Artists have always been compelled to represent their own likeness, but not until the early Renaissance in the mid-1500s in Europe did artists begin to frequently depict themselves as the primary subject in their work. This surge in self-representation can be attributed, in part, to higher quality and more readily available mirrors. With the reflections and refractions of the artist’s mirror, the creator became the subject.
In this exhibition, featuring self-portraits from the collections of Library and Archives Canada and Glenbow, the legacy of the artist’s mirror lives on. Here artists are looking deeply at themselves, a practice reflected across a wide variety of media, artistic styles and time periods. From biographical self- expression to political commentary, the motivation behind creating a self-portrait is as diverse as the artists themselves.
In an era where self-representational images are more prevalent than ever before, this wide range of approaches to self-imaging illustrates the self-portrait’s inherent complexity – the tension between private and public, identity and image and the potential for the artist to both conceal and reveal their subject.
Library and Archives Canada is home to many of our country’s most important portraits. These historical and modern works provide a unique visual history of Canada, interpreted on a human scale, through the faces of individuals, known or unknown, who have shaped and who continue to shape the history and culture of the nation. You can explore that collection at the online Portrait Portal.
As part of a five-year collaboration with Library and Archives Canada, Glenbow will host a series of exhibitions drawn from this national portrait collection. The inaugural exhibition features fascinating works by Emily Carr, Norval Morriseau, Yousuf Karsh, Alma Duncan and many others.