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#1 2017-01-31 18:42:25


Перевод с английского. Публицистика.

A history of selfies

Humanity is rich in portraits


The first selfies weren't faces but fingers. Hands pressed on cave walls. Two basic approaches: the simple print versus the stencil. You placed a paint-moistened palm against the rock or sprayed around it with a gobful of pigment. "I am." Or at very least, "I was." Thus self-portraiture begins with Palaeolithic palms applauding themselves. Men, women and children entering themselves in the most ancient of Archibalds.

Dating back at least 40,000 years, such handprints are found from the Altamira Cave in Spain to the Kimberley in Western Australia. Millennia later, the literate switched to letters, alphabetical egotists lacerating the flesh of Corinthian columns in Athens or Italy or the lotus-topped at Karnak. I once found Byron's initials defacing a little temple on a Greek headland. He should have known better.

Faces come later. Leaving aside the funeral masks of pharaohs, most famously Tutankhamun's, perhaps the first known portraits of specific human beings were found in Fayum, in the Nile delta. I've got six of the few hundred that survive, ranging in quality from a squiggle by a local Leunig to skilful, vivid images of humans who lived and died 2000 years ago. Effectively passport photos for the afterlife, they were painted for inclusion in the coffin. Romans a long way from home had adopted Egyptian funerary traditions. Whereas the faces on Egyptian sarcophagi were rarely portraits of the occupant — simply assembly-line images of "the Egyptian" rather than "this Egyptian" — the Fayums added a personal touch. And they're just like us. Faces we see in the street.

They're emphatically individual, but they're us. Aware of their intended purpose, and displayed in the home until D-for-death day, the subjects look into our eyes with sadness. (In Buddhist art, the eyes are downcast, looking inward; in classic Egyptian art, the gaze goes beyond the horizon to eternity. The Romans look at the artist and thus at us.)

The most obliging and available artists' models have always been the artists themselves. All you need is a mirror. It's fascinating to look at the evolution of Rembrandt's selfies over the decades. They begin with a cocky youngster wearing feathers in his hat. The arrogant, ambitious Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn warning the world to get out of his way. But as he gets older and wiser and sadder, the portraits become bleak, more Fayum. Until that greatest of painters isn't looking at himself in a mirror. He's looking into the face of death.

Last night, at the Art Gallery of South Australia, I launched a retrospective exhibition of Robert Hannaford's paintings, many of which are portraits, including one of yours truly (above). It was painted at the farm when I was dealing with cancer — a disease that Robert, too, has known well. So it's not the most cheerful of images. (Not that Robert has ever been one of your flatterers. His scores of portraits, of others and himself, are first and foremost truthful. In that sense he's more a Goya than a lily-gilder.)

Yet the experience of being painted by Robert was very amusing. Whereas many work from photographs, he demands that you sit. And sit. And sit. He props you on a little stage he constructs (he's a far better painter than a carpenter), sticks his easel beside you, spreads out a drop sheet, kicks off his shoes, stands back five yards, stares at you intently — and charges. Literally. He makes a brushstroke, just one, and retreats. Like a toreador with a tethered bull, or a pas-de-deux with a motionless partner. And this goes on and on for days.



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