Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions
August 28 - October 16, 2013

Schrag's Self-Portraits

The Mitchell Gallery staff is busy preparing for the Members Reception on Friday in honor of the exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions. Since nametags are created for these events, an inquiry for an appropriate image
Karl Schrag (1912-1995), Self Portrait, 
Black and White, n.d. Oil on board. 
Loan, courtesy of Katherine and 
Lawrence Wangh.
to accompany it came across my desk. Choosing an image for various print/media use is always a challenge because of the variety of considerations, including the  orientation, resolution, color match, theme, tone, plus,  everybody has to like it. In my ponderings, I came across the large undated self-portrait created by Schrag titled, "Self-Portrait, Black and White." This three-quarter length oil on canvas is one of four self-portraits in the exhibition and I was thinking how different they are from each other, differences not necessarily due to the age of the artist.

I have several questions I thought I would share about his portrait. Portraits are created for a variety of reasons--a formal portrait usually  commemorates a person or event and often depicts the sitter's professional or social status. Portraits can be created for personal viewing and may provide psychological insights of the artist or the sitter. Sometimes the artist will be included sort of incognito and mixed in a group of people, while others are alone and straightforward. So, what is the purpose of this particular self-portrait? Somehow it seems so personal. It is certainly different from Schrag's self-portrait created to advertise an exhibition of his work at the Smithsonian Institution for the National Collection of Fine Arts. That mission is direct and to the point: publicity. 

Another of Schrag's self-portraits hangs just above the opening text panel in the exhibition. It is a bust and painted with greens/blues/yellows in the face--very Matisse-like, perhaps even Fauvist? Matisse's influence wouldn't be so far fetched since Schrag was in the first half of his career at Matisse's death in 1952.

It's fun to think about the actual production of the work too. In "Self Portrait, Black and White," Schrag is wearing a cap. Is his cap part of his fashion sense or does it cover a new bald head at that time in his life? Is the sweater one he wore every day, or just in the studio? Did it give him a sense of comfort and routine, a sort of centering like a favorite blanket? Does he show the same features consistently? Usually an artist uses a mirror to create his/her own portrait, so everything is backward. Schrag is shown with the paintbrush in his right hand. Did he correct the image or the pose to reflect right-handedness?  It leads me to wonder how Schrag saw himself at different times in his life. I know if I were creating a self-portrait, there are probably a few features I'd like to soften, but it wouldn't be my left-handedness!

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg
Art Educator

Learn More:

Attend the lecture by exhibition curator Domenic Iacono, Wednesday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Bring friends and family to the Public Reception and Family Event, from 3:30 - 5 p.m., Sunday, September 22.
No registration is necessary.

Thanks to the generosity of the Mitchell Gallery members, these events are free and open to the public.