Revealing the self
Face: Australian Portraits 1880–1960
by Anne Gray
National Gallery of Australia, $39.95 pb, 160 pp, 9780642334152
The Naked Face: Self-portraits
by Vivien Gaston
National Gallery of Victoria, $49.95 pb, 111 pp, 9780724103348
Roy Porter wrote that ‘the portrait (above all the self-portrait), the diary and the biography (especially the autobiography) – reveal heightened perceptions of individuality, the proud ego vaunting and flaunting his own being’. This may be so, but self-portraiture is a genre that crosses many secret thresholds. The self holds court with the ‘I’ in an unashamedly intimate visual inquisition well beyond mere identity. A self-portrait can move anywhere between the boundary of the artist’s ego to something far more elusive and complex: the deep psychological foundations of the artist. There is no simple explanation for such depths, nor indeed, of the theatrical self-actualisation as in many of Rembrandt’s works or Warhol’s poster vision. Even the precision of Dürer’s saturnine version of himself, or Mike Parr’s anatomical scaffolding of his existentially distraught persona, will never reveal the full truth. Whatever the artists’ intentional gaze, the human face remains caught between the knowable and the subconscious, a ‘place between the external world and the inner world’.