This Mortal Painting

E. Jackson, This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Centre Pompidou)
[L] Baudelaire, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Collection – Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, 1911 / 1948, Bronze
[R] This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Centre Pompidou)
17 x 22cm, plaster, watercolour, 2019

 

E. Jackson, This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, The Art Institute of Chicago)
[L] Baudelaire, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Collection – The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, USA, 1911-1919, Coloured plaster
[R] This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, The Art Institute of Chicago)
17 x 22cm, plaster, watercolour, 2019

 

E. Jackson, This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Kröller-Müller Museum)
[L] Baudelaire, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Collection – Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Holland, 1911, Bronze
[R] This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Kröller-Müller Museum)
17 x 22cm, plaster, watercolour, 2019

 

E. Jackson, This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Hirshhorn Museum)
[L] Baudelaire, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Collection – Hirshhorn Museum | Smithsonian, Washington, DC, USA, 1911, cast by 1959, Bronze
[R] This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Hirshhorn Museum)
17 x 22cm, plaster, watercolour, 2019

 

E. Jackson, This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Nasher Sculpture Centre)
[L] Baudelaire, Raymond Duchamp-Villon
Collection – Nasher Sculpture Centre, Dallas, Texas, USA, 1911, Plaster
[R] This Mortal Painting, Portrait for Baudelaire (companion piece, Nasher Sculpture Centre)
17 x 22cm, plaster, watercolour, 2019

This Mortal Painting is about corporeal space, specifically the cranial vault. Moving beyond traditional portrait painting these works consider the human head as an abstract internal site. The surface of these paintings is a depiction of fluid identity and the cranial vault as both repository and production space.

NOTES:
Portraits and Identity – from stone head to no-self

Traditionally, portraits have been described as recording the human face and immortalising the subject; they have also, in various ways, worked with idealisation, symbolic representation and other abstract constructs of identity. Roman portrait sculptures were used to commemorate distinguished ancestors and to establish the authority of imperial dynasties through a continuity of likeness. For Western culture since antiquity, the head has been the dominant symbolic part of the body signifying intellect, selfdom and the seat of the soul. Portrait busts in someway provide a concrete space for these intangible attributes, their form a space of unknown interior mass. In contrast, painted portraits operate through multiplex flattening – form, expression and character reduced to a single surface. The history of portraiture is marked by a negotiation between multiple attributes and competing paradigms: identification and inner essence; status and individual selfhood; reality and idealisation.

The face is a carrier of emotional and psychological expression. In a death mask it is a blank – as a direct physical imprint, it is the closest approximation of a subject’s face. Impassive, no modelling of expression, eyes closed – in every way the technical aspirations of portrait sculpture, namely liveliness, are negated by the dead subject. By naming this exact portrait a ‘mask’, it becomes a dead object. If we were to compare a death mask with a portrait bust where the eyes are similarly closed, we read the subject of the bust as asleep or in some other interior state. In the death mask, the inexpressive surface appears to lead nowhere; whereas, the physical volume of the sculpted head imbues the facial expression with a space of retreat.

Portrait sculptures have also been used as surrogate heads, votive objects, tomb ornaments and reliquaries – features fixed in stone, earth, wax or metal. This fixing of the human head into matter is a material transcription of an exterior form. Alongside the historical oscillation between likeness and idealisation the introduction of psychological expression became an important stylistic element. This move seems to correspond to the evolution of rulers from warriors to philosophers – the thinking philosopher-emperor depicted as brow-knotted, aged and lined, with each carved furrow representing a physical trace of concern and intellect. Initially innovative, the stylistic motifs used to portray the subject’s mind became another convention of the genre – individual characteristic into archetype, expression into symbolic representation.

In the portrait of a thinking subject the head contains and conceals. Any external facial expression is a vague descriptor of the complex interior aspects of the human skull – such as, personal identity and the constructs of conscious selfhood (language and memory). The cranial vault is both a physical repository and metaphysical space. In this ephemeral fluid site, any notion of a fixed identity – if we consider the philosophy of Hume and Buddism – is dissolved by impermanence. In both these philosophies an idea of no-self is grounded in the constantly changing nature of experience. For Hume the self is a collection of variable perceptions and impressions – within this flux and diversity there can be no identity. In Buddist philosophy humans are an aggregate of changing dynamic processes (the five Skandhas): form/matter, sensation, perception, mental formation and consciousness. Here, the solidity of any constructed self-image is atomised by the multiplicity of being.