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Old-Fashioned Selfies

April 22, 2016

Most painters create self-portraits during the course of their careers, and a few, like Rembrandt, made them a focus of their output. Vanity isn’t usually the reason for staring into a mirror to capture the nuances of your own countenance. At a young age I desperately wanted to master flesh tones and capture likenesses, but posing for a portrait is an odious task and no one was willing to sit for me. Artists are often reduced to painting from photographs, which limits the ability to capture the ineffable qualities of human existence.


The greatest drawback to painting from photographs is the lack of psychological information more readily available when an artist interacts with his subject, even if the subject is himself. Clients all too often gave me photographs they didn’t like, expecting me to miraculously rise above blurry or uninspired photographs to make a great  painting, which was nearly impossible.


I started using myself as a model for drawings and paintings when I was fifteen. Most of these early works have been lost, but while cleaning my garage recently I came upon a box of self-portraits. Only one of these was intended to flatter and was intended as a portfolio piece to launch what I hoped would be a successful portrait painting career, which never materialized, although I did create several dozen portraits for private and public collections. My focus eventually turned to illustration, but I continued examining my face over the years. Here are some examples of me aging:




Self-portrait at Seventeen. From the start I got into the habit of painting in my bathrobe. I

was proud of that wisp of mustache.






Self-portrait at Twenty. I’m still in my bathrobe. Around this time I started wearing contact lenses.





I definitely need a haircut in this unfinished picture of me painting from 1982.





I only managed to finish the underpainting in this one from 1984. I can’t remember why I never completed it, but the orange background might look familiar from posted photos showing my progress while painting Protest II.





Here I was attempting a “corporate” portrait. It was 1987 and I was managing a jewelry store and wearing a coat and tie to work every day.





Another picture of me in my bathrobe from 1990.





Unlike all of the other images, this one from 1992 is in fast-drying acrylic instead of oil and was painted in less than an hour. We’d recently purchased an old armoire with a mirrored front and I’m gazing at my reflection.





This one, begun in 1990 but only finished last year, was inspired by a Rembrandt self-portrait. It might have been a stronger

piece if I weren’t smiling so much, but I do tend to smile a lot.





This is my most recent selfie, painted last year. The background was left bare to emphasize a sketchy, spontaneous look.



In Rembrandt’s self-portraits we see him aging as life etches pain and loss on his features. In my self-portraits you can bear witness to me growing fat over the years. Like I said, this isn’t an exercise in vanity.





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I like every one of your portraits. What a nice find to discover.
By: The Broad on April 22, 2016
I'm impressed. I like your style and I do enjoy looking at self-portraits of artists and thinking about what they saw. I was recently at a funeral of an artist (who I only knew in his 90s) who had painted a self portrait of him painting when he was in his 30s. The canvas was maybe 5 foot long and a foot wide--it was interesting. I have had one portrait done of me and to keep from having me sit, the artist spent a morning with me and took probably 300 photos (hands, face, me in several kinds of light from all angles. I feel she did a good job. I have a copy of it but the original is in my former place of employment.
By: Sage on April 22, 2016
really awesome
By: denise on April 22, 2016
I'm no critic, but those self portraits are remarkable...and light-years ahead of anything taken with an iPhone. R
By: Rick Watson on April 22, 2016
Those are fantastic! I was going to make a snarky comment somewhere along the way, but these are just too good. Well done.
By: Al Penwasser on April 22, 2016
You have a lot of talent, my friend!!
By: fishducky on April 22, 2016
And you finally ditched the contacts. Love the paintings, very cool.
By: Hey Monkey Butt on April 22, 2016
The progression is fun to see. Thanks,
By: scott park on April 22, 2016
WOW. These are really good! Lisa
By: Lisa on April 22, 2016
Very handsome pictures Stephen and that mustache even in your teens is very Selleck like. You would be easy to buy for. Bathrobe would be at the top of the list:)
By: Arkansas Patti on April 22, 2016
I think you have captured your humor and whimsy. Amazing that you ca do that! What a talent to look at oneself and see some truth.
By: Tabor on April 22, 2016
we'll just call you 'hef' from now on... :)
By: TexWisGirl on April 22, 2016
The one from 1990 with the red bathrobe -- wow! Love the expression on your face.
By: messymimi on April 22, 2016
A fantastic montage! Thanks for sharing the chronology. I love the idea of painting (and posing) in a bathrobe. It is good to see this historic representation of your amazing talent.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 22, 2016
Wow! They all look just like you!
By: Val on April 22, 2016
What a great series - and you look handsome at any age!
By: Pixel Peeper on April 22, 2016
I like the younger portraits as they show an energy and happiness. You must have been a fun guy!
By: red Kline on April 22, 2016
These are great - very detailed eyes and expressions. I like the progression and your most recent one really captures the Chubby Chatterbox we know and love.
By: Robyn Engel on April 22, 2016
What a great series of paintings; I really enjoyed them. Thanks for letting us look! I'm amazed at your ability.
By: jenny_o on April 22, 2016
Love these and I am envious of this kind of talent. This is a great idea, though, which I am sure must assist in your assessment of the stages of your life. The one similar thing that I have is about 45 years of poems which often serve as a kind of spiritual diary to remind me of where I was at various stages in life. of life.
By: Charles Kinnaird on April 22, 2016
You are a talented man, Stephen, and thank you for sharing your talents with us. I think you have aged very gracefully over the years.
By: Mr. Shife on April 22, 2016
Perhaps I should start a collection of STEPHEN: THE BATHROBE YEARS. I think it would be Van Gogh-fabulous.
By: Cherdo on April 22, 2016
I think you are very brave. The idea of painting pictures of myself ageing over the years would be like torture. My favourite is the one with just the underpainting from 1984.
By: LL Cool Joe on April 23, 2016
I love all the portraits. There is something very strange in the idea of self portraits. One of my daughters wanted to get herself cast in plaster when she was 18. I dissuaded her. I thought it would be creepy. I don't think she needed that much dissuading but I would be interested to see it now, if it had been done. Would still seem creepy though.
By: Jenny woolf on April 23, 2016
As one of your countless fans, I'm impressed that you took the time to paint yourself. It must have been challenging task to create one's own likeness. It would be an interesting project to see them all in one painting in chronological order... going left to right. A panoramic view of Steve! Perhaps leaving room to the right for Stephen at 70!!!
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 23, 2016
This is a wonderful gallery; I love all of them. It's clear that your talent developed early in life.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on April 23, 2016
I think you have a solid talent and these self-paintings are wonderful.
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on April 23, 2016
you were hanging in there until about 1990. life got too good perhaps?
By: ellen abbott on April 23, 2016
These are all super! I'm very impressed! For some reason I like the "unfinished" one from '84 the best - but they're all excellent! :)
By: Lexa Cain on April 23, 2016
How great to have this study of your life. As many have already said, you are loaded with talent, Stephen, and were and are a handsome man.
By: Bruce Taylor on April 23, 2016
Well, I am having a hard time believing that you were ever that handsome. Hey, that means that you have a lot more talent with miraculous transformations than you give yourself credit for--right?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on April 23, 2016
I must say, the continuum of what you did is amazing. I think it, as well as showing your capabilities as a painter, lets us have a little peek at "you", as well. (And I have no idea why, but I swear you look like the Artist as Wannabee Pirate in the 1990 one. Yes, I am strange.) Cat
By: Cat on April 24, 2016
Remarkable self disclosure. I noticed you start with glasses and end with glasses. What happened to the contacts?
By: Tom Sightings on April 24, 2016
These are really cool!
By: The bug on April 26, 2016

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