A perusal of a book of collected work of Egon Schiele changed my life.
Sometime around age 21 or 22 I happened upon a book featuring the work of Austrian artist Egon Schiele. I can't tell you which book it was specifically, this was so long ago, in another lifetime, when there were such wonderful brick-and-mortar retailers like Tower Records - who sold music and books.
I remember the incident like it was yesterday, as the saying goes. This had been at the Bellevue, Washington outlet. I was perusing the book section and was naturally drawn to the art section, for reasons which were unclear to me then. Whatever had been on the cover of that Schiele book provoked me pick it up and leaf through its contents. It was here where I discovered his self-portraits. There was a recognition of, an empathy for, and strange connection with his self-portraits. I recall saying these exact words after a few moments staring at the work. "He looks like how I feel." Now, this wasn't a general statement of my current mood. I'm an optimist by nature. But I recognize, within me at least, that there's a general feeling...a hidden face that truly reflects who I am, at least for short periods of time and serve as an emotional modus operandi for my "inner machines" at any given moment. For those who may not be familiar with what I'm coming to, this is a conversation about Expressionism - and my personal discovery of it.
It was only much later that I re-connected with Schiele and read about his life and his impact on modern artists. In fact, I was acquainted enough with him to notice his influence on artists I've met. Even in a place like faraway Mumbai (at least far from Austria) I encountered an artist who was summoning Schiele in some of his paintings. At the time though, I thought he was ripping him off because there was no acknowledgement on his part who his influences were - even after I mentioned that the piece in question looked exactly like a Schiele creation. I asked myself afterwards, "Why would anyone be ashamed or reluctant to share the fact that Schiele was an inspiration?" I can answer that question now affirmatively: Because sometimes artists are not only thieves, but liars too. The first trait is necessary. All artists must steal in the beginning. But why blatantly lie about the process of development or even for new work? A discussion for another time.
The reason I'm talking Schiele today is because I was thinking about attempting to re-create some of his self-portraits via photography. After looking at a few potential images, I decided against it - at least for now. Because at the core of my desire to replicate something of his, I realized, was my desire to create something Expressionistic. And here's the thing. Look at any of his self-portraits. In most of them, there isn't any hint of a tangible background. A wall is implied, naturally, because what the hell else could there be behind an isolated subject in a painting with nothing else in it? But here's the interesting thing too: isn't the wall implied? There are no corners, no nooks and crannies. No angles of any kind. There is only color present and minor shadings and the occasional misc. aesthetic markings. Through Expressionism, I find that there is really zero difference between the worlds of self-portraiture in each genre. The Photographer can replicate the setting of any painter of Expressionism. There's really no need to imitate or steal or whatever you want to call it. The important element is only the subject and what is being expressed from the inner machines of the Photographer. It isn't required to recreate specific motions necessarily. It's only important to discover a path that blends an unseen world with that of the actual light, Plato's sun.