I am in LOVE with Stephen O’Donnell‘s series of portraits. Self-taught artist, O’Donnell’s education was adjunct to his love of history and biography.
The illustrations in books, paintings of places and people, first drew me in. Palaces, clothes, jewels; all the rarified externals. My broader interest in painting and art history and design was rooted there. … Being as retrograde in my tastes as I am, my greatest artistic enjoyment and appreciation still lies with the great portraiture of history. As an art form, the portrait, whether recording aristocracy or something much humbler, still completely fascinates me.
O’Donnell almost always uses self portrait in his work to avoid the limitation of portraiture being “about” someone specific. Gender play is his most recognizable thematic device, such that he is often referred to as the “man in a dress” artist.
… I feel a connection to the Native American concept of berdache – or two-spirit – the idea of a person who embodies a blending of both genders. I may dress as a man, but I think I do feel some degree of being both. So, perhaps, the way I represent myself in my paintings is a way to honor and reconcile those feelings. To create scenarios that express my ideas about beauty and my particular sense of humor. Even to glamorize myself. To live a “life in paint” that isn’t possible in reality.
His favorite genre has become portrait historié – literally a historicized portrait – in which a recognizable subject is depicted in historic or mythological costume. It was a favorite device of the Dutch masters and European court painters of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which the subject of the portrait painted is dressed in clothes of a period previous to their own. In O’Donnell’s portraits he appears as a member of the European Court of the late 18th century – complete with overdone hair.
And thus he gives us Judith, triumphantly and haughtily grasping a courtier’s severed head.
i LOVE the hair. Especially on the chest.