Cindy Sherman Revisited

Instead of painting other people, Cindy Sherman paints herself. Her work resonates with my own on many levels.

Masquerading as a myriad of characters, Cindy Sherman invents personas and tableaus that examine the construction of identity, the nature of representation, and the artifice of photography. To create her images, she assumes the multiple roles of photographer, model, makeup artist, hairdresser, and stylist. Whether portraying a career girl, a blond bombshell, a fashion victim, a clown, or a society lady of a certain age, for over thirty-five years this relentlessly adventurous artist has created an eloquent and provocative body of work that resonates deeply in our visual culture.

Grundberg in his essay ”The Crisis of the Real” also uses Sherman as  a good example of post-modern photography, in particular her series “Untitled Film Stills”, questioning the notion of personal identity and cultural stereotypes. Cindy Sherman is an example of the one end of the post-modern spectrum. Sherman reverses the terms of art and autobiography, using art “not to reveal the artist’s true self, but to show the self as an imaginary construct. There is no real Cindy Sherman in these photographs; there are only guises she assumes.”

The notion of the multiple selves, and that we are a collection of multiple performances is profoundly important to this body of work. In understanding this the final part of the contextual report is focused on this concept of masks projecting a chosen reality.

The stripping away of the layers in the project is analogous to the photographers attempt at exposing the ‘real’ person. It is possible however, to view the ‘real’ as yet another facade, another mask. An illusion. Postmodernism suggests that the self is a pliable construct. We are not the coherent independent individuals of modernist theory. The ‘real’ is a collection of ways of being that is contingent on relationships and connections with multiple people. We fabricate a persona ourselves, and are moulded by others in response to the outside influences that bombard us in our daily lives. The postmodern self is not ‘real’ but the product of a “liquid” performance.There is no core reality, no permanent self, but many realities of moving boundaries constantly being negotiated between others and ourselves. The identity of self is “those images and masks.”

Cindy Sherman in her series “Untitled Film Stills” questions the idea of personal identity by impersonating cultural stereotypes. Her self-portraits become a mask that obscures her true self and reveals her “as an imaginary construct. There is no real Cindy Sherman in these photographs; there are only guises she assumes.” In the same way my ‘paintings’ also perform the disguise of performance. They are a construct of a reality and expose the concept that reality is nothing more than a performance, and that the performance points at the “limited nature of the visual world.”

The project has sought to avoid the formal photographic portrait, and instead has sought to question the terms of reference by which an individual can be photographed. The body of work has deliberately sought out a duality of disintegration and ambiguity. Exploring the implicit contradictions of the photographic process as a means of representation. In the painting, photographing, and in the disintegration of my painted images a drama unfolds, exposing the process of representation as pure construction. The body becoming “metonymic of self, of character of voice, of presence.”