“I’m bored with illustration, deluged with images, self-promotions, egocentric edifice, proclamations of spirituality, decorations, displays, novelties, identity politics, one-liners, banal humor and obfuscating art speak.” That proclamation, recently published by Chicago painter Bruce Thorn, pretty much describes my reaction to most of the cartoonish collection on view in the tenth annual National Self-Portrait Exhibition at Zhou B Art Center. None of these self-portraits make you feel like you’re actually meeting and engaging a real person. All of them express the artist’s self with some clever conceit rather than relying on painterly qualities to present the interior contradictions of a more complex personal reality.
But some paintings have been quite sharply executed. I was fascinated by John Walker’s “Happy Face,” as it sits on the edge of menace and humor, combining an effective rendering of the artist’s glaring stare with a trompe-l’œil rendition of crumpled paper over his mouth. With similar skill, and ambivalent affect, Marina Ross shows herself on the edge of despair and determination, just as Corinna Button’s self image rests woefully on the edge of past and present.
Unlike so many self portraits from previous centuries, the artists do not present recognizable images of themselves in conventional roles. Notably, Steph Roberts is an exception, portraying herself as a strong mother protecting her son in what appears to be a clean, well-kept environment. But as with the other more traditional portraits that simply present a straightforward head, the design is not strong enough to make the ordinary feel profound.
Artist, educator, and gallerist Sergio Gomez curated his first annual National Self Portrait show ten years ago. This is the last one, selectively inviting his favorite artists to return. Although he has drawn some participation from other states, all the artists mentioned above have studied or lived nearby. As a community art program, it has to be called a success since participation continued to grow over the years. Now that the series is over, hopefully the huge, recently renovated second floor gallery of the Zhou B Art Center will continue to host more theme-related invitational shows. (Chris Miller)
Through August 30 at Zhou B Art Center, 1029 West 35th.