Tuesday, July 14, 2009

There's A Reason

It's like Mae West said, "When your husband gives you a gift for no reason. There's a reason." All that to say, that the artist uses him/her self as a model for a reason. A lot of reasons. First, because we are all so cooperative. And good looking. Plus we work for peanuts.

Next, the artist can mess with his own head. So if we want to make us look fatter or skinnier, no problemo. Or if we want to make us look like idiots, then it's just straight realism.

Artists have done self portraits forever. Look at God, for Pete's sake. He made man in his image. Some of my favorite self portraits show the artist at various stages in their lives, bandaged ear and all.

We all, if we are honest, have those bandaged ear phases of our lives. It is not always easy to be so transparent and naked when painting a self portrait. But it is good for the soul, and tells the world a lot. Sometimes more than you might realize.

I enjoy it when people analyze a painting. "You may be right, or you may be wrong, are you gonna miss me when I'm gone..."-Leadbelly.

An interpretation of art says as much about the reviewer as the art. I was just at an art show and a woman was looking at a painting that was a simple self portrait of the artist standing by his canvas. And I heard her saying, "This artist was a lover. He knew that he had to grab the opportunity that was in front of him. He had such passion, such lust for life. He knew that if he did not commit to the love in front of him, it wouldn't be there if he left and came back."
Well, she was really talking about herself and her boyfriend. You see he was just leaving for a round the world trip by himself. I knew him.

Each of these paintings is a self portrait of myself. I used me not because I am an egomaniac, although, I guess I don't get to vote on that one, but because I was ready, willing, and available. A cheap date.

The top piece is from my book Tom Thumb, and I was a derelict tinker. As I said, realism. The elf dancing is probably more Freudian, but it is me, I like to dance, and draw with a really big pen. See, I say one thing and you think another. One of my favorite lines is in Ground Hog Day after Phil steals the groundhog, and Andie McDowell says, "Why would anyone steal a groundhog?". And Larry says, "I could think of a few reasons, ...pervert!"

It is like the icon. It is a window into the artist's soul, but also a window into the viewer.

The elf with the key was the first painting for my version of Clement Moore's, The Night Before Christmas. It is an accurate self portrait in that I did not know what kind of art I was going to do for this book. I could not see where I was going, like the elf with his hat over his eyes. But he is holding a gold key. So deep inside, I knew that I was on the right track, I just had to press on and I would find the treasure chest.

The guy on the left is me. I used my grandfather's watch. He was a watch maker, a strawberry farmer, and a circus performer. I used this image as a sign for our gallery that we had for a while in Port Townsend. I made up his vest. I wish I had a vest like that. Stars on the front with cresent moon buttons, and checkerboard on the back.

The rabbit who is reading, was a self portrait that I did as a demo for a class that I was teaching in Hawaii. I and the students did several self portraits, and it is a challenge, because you have to ask, "Who am I? What is it that captures who I was, am and want to be? What medium do I use? How honest do I want to be?" Since I was just beginning to work on my book, The Magic Rabbit at the time, I was totally immersed in all things rabbit. I was in fact, a rabbit.

Making a self portrait is a form of catharsis. Try it. Who cares if they will use it on the cover of Vanity Fair. It might however give you insight into yourself. It will surely be a gift for someone else.

This last one is me and tape. What can I say. I like tape.


jesse joshua watson said...

effing brilliant, daddyO!
I love your witty ways and words.
and even the sighs.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Hey there "High Stakes". You know, trying to make a living in children's lit is a bit like serious poker, only it's always, "all in". Shucks, pal, thanks for the kind words.

ruthie said...

fascinating richard! my mom pointed out to me just the other day that some of the characters in my paintings often look a little like me! a bit disturbing i thought, but i had to go right back and look at lots of my work - i think those paintings taught me quite a bit about myself!! love that waistcoat !

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks, Ruthie. Our art reflects the different seasons that we experience, and I agree that we learn more about ourselves from our art. From the doing, and reflection afterward.

tlc illustration said...

It sounds like you consciously based all these paintings on yourself? I haven't done that purposefully for years. I'm wondering about unconsciously however (thinking about my current penchant for 'wicked witch' figures... hmmmm..... I'll have to think about that... :-)

I *wish* I was a master gardener. I want one for a neighbor to tell me the things I can be doing better and who has super effective organic solutions to unbeneficial bugs! My goal in this yard is to have *everything* be organic and edible - so all the things I've planted have culinary or medicinal properties. Fruit seems to consistently grow the best here (I also have a quince, fig, apples, cherries, plums...). I'm sure you could grow any of the things I am as long as you have areas in your yard that get at least a 1/2 day of sun. The only difficulty with gooseberry is their susceptibility to powdery mildew, but there are several 'table' varieties that are sweet enough to eat right off the bush. "Raintree" is a good exotic-edible catalog that sells plants appropriate to the PNW if you don't have a local nursery you like.

Happy planting. It is very therapeutic!

storyqueen said...

My mind is blown. Wow. Such a coooooool post. Thanks for letting us see inside your artistic mind a bit. (Love, love, love the little elves!)

Is the monkey on your blog title you as well? Something about the way the glasses sit on his nose..........

Always fun to read your stuff!


Richard Jesse Watson said...

Tara, I ~did~ consciously base some of these paintings on myself. I in fact posed for them, then tweaked the image as needed. But others, I subconsciously put myself into the art. Often after having painted a person (or creature), I notice that it is me incognito, or not so incognito. We can't let it freak us out, we just have to paint the sucker, and let the psychoanalysts go nuts. Quince, no less. That is downright exotic.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks Shelley, as a matter of fact it ~is~ a self portrait as well. After spending a few days at the Portland Zoo doing life drawings of chimpanzees, signing to them, and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow wizards, I found my inner ape.

a dash from Donna Lyn... said...

thank you, thank you for more 'hidden treasures'/insights into your art. it makes your books all that more enjoyable. we've just recently discovered elephants roaming about!!!

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks D.L. I'm glad that you found the hidden elephants in *The Boy Who Went Ape*. Give yourself and your beautiful kiddos a hug from me, Donna. Hope you are having a wonderful summer.

Monica said...

thank you, RJW. Forgive me if i get a bit sentimental here. My father was an artist, he died about 13 yrs ago. He never did self portraits, he took his inspiration more from nature. The way you write, reminds me of him, in some way. I guess just the way artists are so conscious of what's going on around them. They're hypervigilant, noticing the formation of a cloud or whatever else is happening. My father lived the 'do unto others', and if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.

so.. just, thank you.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

I wish I had met your dad, Monica. I imagine that other artists are also often hyper focused, or hyper sensitive to visual or environmental stimulae. Sometimes I can't take it all in, and sort of have to shut down a little. Love your site, thanks for visiting.