Selfish Portraits

Flannery Dillon

I am inspired by my travels in Italy where I studied Renaissance art history, a period celebrated for its frescoes, oil paintings, and marble sculptures. I work in oil to make new discoveries within myself as an artist. Allowing myself to reflect upon my personal experiences guided by my appreciation of the work of the Italian masters, my paintings celebrate craft and technical skill. Oils are forgiving, slow moving, and methodical, much like my creative process. I cannot progress without experimenting, backtracking, learning, and processing. My use of a distinct color scheme comes from my fascination with old masters techniques and is combined with a warmer background which I have chosen. In addition, I have included realistic color interactions from the immediate surroundings of my studio and room, forcing my personal space into the historical narrative of important Italian paintings.

I paint myself as a response to the typical historical narrative I continued to see as I studied Renaissance paintings, with portraits of the elite and the female nude occupying the artistic eye. Responding to my love for the influential Artemisia Gentileschi, a woman who made a name for herself in the patriarchal world of portrait painting, I use my portraits to assert myself as an established painter, and as a person worthy to be painted. Playing upon the concept of the gaze of the viewer, I am uncovering many layers of importance that I find myself in, some of these I have stumbled upon through my methodical process of painting. Positioning myself as the average woman composed in a life-sized portrait, I am creating something that wasn’t historically common.

The painting on the left alludes to Caravaggio’s Bacchus through a disjointed embodiment of the Roman god of wine, represented in youthful pleasure and fleeting moments. The portrait of the painter on the right is reminiscent of Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, symbolizing the art of painting through the subtleties of color-changing clothes, the presence of a paintbrush, and the preoccupation with craft. Using these two personalities as subtle references, they represent a lens for me to explore my own creative identity. Combining the role of the viewer in conversation with the painted subjects, my personal interpretation of these allegorical characters is transformed as I paint myself in their place. These reflections of identity explore the role of art history in a contemporary context, as I manipulate them to fit my own needs.

These paintings cannot be separated, for their intricate meanings would be lost, and only the interactions between the viewer and the subject would be observed. Through this process, I have begun to learn what is important in these conversations, and as realizations of myself transpire, I uncover relationships I have with myself and with my surroundings. I use these romanticized ideas articulated in a subtle way, reminiscent of my relationship with them, as I subconsciously unpack my interest with the past in tiny, personal artistic bursts. Painting myself as these two strong personalities, I focus on myself, my interests, and my own interpretations and relationships with the world’s artistic history. Using these historical paintings as a resource to understand the position of the model and the idyllic version of myself, this work reveals itself as the process of exploring identity by looking to the past.

-Flannery Dillon