Art as Self-Portraits / by Jeannine Cook

Allison Malafronte, writing in October 2010 in American Artist, quoted the late wonderful artist, Timothy R. Thies, as saying, "The interesting thing is that I can go back to an image and remember exactly how I was feeling at the moment I painted it... In fact, every painting I do is a self-portrait, because they are all about where I am in my life at that specific moment..."

I think that is such an accurate statement. I was storing away art that had returned from an exhibition this evening and moved some old drawing books to make space. I leafed though them quickly, and memories came flooding back. They were of different trips to parts of Europe - quick drawings of places, things that interested me, light effects - a myriad evocative scenes. In essence, each drawing was part of the continuous record of my being, my evolution through life, my interests and excitements.

Perhaps this continuous self-portraiture - de facto - is one of the most compelling reasons to be disciplined enough to keep a drawing journal. Writers keep written journals - and in fact, so do many artists. But the act of drawing is somehow different, and for an artist, immensely powerful as an aide-mémoire in its unadorned directness. Not only is one recording images that can perhaps serve later on for more sustained paintings or drawings, but each drawing tells of that particular moment in one's existence. Taking photographs is not quite the same - perhaps the mechanical click of the button to record the image is too quick and too easy to imprint the scene on one's mind in the same way as actually executing a drawing.

In fact, in one of the drawing books I was looking at this evening, I found some photographs that - very unusually - I had taken with my husband's camera. They were of some marvellous handmade wooden big reels of fishing line, lying on a quay in the Azores. I had drawn the reels a couple of times, but evidently wanted the colour images as well. My drawings brought back a flood of sensations - I could hear the sounds of the boatmen working on their vessels, the sound of the wind lapping the waves on the concrete harbour wall, the cool shade where I was standing. But the photographs conveyed none of those remembered sensations... they seemed "dead" and impersonal.

I am glad that I inadvertently had a trip down memory lane today. It validated the effort always to carry a drawing book with me when I travel.