Male Self-Portraits (Philip Scott Johnson)

A year ago I wrote about Women in Art, an artwork by the American digital artist Philip Scott Johnson (aka Eggman913). The artwork has taken the Internet by storm, producing a string of posts, analyses, and – alas – a few pirate versions, as well. Undoubtedly, though, this was one of the most creative works we’ve all seen, and, for one, it showed that all that social media stuff is not just for kids. It is a huge artistic and creative medium and milieu.

In the post in which I observed some obvious peculiarities of the way the Western art has portrayed women I also said:

“unless EggMan is already in the process of doing this, may we kindly ask him to make a film about men in Western art. This subject is no less beautiful, and the controversy that often surrounds it will only expand our perception of Beauty”.

I wrote this in May 2007. There was no communication between Philip and me, so you can imagine my surprise when I have just discovered that he actually produced a video on the subject. But – and this is what makes an artist what he/she is – he didn’t just make a morph of diverse and sundry male faces the Western artists painted over 500 years. This new video is about “500 Years of Male Self-Portraits in Western Art“.
Accompanied by Bach’s Bouree 1 and 2 from Suite for Solo Cello No. 3, this is a breathtaking study of Western vision of the artistic self throughout half a millennium. Opened and closed by the portraits of Leonardo and Picasso, respectively (the two men whose genius no-one seems to doubt), the sequence is visually stunning. Most importantly, however, the visual work penetrates deep into our thinking. It is by itself amazing to see how easily Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) diffuses into Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), or how deftly Jan van Eyck (1395-1441) blends into Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). But when you see Rembrandt’s (1606-1669) grey locks becoming Andy Warhol’s (1928-1987) famous white crop of hair, the story takes a completely different turn.

And the story isn’t just about troubled geniuses, the great eccentrics, the talents that continue to inspire virtually everyone up until now. The story is once again about their vision of themselves, and in this respect this video by Philip is an even greater achievement than Women in Art. I wrote about the latter that it was possible to make it partly because the artists were looking at their females from the more or less same angle. Now to see that the artists painted themselves in the more or less same manner makes the difference.

And I can’t help but speak about the merge of Rembrandt and Andy Warhol once again. Even taken on its own, it manifests the continuity in artistic expression, on the one hand, and the impossibility to pin an individual (let alone an artist) down to a certain image, on the other. If we can diffuse a smiling Rembrandt into an intense Warhol, the whole process can be inverted, and we can see Warhol becoming Rembrandt. This means – as far as I am concerned, at least – that there is little difference between a troubled genius and a happy genius. Each of them is an ocean of experience, thoughts and emotions, and thankfully, we have artists like Philip Scott Johnson to let us observe this.

For the list of artists and to leave a comment for Philip, please visit the YouTube page for the video.

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2 thoughts on “Male Self-Portraits (Philip Scott Johnson)”

  1. Thanks for the nice write up. I remember reading your blog about “Women In Art” back in May. I’m glad you like my films. I should be coming out with a new one in a couple of weeks.Philip

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  2. Philip, it is my pleasure to write about your work. :-)) I wish I could update the other post with a “congratulations!” note… although for me you are the winner!! Keep up the great work, and the best of luck!

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