To think that the face is the proper way to visually represent the self seems silly, but that’s how self-portraiture has conventionally been defined. “More Than a Face,” an Arts Council of Greater New Haven exhibition, is curated by Marissa Rozanski. Located on the second floor office space of 70 Audubon St., the exhibition consists of 23 self-portraits by nine artists that do not show the artists’ face. By excluding the face, the artworks have to justify their place as self-portraits. These works might “speak to the nature of the artist just as much as, if not more than, the face of the artist,” as Rozanski writes in her statement.
The artists represent themselves in highly varied ways, and the quality of the work varies accordingly. The most compelling ones are more than intellectual exercises.
The first pieces are smaller works that feel at home in their office environment. An early highlight is Irene K. Miller’s “Unleashed,” a small, brightly colored print whose swirling red lines evoke blood or bacteria, on top of which is a purple rectangle and a black circle.
After the sixth work, just before the exhibition spills into the office conference room, the works become more ambitious. Here, the office setting does not suit the work.
Barbara Hocker wins the award for the funniest work. “The Book About My Back” is a sculpture of stacked pages in the shape of a spine, complete with messy wires coming out of it and a subluxation.
Thuan Vu’s three works, entitled “The New World (Still)”, “The New World (autumn II)”, “The New World (Lush)” are the most literal. Depicting her parents’ escape from Vietnam, the perspective and the circular shape of the painting effectively mimic disorientation and sharpened senses.
Jessica Cuni and Anne Doris-Eisner’s works stand out above the rest.
Cuni’s works, “Natura Immorta III” and “Natura Immorta V,” made with spray paint, convey idiosyncratic spirituality based on nature. “Natura Immorta III” shows evergreen leaf prints in a grayish-purple color, with red in the middle and a bird facing upwards. White outlines of the bird are repeated, creating a dark and uplifting effect overall. “Natura Immorta V,” which focuses on a wasp against a white background, is “Natura Immorta III”’s heavenly counterpart. The two pieces, which measure approximately 2.5 x 2.5 feet, are the largest works in the exhibit.
Doris-Eisner’s pen-and-ink drawings, by contrast, are some of the smallest works. Her swirling lines are both sensual and primal. Contained within the flow are suggestions of legs, a cocoon, peacock leaves, and bugs. The work’s density and visual rapidity is mesmerizing.
Corina S. Alvarezdelgo’s thicky painted “Chrysalis,” set against a red background and plastered with diet recommendations, is strangely appealing, but it ultimately seems too vulgar and pop to be a satisfying self-portrait.
The exhibit separates the artists’ individual works. At first, this is a mildly interesting intellectual and emotional exercise, like meeting very different people back to back. As the exhibit progresses, however, the separation blunts the power of the works, some of which are part of a series.
That is not to say the exhibit is not worth seeing. The best works deserve your attention.