I’m often asked "why do you paint yourself?" Or, with slightly more trepidation "are you still painting yourself?"
I always feel a little perplexed by this, because in some odd way, all these years and hundreds of works later, in my mind I’m actually still painting that very first self-referencing painting – and I can’t or won’t finish doing so until I feel I’ve got it - which will probably never happen.
I’ve attached two drawings from my teenage years that I managed to keep. I remember my surprise at finding them again, realising that my impulse to document myself started when I was quite young. I still haven't thought hard about this - I don't want to, I sense it's fragile territory that needs protecting more than it needs investigating.
Many years have gone by since I drew Self Portrait 1977 for my School Certificate art folder at age 15. I look at that image and I see a girl more serious and older than her years, and I feel the same for her as I do a finished painting that’s in my studio now, in 2017.
In all this time, nothing about our language – the language that exists between me and her, has changed. She’s got a fabulous strop about her that still makes me smile. Her gaze is direct and demanding, as if she knew more then than I know now.
The second more analytical study was done a couple of years later for my Fine Arts Preliminary exam. I’m looking beyond the viewer, not asking anything of you – my gaze is directed elsewhere.
Almost 40 years have gone by since these drawings, yet I still know that girl. What I enjoy about my work now is that from the feedback I get, the personal has become universal. If and when I’m asked "are you still painting yourself?" I smile and think to myself, with more than a modicum of truth, no, I’m actually painting something about you.