What’s in a face: Amherst’s Gallery A3 offers a varied crop of self-portraits

  • “Motherhood/Escape,” oil on canvas by Ellen Grobman. Image courtesy of Sue Katz

  • “Double Vision,” photo montage by Eric Broudy. Photo by Eric Broudy/image courtesy of Sue Katz

  • “50 Years Ago,” mixed media by Sue Katz.  Image courtesy of Sue Katz

  • “Self-Portrait,” photo by Laura Holland. Image courtesy of Sue Katz

  • “I-Thou,” archival digital print by Larry Rankin. Image courtesy of Sue Katz

  • “Art School,” oil crayon on paper by Nancy Meagher. Image courtesy of Sue Katz

For the Gazette
Published: 8/15/2018 3:57:42 PM

A pose that’s borrowed from a noted surrealist painter. Images refracted from pots, automobile grillwork and other shiny surfaces. Plaster masks and bronze figurines.

In Gallery A3 this month, artists who are part of the Amherst collective have turned their gazes on themselves in “Introspections: Self-Portraits,” which runs through September 1. Representing the work of 19 artists, some of whom have contributed more than one piece to the exhibit, “Introspections” includes paintings, photographs, sculpture and mixed media — as well as some unconventional approaches to self-portraiture.

There’s plenty of humor, too: Consider one of two works by Keith Hollingworth, in which he presents a simply painted canvas with the word “ego” emblazoned on it and a mirror attached to the top, so that viewers can see their faces as they gaze at the piece. Just call it participatory art.

Then there’s the surrealistic “Motherhood/Escape” by painter Ellen Grobman, an oil canvas that depicts a long-haired woman, wearing what might be an animal mask (a lioness?), seated in a chair in an apartment, with a view of a nighttime city skyline through a window behind her. At the far right of the painting, a bare-bottomed baby crawls away through a doorway.

“I stole the pose from Leonora Carrington,” Grobman writes in exhibit notes. “The baby is now 25. The mask allowed me to be honest. I no longer feel the need to escape.”

Mixed media artist Sue Katz, one of the co-curators of the exhibit, said she and photographer Eric Broudy drew inspiration for the show from an exhibit held last fall at Northampton’s A.P.E. Gallery, which featured 50 self-portraits by 50 women artists.

“That was a really fascinating show,” said Katz, who noted that self-portraiture gives artists a lot of room to try out different ideas or use different mediums. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we try that?’ ”

Katz notes that her collective regularly does group exhibits “but that this kind of show is a first for us, I think.”

Broudy, the photographer, writes in exhibit notes that artists can be drawn to self-portraits for a number of reasons: a way to explore mood or self-perception, for example, or perhaps as a “calling card” to show potential clients how an artist might approach another subject.

In “Double Vision,” Broudy has superimposed a painterly-looking photo of himself over one of his mother as a young woman, such that his left eye and her right eye are merged. It’s a somewhat ghostly but also contemplative image that he made to honor how his mother’s artistic vision influenced his own development as an artist: “her artistic eye, as it were, overlaying my own.”

Many approaches

Katz says a number of artists have contributed older work to the show, while others have offered newer work. “We thought it should be whatever work they felt best represented themselves.”

In Katz’s case, she reached back to the late 1960s when she had an art studio in New York City and made plaster casts of several parts of her body, including her face. For “50 Years Ago,” she’s mounted that facial mask — eyes closed, beatific looking — on a metal and encaustic pedestal.

Laura Holland, meantime, who teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and also works in book arts and photography, has fashioned an accordion book featuring a series of abstract photos — of herself, of different objects, of sunlight glancing off a child’s play structure to create a strange, polka-dot mosaic — that reflect “what drives me,” she writes in exhibit notes.

Her most “straightforward” self-portrait reveals a distorted image of herself, reflected from the side of a pot in a picture she took of some of her daughter’s cookware; the photo is made from an angle that appears to show the pots and saucepans lying sideways. “Each image in this accordion book was an enticing visual mystery for me,” writes Holland.

Photographer Larry Rankin, who focuses most of his work on the natural world, also takes an abstract approach to his self-portrait, “I-Thou.” In his black and white digital image, he’s fused a profile of the left side of his face, the lip of a hat drooping just above his eye and his glasses, to a photo of the gnarled bark of a white birch. It’s a striking combination, in which the mottled surface of the tree bark stands in for crow’s feet and other age lines on the photographer.

Sculptor Valerie Gilman offers two views of herself, including a full-sized ceramic head and the more abstract “Rock Lady,” a small bronze figurine that sits atop a roughly 4 ½-foot steel base. It’s a nude female figure that perches on a boulder, with a small cairn of stones resting on its head; as Gilman’s exhibit notes put it, the figure is something of a stand-in for her general artistic process and overall feelings.

“Sitting with myself, looking carefully at all angles of my face and moving the clay in hand to reflect what I see, is a healing act … I become aware of how little time I take to be with me.”

Also of note are two works by Amherst painter Tom Morton, who jokes that he turned to his MFA portfolio from UMass Amherst in the late 1980s for the show. His “The French Door” is a detailed charcoal drawing in which he sketched himself in a room in his home, but the drawing is as much about the room — doors, windows, furniture, plants — as himself.

And in “The Shadow,” an oil painting on panel, Morton offers a more mysterious, abstract self-portrait, as the shape of a head, without any details, looms above and around a wave of foliage, the outline of what might be a window and a partial latticework.

That kind of variety is at the heart of the exhibit, Broudy notes. The show’s title “reflects the essential nature of what a self-portrait is and what it offers the viewer. It is, fundamentally, the artist exploring some aspect of who she or he is, reflecting some thinking or sensibility — some introspection — behind the paintbrush or the camera or other creative material.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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