Happy and Sad

Isaac Hernández, Self-portrait, oil pastel on paper, 2010.

I’ve been drawing self-portraits for many years. It’s funny, because I don’t look at myself in the mirror very much, other than when I’m drawing a self-portrait. There are many days when I don’t look at myself in the mirror at all. After all, if you don’t shave or comb your hair, you don’t need a mirror. You can wash your face, floss and brush teeth without seeing you.

When I paint a self-portrait, the person in the mirror is a stranger. And since painting occurs very much as meditation for me, that person is often pensive. And those thoughts looks different every time. I’d like to capture silly emotions all the time, but do you know how difficult is to keep a big smile while looking at yourself in the mirror for hours? And with no make up! I invite you to try it.

Some people have given me a hard time for painting myself sad all the time. To them, I dedicate the self-portrait above. What can I say. I’m a happy guy. And I’m a sad guy. I treasure all emotions. I’m happy I’m sad. I couldn’t have painted myself happy without painting myself sad first, see below. Because if we were happy all the time, we would be bored from happiness.

Both portraits are still in progress. I guess everything is always in progress. When it’s over, you die. I’ve tweaked the one on the bottom several times, correcting different elements to make the forced perspective from down below work. Thanks to Libby Smith, who I had as a teacher, it’s easy for me to see what’s wrong in a face, mostly my face. Yes, I know, Libby, the ears need to move a bit lower still and the left eye (the eye on the left which also happens to be my left eye, since it’s a reflection) still needs more work. And the right could use some adjustments too. But I ran out of yellow. I painted until the oil pastel was the size of a grain of rice. I’ll get some more yellow, and I’ll continue working on it once I shave. I will come back to this blog and add the dimensions. Suffice to say that the sad golden portrait below is at least four times larger than the happy blue portrait above. What does it all mean?

Isaac Hernández, Self-portrait, oil pastel on paper, 2010.

Untitled in Orange

Evolution of Self-Portrait. ©2012 Isaac Hernandez

Immediately after I finished the last happy self-portrait I set off to making a new one. I wanted to revisit the idea of having both hands in the picture, so as to take turns painting with one hand and then the other. I did this for the first time in one of my first oil pastel self-portraits; the one that reminds people of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

I also wanted to use up all the colors that I never use, since I was running out of bright colors anyhow. So I started with pink, purple, black and beige… The sequence above was all done in one day (actually in just over one hour, which is fast for me), on November 2011. Interestingly, I ended the session by drifting to oranges and blues, colors that I tend to use more.

But one thing was different, I left some black showing through; I normally don’t use black at all, except when I painted the black-and-white self portrait, Thinking of Basquiat. And yes, I wanted to make a serious portrait for no particular reason, perhaps to balance the happy one.

I left the drawing in the studio for months. I wanted to continue painting it, but I didn’t. I can make many excuses, but the thing is that I didn’t. Nevertheless, I’ve been busy with many other creative endeavors, including writing The Magical Seaweed play, so I didn’t miss painting terribly (only a lot). But I did wonder whether I was ever going to finish this self-portrait.

Then, on February 11, 2012, after a day in which I felt like people didn’t care for what I had to say, including some of my students in the photography class, I hid in the art studio. I suddenly was in the same mood as the painting I had started over two months ago. I don’t remember ever painting with so much anguish. Below’s the result, although it’s probably not done yet (I ran out of orange!). I won’t touch it much more, as I like the looseness of some of the “brushstrokes”.

Isaac Hernandez, Untitled (Self-Portrait), oil pastel on paper, 2011-12. ©2012 Isaac Hernandez

Some people don’t like that I paint myself looking sad. Is it because they prefer to think of me as a happy person. Well, I’m a happy person, but I do get sad, and I celebrate that. Besides, it’s easier to be serious than laughing when you’re holding a pose in front of the mirror.