The self-portrait has long been absolutely central to Western art. It’s a genre that has been dabbled in by seemingly every celebrated and less-celebrated artist, from Sir Anthony van Dyck and Joseph Mallord William Turner to Lucian Freud and Louise Bourgeois.
In short, self-portraiture is the genre that, in its very limitations, can often seem limitless.
However, many self-portraits can also be less than revealing of the artist depicted, which begs the question – what happens when they are stripped of even their clothing? Is the subject ‘revealed’ in more ways than one? And if so, is it a form of self-portraiture that you should try out for yourself?
Clothes don’t always ‘make the man’… or woman
When setting out the composition for the typical self-portrait, you will almost certainly need to consider what you will be depicted wearing, and what implications your chosen clothes have for the viewer. Are they supposed to reflect the ‘real you’, or instead some kind of disguise?
Some of those artists to ask such questions have ultimately found that they can express the greatest poetic freedom through no clothes at all.
The tragically short-lived Francesca Woodman, with her hypnotic, ghostly self-portraits that seem to belong to another time, may be the most historically renowned practitioner of nude self-portraiture. However, there are many more examples that we could cite, from Egon Schiele and Gwen John to Stanley Spencer and Richard Gerstl.
But what forms are nude self-portraits taking now?
The current age – one dominated by increasingly intense discussions about celebrity nude photo leaks, ‘revenge porn’ and the seemingly ever-blurring boundaries between the public and private – seems to be bringing fresh and interesting possibilities to nude self-portraiture that far transcend the ‘sexy selfie’.