The artist describes his painfully honest self-portraits
Northern California Artist Robert Arneson is best known for irreverent ceramic sculptures and expressive self-portraits that explored identity and mortality. Here he is, in 1983:
People always ask me, “What’s the ego hang-up? Why are you always portraying yourself?” Well, it really has nothing to do with my ego or anything of a personal nature. It’s simply that I’m there and I’m the easiest person to abuse without offending. So I think I take great liberties and I’m free to abuse myself because it’s really dealing with the plastic nature of the expression and not the inherent sense of character, and I don’t really think I’m revealing myself when I do a self-portrait. So they’re really not self-portraits. If I had to call them anything, they’re probably called self-self-portrayed.
In this late work, completed shortly before Arneson died of cancer, he manages to express the anguish and rigors of his chemotherapy treatment without departing from his playful sense of character. Making self-portraits enabled him to deal with complexities of an illness that are difficult to put into words.
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