Since 1989, I have been making self-portraits, in pencil, paint, and graphics. Polaroid pictures have, for many years, served as an expedient device in making these portraits. The Polaroid shots initially resulted in drawings and photocopies.

The Polaroids are usually taken at random: coincidence plays a significant role. This entails that there is considerable distance between myself and the portrait. My aim in making self portraits is not to document the overly personal. At first, the portrait is virtually “empty”, the distance between it and myself is as large as it can be. By painting in thin layers on top of one another, such distance is maintained, while the portrait at the same time nonetheless acquires its own appearance. I recreate my own face, as it were.

In the end, the portrait turns out to be a self-portrait after all. I recognize the different facial expressions from what I see in the mirror. These expressions do not reflect momentary moods of passing emotions, but rather cast back certain basic expressions and characteristics that I constantly encounter in myself. Through these paintings, I look myself in the face again.

In due course, I became increasingly interested in that which one sees, and that which shows itself, in the outside world. As a result, I have, after a study and working period in Antwerp in 2000 – a period of reflection – been implicating portraits of my father in my self portraits. Self portraits generally do not allow for the emergence of new images. And yet, in drawing on portraits of my father in addition to my own, I found myself confronted with new, manipulated, almost androgynous faces.

This meant a big step forward. The immediate cause was a heliogravure I had made, a diptych, the starting point of which had been Polaroids of both myself and my father: my father’s eyes and my own face. At that time, the images were not yet connected. With the help of drawings (on paper), I subsequently tried to draw the two images through each other, which resulted in double portraits. These drawings eventually led to large drawings on canvas.

I have further elaborated this theme in the form of photopolymer etchings. In 2002, the Center for Fine Arts in Rotterdam offered me a project subsidy to experiment with this technique. By projecting digital images of myself and my father on top of one another, I was able to generate new images in the form of photopolymer etchings.

Recent Developments

In recent years, the Polaroid camera has been replaced with a digital one. The photographic materials for my Polaroid camera are no longer available. The “randomly” taken Polaroids have increasingly become digitally manipulated images. Randomly taken pictures of myself, conjoined with pictures of my father assuming the same poses, are digitally transformed into one new manipulated image. These pictures have resulted in two series of paintings: one work has thus formed the starting point for a series of reflections and repetitions.

These paintings constitute almost filmic series of one and the same portrait, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller in size. Some reflect the painting that precedes it in the series, others take on exactly the same size (Series I & II, 2003/2004). Repetition has always been an important theme in my work: endlessly remaking a self portrait, but also quite literally repeating or doubling a portrait in the form of reflections, is a characteristic aspect of my artistic approach.

Painting one particular manipulated picture, as precisely and accurately as possible, was an extreme starting point, which, in this case, also concerned the painterly act as such, an attempt at the neutral, almost mechanical reproduction of the same image, an almost artificial approach. Remarkably enough, a certain kind of “naturalness” eventually emerged; the more one tries to paint spontaneity out of an image, the stronger such spontaneity in the end reasserts itself. Exact reproduction is hence impossible. Painting these series constituted an attempt at “getting away” from the self portrait.

My participation in the exhibition Kloone4000 (2005) has meanwhile offered me additional food for thought. I was asked to participate because of my double portraits in pencil and acrylic on canvas of myself and my father, a series consisting of three works (Androgyne 1, 2, & 3, 2001). Kloone4000 set me off on a new track. In addition to mixing portraits of myself with those of my father, I began to use portraits of my entire family. The results are a “clones” of some sort: by combining portraits of my mother and father from different periods in their lives, I acquire new “sisters” and “brothers.” For Kloone4000, I made a wall painting in the form of wallpaper patterned with a mixed portrait of my father and my mother: “sister 1” (2005). The ultimate repetition in the shape of wallpaper.

In addition to the series of paintings, I had been working for years on a completely white work. My attempts with oil paint were not very successful: other colors kept bleeding in, so that the white kept disappearing from the painting. One such attempt, “Self-Portrait, 1991,” 43 × 41 cm., came quite close, but even here black kept seeping in, so that various shades of grey intruded into the white. In 2000, I started a large work, giving myself the same assignment: a portrait in white (“Self-Portrait (1), 2000,”
220 × 146 cm.), but, again, various other hues emerged on the canvas. Apparently, I needed them for accentuation.

I later discovered that graphic techniques produced far better results. They allowed me to work much more directly. I used different brands of white ink to apply various hues of white, and to deepen the color in overlapping layers. Ink, moreover, came in both matte and glossy varieties. I added fluorescent powder to the mix, which resulted in yet other color tones. In 2010, I thus made the ultimate white self-portrait , a monotype in seven layers (“Self-Portrait, 2010,” 88.5 × 118 cm.). The portrait itself was strong and powerful, but dissolved, as it were, into the white paper. The ultimate challenge nonetheless remains: to make a work like this in oil.

© Loréne Bourguignon, January 2012 (Translation: Renée Hoogland)