Elizabeth Neel


All portraits of artists are uncomfortable—really painful to look at! Poses, including the action-based variety that suggest something is going on naturally even though it is being observed, are terribly awkward in their theatricality and narcissism. Despite, or maybe because of this, we enjoy looking at portraits of "creatives." Our inner desire to reconcile creative practice and production with a producer is indomitable. For me, the fascination is similar to that elicited by meeting people's relatives: there is a touch of wonder at the fidelity and waywardness, the alignment and misalignment within a lineage. Beyond curious, this kind of confrontation is creepy, even distressing, a violent act that unavoidably addresses illusions of autonomy. In this photograph I am standing in front of a painting I made, forcing the painting into a decorative space, but I am as much camouflaged by the painting as I am foregrounded by it. I am part of the composition, reinforcing the notion that there is a lot of "me" in the work and there is a lot of the work in me. There are all sorts of nods to the myth of the artist here—the smock, the paint, the studio—but it's a waste of time to try to question the utility of the artist-portrait genre or to come up with an ironic quip or rhetorical device to excuse participation in this mode of representation. If one agrees to be the subject of a portrait, then one must suffer and enjoy both what is revealed and obscured in the resulting image.