Leo’s wife Margaret noticed that the only self-portrait he’d given her was the one of himself as a woman. Why? She wanted to know. Why that one? He assured her that it was the only one of himself as a woman so far. For her best friend, a banker, Leo had created a self-portrait called “Self-portrait from Collage of Dollar Bills.” The banker had returned it because it was a federal offense to defile paper currency. Leo’s collection of self-portraits stacked almost 100 deep against one wall in his studio, formerly their daughter Bettina’s bedroom. In the two years during which he produced his “art,” he had painted, drawn, pastelled, gessoed, charcoaled, color-penciled, and non-traditionally multi-mediated nothing but self-portraits. “It is as though,” Bettina, a college student at Binghamton posited, “he is trying to find himself.” Every weekend when she came home, Leo asked her to choose a portrait and discuss it with him over tea. Then he would commemorate the experience by sketching a portrait of himself drinking tea: pencil on napkin, pen on scrap of envelope, or smudge of jelly strategically blurred with drops of brown tea on cafe receipt. Leo collected these review-propelled self-portraits over many months to create a self-portrait from them titled, “Self-portrait Created from Self-portraits Generated During Critique of Self-portraits.” He used the information his daughter presented him about himself, his art, his self-art to inform subsequent self-portraits, and the work of his project grew more interior, retracted, self-absorbed, until he decided that his best portrait of self would necessitate Leo himself becoming the portrait. He retreated to his studio and shut himself in, out, and off while he meditated on how to make himself into himself. “Your father is unbelievable,” Margaret complained. “He won’t come out of the room. Can you tell him, Bettina, that he is already himself?” The phone buzzed between them, Margaret’s voice traveling through space to Bettina in Binghamton, Bettina’s words reaching back invisibly to Margaret’s ear, both of them confident they knew who they were speaking to and about.
8.04 / April 2013