For an artist, doing a self-portrait is equal to baring your soul

By Laura Bulkin
Posted 1/16/19

The Taos Center for the Arts celebrated its ninth annual "Self-Portrait Exhibition" with an opening reception Thursday (Jan. 10). The annual juried show encourages artists to portray …

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For an artist, doing a self-portrait is equal to baring your soul


The Taos Center for the Arts celebrated its ninth annual "Self-Portrait Exhibition" with an opening reception Thursday (Jan. 10). The annual juried show encourages artists to portray themselves in a variety of media, both representational and abstract. The jurors for this year's show were Sarah Hart, Tom Azzari and Frank Purcell.

Tempo asked guests mingling at the reception, including some of the artists themselves, to talk about work in the show that had moved them, impressed them, perhaps revealed something new to them.

Artist Mary Shaffer found two pieces that especially intrigued her. "Mary Hoffman's work, 'At the Gorge Bridge,' the self-portrait constructed of fabric -- that's amazing, as it's wool, felted and built-up. And Sheila Grace Wellspring's collage, 'If I Am Not the Earth's, Who Am I?' -- it's made of very unusual material. You can see the 'nest egg' there, an actual nest. It's like a conduit for nature, a celebration of life. It's innovative and exciting."

TCA board member Chris Riveles singled out Charlotte Shroyer's monotype with ink. "I think it's very interesting. Her work is mostly big tall pieces. When I met her, I noticed her tallness, and this piece, even though it's smaller, makes that point as well in its long narrowness. I love that it's not afraid to show age. It's very natural-looking."

Photographer Doug Yeager spoke about his decades-long friend Pattie Traynor, whose photographic self-portrait "Sacred Heart" showed the artist baring the scar from a life-saving surgery last spring. "I'm in awe of what she's done in this piece," Yeager said. "She told me about it, but seeing it, it's even more powerful than I could have imagined."

Traynor's son, photographer Bryce Jacobs, was visiting from Los Angeles. For him, "Sacred Heart" was profound. "It shows how strong she is. She can get through anything."

Traynor herself was moved by Christina Sporrong's "Raising Gamayun," a work in steel. "I love that the self-portrait is almost hidden, and that the bird seems to represent light."

Sporrong found inspiration in Susan Pasquarelli's "Transparency," a slide show of 72 images that changs every five seconds in a digital frame. "I like the mixed media. It's like a daily tallying of emotions."

Robbie Rowe, newly arrived in Taos from Ohio, also cited Pasquarelli's work as a standout. "It reminds me of politics," she said. "All these people shouting for 'transparency' who are themselves obfuscating the most." Other artists who caught Rowe's attention were Bita Ghavami, Donna Dufresne and Elisabeth Karpov. "Ghavami's photograph, 'Two Days of Rain,' the nude self-portrait in the desert, is provocative and beautiful. Dufresne's 'Me in the Middle' makes me think about family order, like a middle child. I like it a lot. The Karpov piece, 'Not So Long Ago,' feels to me like it's about survival. It's powerful."

Artist Karpov was impressed with Hoffman's felted-wool piece. "I've felted before, and it's not easy to get that detail with wool. The wispy hair, the expression in the eyes -- that's a lot of skill and a lot of time. It's a really nice piece. Very sincere and authentic."

Karpov's husband, Michael Schatzberg, was succinct in his appraisal. "I like my wife's work," he said. "It's honest."

Photographer Jeff Baker relocated to Taos from Texas three years ago. He cited Pasquarelli and Dufresne among his favorites. "Another one that stands out to me is Rafa Tarín's 'Jaguar King Rides Again.' It's a great concept, with wonderful execution."

Songwriter Robin McLean was drawn to Terry Fiala's "Bluesman," a composition of silver-blue on a black background. "What I like is his complete identification with the image. No face, no part of the body, but the bluesman's hat and guitar make a complete portrait."

We asked Taos theater veteran Lisa Wright about her mother Jinx Wright's whimsical self-portrait, "OH!" -- an expressive face painted in acrylic on an oval artist's palette. "What can I say about my mom?" she laughed. "It has a real sense of fun. She's serious with her art and usually works in watercolor. This is another side for her. I love Christina's sculpture, so beautiful. Bita Ghavami's photo is so brave, and so is Pattie's. What I love with this show is that it frees up artists to show these different aspects of self-expression."

Guest Lenore McDonald also mentioned Ghavami's photograph. "Beautiful and brave. I find it so moving. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. And Leslie Warnick's podium over there, 'Soapbox' -- that's an extraordinary piece. Some museum should purchase it."

Artist Natalina, who had her own self-portrait in the show, praised Sporrong's sculpture. "I really enjoy Christina's metal work. From every angle, there's a different view, a different part of herself that she was exploring."

Cinema maestro Johnny Long was also inspired by Sporrong's work. "That's a miraculous alchemical transformation. It feels like the final steps of turning lead to gold, taking something heavy and making it light."

Artist and Renaissance man-about-town J. Matt Thomas spoke about the unique quality of the self-portrait show. "With most openings, you naturally sense some vulnerability from the artists, as they display their work for the public. Placing your work on the wall takes a lot of energy -- in all types of ways! For this show, it's heightened. Our friends and neighbors are not only showing their artwork, but revealing something about themselves. I loved seeing how each artist navigated that -- some abstract, some literal, and all super creative. The show is really well curated and hung. Kudos to Sarah Hart and the TCA."

"I'm thrilled to see so many new artists," said John Dunn House Shops founder Polly Raye. Guest Cindy Atkins agreed. "A lot of new names, new talent, it's great to see that!" TCA board member Holly Azzari told us the annual self-portrait exhibit was her favorite show. "It's the most fun. I love seeing how people see themselves."

TCA Executive Director Colette LaBouff said, "This show is a fantastic opportunity to see how individuals portray the self and how those responses span the possibilities: deep, reflective, fun, quiet, the gambit of how we are human and present in the world."

Admission to see the show is free. The Encore Gallery is open during shows and movies, or by request at the TCA office during business hours. Call (575) 758-2052 or visit


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