Within my artistic practice I have been reflecting on themes of identity and the “self”, specifically in using painting as a medium to explore internal relationships to the “self” and how we relate, or present ourselves, to others. A theme and subject matter that has begun to assert itself in my paintings is the presence of faceless figures that occupy a “non-space”, devoid of context of location, and that embody feelings of anxiety in relation to identity. Leaving the limitation of the rectangular stretched canvas, the figures have become life size entities that embody movement or a breaking out of or away from the constraints of the material.
I believe that art should provide a space of inquiry and examination into the human condition in a conscious, self-reflexive and inclusive way. I found inspiration in quotations from the Baha’i Faith and other religious traditions for this project. I am interested in the way that these texts explore and address notions of the self and the ego in relation to purpose, within an overall context of striving for spiritual perfection. At a personal level, these themes have informed the way I understand life and purpose. There is a theme of “forgetting the self”, as well as facing the “self” in order to become a better individual within these texts. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, “Whosoever is occupied with himself is wandering in the desert of heedlessness and regret. The 'Master Key' to self-mastery is self-forgetting”. I am interested in the question of whether striving for spiritual perfection could be considered the ultimately form of lasting “self-love”. I aim to explore elements of this self-forgetting, and occupation with the “self” in my work.
In my placement of the figures, I aim to communicate an element of escape or a feeling of being trapped, or encompassed. The facelessness of the beings stands for being able to represent any person, not detailing a specific entity or individual but rather a human condition, internal relationship to the “self”. There is also an element of the facelessness that examines the process of looking inward, that we physically do not see ourselves, unless we are looking in a mirror. The ways that we know ourselves exists in our minds eye, in a strange separation from our physicality, while at the same time being deeply rooted to physicality. I arranged the figures in various positions that relate to the self and processes of internal reflection and embodiment. The fetal position is one that evokes weakness, or a turning inwards, self-soothing. The figure kneeling and covering the face with hands evokes reference to a position of prayer, or supplication, and anxiety or emotion. Other figures are moving and constructed in relation to the process of breaking away from the canvas, a dual departure and an evident belonging to the material. At a theoretical level, perhaps we desire departure from the bodies or realities we are subject to, but we are tied to the experiences that we have been born into.
In some ways, the borders of the canvas have come to represent a state of consciousness in my work, and the figures are moving, yet frozen, within this state. I aim to depart from representation of gender, class or race in my figures, instead depicting a fleshy materiality of the “inside”. Informed by a spiritual notion of facing, or encountering the self, the spatial positioning of the material in the center of the room informs how the viewer becomes aware of their own body and self when confronted with bodies that are life size in a space that is not merely two-dimensional. The consequence of my work is that it is frozen but looks so different in so many positions. The material can be rolled up, hung, laid flat, detached, or attached. In some ways I feel as though the creation of these figures in the positions that they embody provide a snap shot of more movement, almost like a still frame of an animation. This juxtaposition of animation and stillness can relate to notions of the self, of feeling paralyzed yet in motion. The self moves through processes of being constructed, as we live life.