In her photograph, Me as an artist in 1984, produced in 2014, Gillian Wearing makes herself the subject of the work. Shown as a younger version of herself, with a 1980s backcombed hairstyle and prosthetic mask, she sits on a desk holding a clay figurine splattered in red paint. Behind her is an abstract painting, a naïve Surrealist-like composition.
Wearing re-visits herself at 21, during a period that she lived in London, working as a secretary in an animation studio. Interested by her colleagues’ work, she enrolled in an art and design course at Chelsea School of Art. Wearing later graduated from Goldsmiths College, one of a cohort of artists in the 1990s, including Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, who became known as the ‘Young British Artists’ or ‘YBAs’.
Self-portraits traditionally allow us to control how we appear to others. In Wearing’s photograph there is a sense of reticence on the brink of what became a successful career. It is almost as if she is ‘trying on’ the guise of artist. Incorporating prosthetic masks in her work, either worn by herself or by others, Wearing invites us to think about the relationship that exists between a person’s ‘real’ self-identity versus an ideal version projected to the outside world. As she commented in 2014:
It’s like Oscar Wilde says, “Give someone a mask and they will tell the truth.” When we talk with our faces, we are very aware how people are perceiving us. Masks protect you quite a lot actually. They give you a little bit of empowerment.
Birmingham-born, Gillian Wearing exhibits her work internationally. Winner of the Turner Prize in 1997, she has had numerous solo exhibitions including shows at the Serpentine Gallery (2000); the Institute of Contemporary Art in Pennsylvania (2003); and a major retrospective at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2012, that toured to Düsseldorf and Munich. In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery exhibition, Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the mask, another mask explored the work of French artist, Claude Cahun (1894–1954) and Wearing – artists of different generations who both used photography and performance to explore shared themes of identity, self-portraiture and gender.
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.