Self-Reflection: 33 Collective’s fifth annual self-portrait exhibition

“Le Tired” by Lisa Stefaniak; courtesy of 33 Collective

“Le Tired” by Lisa Stefaniak; courtesy of 33 Collective

Last Friday night signaled the opening of 33 Collective Gallery’s annual self-portrait exhibition. The approximately 100 pieces on display confirm the growing importance of this event to the versatile group of Chicago-based artist contributors, who span the spectrum from the up-and-coming to the well-established. The common denominator: all were given the chance to share a self-portrait. Fifty of the works have gone up in the gallery and will remain there through June 11, while 100 were chosen for the permanent online collection which may be accessed through the gallery website.

The exhibition was judged this year by Gregg Hertzlieb, director/curator of the Brauer Museum of Art in Valparaiso, Indiana. In describing the winners of the Juror’s Choice Award as well as the Award of Excellence, Hertzlieb explained that out of the throng of compositions, the best pieces were those “attempting to capture a reflection, whether the reflection is on the mirror’s surface or in the artists’ minds as they think about their personality traits, features, or other indicators of identity.”

The only true commonality among the pieces is their subject matter. The exhibit features a smorgasbord of intensely personal, highly stylized modes of artistic self-expression, and a variety of media conveyed alternately hyper-critical impressions and light-hearted caricatures. The Juror’s Award was given to Todd Snyder’s oil on canvas titled “Self-Portrait at Easel.” While the piece is not a realistic depiction of the ruddy-faced artist, its rawness is striking, as is Snyder’s focused, furrow-browed expression, which resists your efforts to pull your gaze away. There is a paradoxical softness in the painting’s short brushstrokes and hushed hues, which give it an airy quality that detracts from the sternness of his expression.

Michael Purdy won the Award of Excellence with a photograph that captured a different kind of personal essence. As opposed to an intimate, idealized, one-on-one dialogue with the artist, Purdy made public a real moment of his life. The effect differs from Snyder’s painting in that we are allowed to sneak a peek into the everyday happenings of the artist’s life. It is less intimidating to see other people in the composition, although they too are going about their lives, oblivious to the others ephemerally interacting with them. Unposed and unembellished, the photograph is instead a casual, almost clumsy snap of the camera, the artist’s glance askance and ignoring.

On the whole the show was strong, whether the works were unpresumptuous photographs or nebulous, indefinable bursts of color. Kathy Fujii-Oka’s Rorschach test-like portrait seems to speak to its author’s tangled thoughts, in contrast to Claire Micklin’s “Vigilance,” where the artist’s blank expression allows the viewer to feel Micklin’s physical presence. The degree to which that presence can be sensed varies tremendously, and one wonders about the extent to which an artist can objectify and detach themselves from a piece, especially one as self-reflective as a self-portrait. In leaving the substantial exhibition, one is struck by the rather vertiginous feeling of having walked through a room filled with funhouse mirrors of other people’s psyches.
33 Collective Gallery, Zhou B. Arts Center, 1029 W. 35th St., first floor. Through June 11. Monday-Thursday, 10am-2pm; Friday, 10am-7pm. (708)837-4534.