Self-Portraits in Mirror #1
This book, published by Karma, accompanies Jonathan Horowitz's show of the same name at Gavin Brown Enterprises from March 9 - April 21, 2012. From Gavin Brown's press release:
"But man, proud man…
Most ignorant of what he is most assured,
His glassy essence
Gavin Brown's enterprise announces the upcoming exhibition, “Self-portraits in Mirror #1”, by Jonathan Horowitz.
In 1969, Roy Lichtenstein completed Mirror #1, the first of more than fifty mirror paintings the artist went on to paint over the next four years. This inaugural work in the mirror series is a large oval painting of a mirror previously in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. S. I. Newhouse Jr., and of all of Lichtenstein’s mirror paintings, it is perhaps the most iconic.
The mirror is both a metaphor for painting (art), and its bitter rival in the contest to “add to the stock of available reality”. It is therefore of little surprise that Lichtenstein’s choice of subject-matter offered him countless precedents, from the Arnolfini Portrait to Las Meninas to A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, to aspire and allude to.
Lichtenstein’s works, however, are discreet images, that deny their context and suppress narrative. They describe reflection rather than utilize it. The mirror surface from which Lichtenstein worked is, as Jonathan Miller puts it, "ideally invisible, since anything which can be seen on them gets in the way of what is to be seen in them." Being strictly pictorial, strict opticality is turned on its head.
This game Lichtenstein was playing, between himself and Clement Greenberg served to literalize the loss of self that is a necessary component in every act of looking. As we prepare to behold ourselves within the mirror’s frame, we experience a loss of identity. Instead of having one’s presence in the world affirmed, we instead discover a disappearance, an annihilation, as we find ourselves instead gazing at our true doppelganger: an empty abstraction, a painted surface, an empty cipher…nothing. The viewer is transformed into a spectral, disturbing presence-absence. Lichtenstein's mirrors went so far as to suggest the dissolution of their first viewer, their first subject: the creator himself.
In this exhibition, Horowitz will present a series of paintings inspired by Mirror #1. Each painting is made by a different individual, including Horowitz himself, and painted by eye from a small printout of the original. Only brushes and paint, and no additional mechanical apparatus, were used. While the dots in Lichtenstein are a sign of the absence of hand and also a sign of massive reproduction, the dots in the Horowitz paintings trace the body’s presence, and the fact of their hand-made-ness. Horowitz stresses the tactile marks that make up the painting, just as Lichtenstein does. But the prize for each artist is different. Every mark within the Horowitz declares itself as human and subjective, a living and mortal self. Each mark bears the imprint of the individual who made it. Horowitz revives the first viewer, the maker, and makes them, though not literally visible, present and felt.
How can one make a self-portrait using the mirror of another's self-portrait? Horowitz occupies the skin of another artist and outsources his subjectivity to another 19 humans, each of whom amplifies and affirms and crushes both Greenberg AND Lichtenstein. These paintings of nothingness, repeated and relentlessly blank, but still yielding no more than difference and no less than self. How are we implicated in this painting? The painter is turning his eyes towards us only in so far as we happen to occupy the same position as his subject.
All that is left is the object itself. The subject and the object become interchangeable. Randomly mutable, radically mute. Just as with the Lichtenstein “original”, there can be no reflection except of their maker(s). Each one differing and reflecting each other in a hall of mirrors where every one becomes the same. We are so multitudinous and multifarious, that the concept of difference, selfhood and even meaning itself becomes meaningless. Our glassy essence is revealed to be a lack, if not the loss, of all identity, as we are returned to ourselves, liberated by our look into the two-dimensional abyss."