Navel-gazing: indulging in self-portraiture

My latest project, a self-portrait titled "Morning Shave," was born from a desire to push myself out of my comfort zone and to create with intention.  

Morning Shave, charcoal and white chalk on tinted paper, 18 x 26"

This project started on August 24, 2015.  My career coach gave me homework - to create a self-portrait, just for myself.  The goals - to get my creativity flowing and to let go of my concerns of what others think of my work.  As a student at an atelier, at times I can become overly focused on the viewpoints of others when it comes to my artistry.  

It took several months for me to actually think of how I wanted to draw (and hopefully in the future paint) my self-portrait.  And then it took a few more months for me to actually commit to the idea - to undertake a study. 

Perhaps "Morning Shave" can be perceived as narcissistic - a classic case of navel-gazing, betraying a long held desire to paint myself in the nude.  Doesn't every representational artist want to paint him or herself naked?  Isn't that a rite of passage?  In truth, the idea of depicting myself without clothing makes me feel a little uncomfortable, a little vulnerable.

With "Morning Shave," I wanted to play with the concept of androgyny.  The term play is crucial - I am aware that my appearance in my drawing is not truly androgynous, insofar that I do not appear to be of an indeterminate sex.  But I suggest I may have a measure of masculinity by showing myself engaged in a routine primarily associated with men - the morning shave.  Perhaps my drawing is more of a way to toy with gender roles than a technical depiction of an androgynous Shannon Brochu. 

An underlying theme I explored through this piece is my desire to be seen and treated like an equal, which I often equate with being treated more like a man and less like a woman.  I become frustrated when I feel that I am being treated differently than men, even when such treatment is implicit and I suspect not intentional.  It's 2016.  Is my desire to be treated like an equal in vain? 

While shaving my head is a way of neutralizing my gender, this piece is also about embracing my femininity.  Notice that I'm curling my (remaining) hair, wearing make up, and showing my female form.  Obviously I am unwilling to abandon my femininity, something I quite enjoy about myself, in my quest to be treated like an equal.

I also wanted my self-portrait to be honest, and maybe even make my audience a little uncomfortable.  I am engaging in an intimate morning routine.  This is a candid moment, without a speck of self conscious awareness.  I am unaware of the viewer's eternal gaze - I am unguarded and conceptually stripped bare.   The viewer plays the role of voyeur. 

I would like to end this post by touching upon a few pieces of art that inspired me while I was in the process of creating "Morning Shave."

My initial inspiration came from a self-portrait I saw a few years ago - the artist painted himself in the process of his morning shave in a steamy bathroom.  I was struck by a choice the artist made that I thought was self-deprecating - he showed himself from the waist up, with his big belly hanging over his towel. Unfortunately, I do not recall the name of the painter or the painting. 

In the process of drawing I was also reminded of one of Frida Kahlo's many self-portraits, "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair."  She painted it in 1940, after she divorced fellow artist Diego Rivera.  Frida portrays herself in men's clothes, after she cut her hair, her shorn locks scattered around her on the floor.  As noted by the Museum of Modern Art, this painting is seen by some as a declaration of Frida's self-reliance and independence.

I think "Morning Shave" also reflects my love of the artwork of Tamara de Lempicka.  Many of her pieces feature strong women in their undergarments.