Gaela Erwin | American Portrait Painter

''Self-portraits are a recurrent theme in my work. This motif allows me the luxury of working from life without the worry of mounting model bills and the ease of working whenever and however long I feel without scheduling conflicts. After all, I am always available to model. Self-portraits also afford the possibilities not only of mirroring my own physical characteristics and psychology but, if the painting is truly successful, also a glimpse of the interior landscape of the viewer’s own psyche.

Themes of mortality are often evident in my work. Not unlike a vanitas, my paintings are often evocative of life’s companionship with death. Formal concerns such as black borders; painterly, abstracted backgrounds; and a muted tonal palette reinforce this theme. Framing devices that are often seen in my work function on this level as well, but also play with conditions of illusion, creating a sense that the viewer is looking into a mirror. It is a mirror that does not reflect the viewer’s gaze; in fact, the face looking back may not even be looking at him/her. Ultimately, this repulsion of the viewer encourages a looking inward, sparking a resonance that often results in an uncomfortable recognition of a familiar emotion or feeling.

Recent self-portraits have taken the theme of various saints as catalysts for symbolic imagery evident in many of the works. Borrowing from the lore of celebrated saints allows me to explore the near spiritual path every artist must tread in order to pursue their artistic convictions. Though no one would argue that the lives of artists are as arduous and tortured as those that the saints endured, the question of faith for artists in the face of adversity and self-doubt is a torment that perhaps the saints would have appreciated. ''

-Gaela Erwin, 2001