Self-portrait. The artist who shows his own image is, to us, the protagonist of a rebirth of his identity. He passes on to the spectator his doubts, quests and desires regarding this self-identity. Miquel Barceló recently exhibited the painting of a gorilla entitled “Self-portrait”. The identification with the world which he lived in and affected him during his trips to Africa and the equivalence between man and animal, giving up the adjectives as Drumond de Andrade said, are present in his work. On the other hand it can also be a fallacy given that the renouncement does not imply, because it would be impossible, the change of the face. As much as he wants it, Barceló cannot live within a primate.
Goya reveals in his self-portraits all the possibilities of individual psychology and he manages to emphasize by means of nuances a new definition of the human nature. Face changes in order to express evolution as time goes by, affecting both the personality and the physical body. It is hard to say to what extent a gorilla’s self-portrait may be a significant expression of one’s personality.
Romeo Niram chooses a “classical” self-portrait and before having undertaken various studies on his life and elaborated psychological profiles of his own personality. “Self-portrait is perhaps, paradoxically, the hardest painting to paint because we should be able to know exactly who we are but we do not know it. One should be sincere and ready to present oneself to the public just as one really is.” In the painting, the artist is naked in front of a future that he contemplates and constructs. The warm, human colours radiate life and hope, thus regaining the canon and forming shapes in a very distinct way to Barcelo’s. One can glimpse, through a diffusing mirror, at a eulogy to beauty, an optimism loaded with adjectives, which is an aesthetic act in an artistic world that lacks aesthetical norms; it is liberation from the load of the XXth century, a peaceful reclaiming of the human soul, leaving behind the symbolic, the lifeless and lightless abstract.
The Occident has seen God dying at the hand of Nietzsche, has lived through the two avant-gardes of the last century, experimenting “the destruction of the forms” (María Zambrano), the break-out of the abstract and the return to a primitivism that was reformulated again and again until it stopped causing reactions. Art has re-invented itself so many times during the last 100 years that it is impossible to define it, to give it adjectives nowadays.
One of the aspects that have defined the man in his quality of reasoning being has been the self-conscience. The graphical portrait, re-interpreted by painters throughout the evolution of the fine arts is one of the most important forms of investigations of the human identity. A portrait is like a map, an outline of the personality. Miquel Barceló painted John Berger as a tormented figure, almost a monstrous one. We can foresee his personality without knowing him. A work of art does not have to be necessarily beautiful. It would be sufficient if it transmitted in a subtle, intuitive way some aspects of the spirit and preoccupations of the character.
Barceló, the most international Spanish artist, confesses his pleasure to paint. The pleasure to play with few colours – expressing a free attitude towards reality, the power of the painting – capable of generating intriguing surfaces. In the past, the portrait was centered on a specific deontology that determined and evoked some well-defined traits of representing the identity.
Nowadays there is much more freedom, from Mueck and his late hyperrealism to the faceless Madonnas of Onik Sahakian, Dalí’s disciple who did not want to give faces to the Virgin so that he could dilute more of the saint’s identity.
The portraits of the Israelite painter Romeo Niram bear the force of Barceló’s painting but they transmit it differently. His thorough brush is able to catch a Saramago trapped in his dreams, between the walls from which he tries to escape through literature. In this painting, there is also a chess table that completes a version of Saramago that we all know: his political aspect. The chess game represents his struggle for recognition in the world.