MA Monash University 2001
Thesis Precis:

Subject, Witness, Participant:
The Employment of the Self Portrait in Narrative Painting

Works on paper by Rita Lazauskas

‘….drawing (attention) to oneself.’ i

This research project is an investigation of subjectivity and the self-portrait in narrative painting.

As witness to our culture and human condition I present a subjective view of the roles that society and language impose. As a participant I investigate the position of the individual in society. By focusing on the self-portrait I declare the subjectivity of the work.

My practical research has focussed on the medium of drawing, while exploring various manifestations of visual narrative. Many artists turn to drawing to overcome creative block. It leads to new techniques, ideas and visual language. It assists with critical thinking. The drawing process is, in itself, investigative. An exploration of the word reveals this nature.

Draw/draught – as well as being about making marks and pictures – is about: inhaling, drinking, pulling, enticing, attracting, taking…in. And out: planning, layout, designing, composing, framing. (Draught) Draft – to write.

The process and strategies of drawing allow for exploration, experimentation, invention. Drawing is the ideal way to explore and resolve problems. It is direct, quick and combines the intuitive and rational. The calligraphic marks allow for various effects from the decorative to the distorted. There are also enormous pleasures in using the tactile drawing mediums. Delving into uncharted territory, drawing is a means to research and understand ideas as well as many aspects of lived reality. It involves seeing and interpretation. We select and make associations and establish our unique form of expression. The tactile mediums allow for an emphasis of the artist through gestural marks that show the physical engagement and process. Communications are transmitted by the mark. The trace of the individual, the movement of the hand or the preference for particular symbols and elements reveal the unique style of the artist and become like rhythm in music or poetry.

The works presented in this project emphasise drawing. I exaggerate the drawing elements by juxtaposing them with highly detailed painting or vibrant colour. Each image presents a broad range of method: visual imagery that veers from simple or expressive line drawing through to a detailed illusionism. Blurred and blended areas where the image shifts from one style to the next, or where the focus shifts to the surface or the mark, create visual passages to be read as the eye scans the work.  This shift from illusion to surface and back again adds complexity to the narrative.

Art is an arena where we explore ideas and our own identity. The process of drawing is akin to play. It is an activity where the individual is able to be creative and develop their own sense of self. It is a transitional space/place between “me”, the subjective internal, and “not me”, the objective external reality.  Identity shifts and changes and is constantly in flux. It ebbs and flows and interweaves the subjective with objective observation. As we experience life and our identity changes, we continue to strive to fix it.

i Derrida, Jacques. The Truth in Painting,. University of Chicago Press, 1987  p9

above right: Drinking with the Devil, 2000, acrylic & charcoal on paper, 250 x 200cm, Monash Faculty of Art & Design Collection.

click on images below to enlarge