho by Erastus Dow Palmer, homage is paid to members of earlier centuries whose actual looks are unknown. For other charismatic artists, such as James McNeill Whistler, Sarah Bernhardt and Isadora Duncan, their frequent portraits by admirers continue to keep their memories alive. Portraits may be documents or records as well as subjective interpretations that set up a dialogue between the person portrayed, the one who portrays, and the viewer.
The purpose of artist portraits varies enormously. For example, Anthony Van Dyck set out to capture the likenesses of famous 17th century artists in a series called the Iconography. This was such an ambitious etching project that he employed others to fill in the bodies while he concentrated on the heads. It is especially telling that these artists are not shown as artisans painting or making art but rather as gentlemen and intellectuals.
Context is important. Larry Clark’s gun toting self-portrait is from a series recording the 1960s drug culture in Tulsa, of which he was a part. Lee Friedlander’s reflection in a store-front window takes a moment to discover but he becomes an integral part of the story that unfolds. In the case of Jim Dine, however, a favorite bathrobe stands in for the artist.