In the present work the artist faces a mirror, a compositional device unique in this rare suite of self-portraits, enhancing the enigmatic and psychological profundity of this painting. As with masterpieces from artists as disparate as Diego Velázquez, Pablo Picasso and René Magritte, the mirror serves an additional ‘window’ in a picture already representing a simulacrum of reality. In the present work, Stingel utilizes the mirror to create complex spatial depth, construct an intellectually tense relationship between viewer and object, and demonstrate his prowess as a remarkable painter. Untitled (After Sam) presents the clues to a mirror, in the viewer’s oblique approach from behind Stingel’s right shoulder, but refuses to satisfy the viewer with his own reflection. Stingel’s deep-set and heavy eyes betray a reflective and contemplative moment, in which the artist confronts his eventual mortality and seeks to preserve himself via a self-portrait. This intimate mood is also articulated in the artist’s hand cradling his cheek, a poetic gesture also employed by artists from Titian to Andy Warhol.
The subdued subject matter of Untitled (After Sam) brings Stingel’s brilliant acuity and unparalleled handling of paint. From a distance, Stingel’s countenance assumes a photographic mimeticism; only upon close inspection do the discernible individual brushstrokes cohere into a singular image of the artist’s existentialist dilemma. Although the carefully shaded grayscale recalls the photo-realistic paintings of Gerhard Richter, the precision in the present work eschews Richter’s blurring in favor of a more immediate painterly dialect. Deftly painted in muted shades of white, gray and black, the image here depicts Stingel during a critical moment in his career in 2005, when he began to incorporate portraiture into his lexicon as a way to address the emerging ruminations that accompanied his 50th birthday. The existentialist dread depicted in this self-portrait places Stingel in the company of artists such as Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch, who similarly confronted their own mortality via visually arresting and harrowing images. Repeated and reworked from its source photograph, the painting removes the viewer one step further away from Samore’s original picture. In its reappropriated state, Untitled (After Sam) beautifully epitomizes the postmodern discourse of self-consciousness and philosophical tensions between pictures and their subsequent representations.
The mirrored perspective of the present work lends the painting a complex physical and spatial depth, exemplifying the deeply self-reflexive nature of Stingel's conceptual project. Gary Carrion-Murayari notes of Stingel’s self-portraits, “Stingel’s use of photography as the basis for these works removes the possibility of insight into the artist’s psyche.” (Gary Carrion-Murayarai, “Untitled” in Exh. Cat., Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Rudolf Stingel, 2008, p. 112) The intimate scale of the present work lures the viewer in to participate in a private experience, but flatly rejects his participation or access by denying him a reflection of his own, contributing to the deeply psychological and pensive aura of both artist and audience. Ultimately, Untitled (After Sam) stands as a superlative work of immense power, which reconciles representation and appropriation, a painterly method and mechanical photography, an inviting image and a distanced spirit into a highly eloquent, expressive whole.
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