Self Portrait With Hawk: A Summertime Serenity / by Sam Abelow

"Self Portrait, With Hawk" | Oil paint on canvas, 30x40 | 2017

"Self Portrait, With Hawk" | Oil paint on canvas, 30x40 | 2017

My sanctuary in recent years has always been the beach, which I try to spend as much time at in the summer. Maybe it’s because I was born in July, or maybe it’s because my particular physiology prefers the beaming summer sun, and the humid, hot air (attributes which caused my younger sister label me a “salamander). The summer of 2017 was no exception.

Preliminary drawing, charcoal and white chalk on paper

I feel at home in solitude, meditating, my feet in the sand, my skin being baked. To me, this self-portrait represents this important aspect of my life; one in which I can retreat into serenity.

Towards the end of summer, as the season’s portfolio developed, I contemplated a self-portrait. It happened that at my Garden Soirée, a photograph was taken of me which had good, artistic lighting, complementing my features. It was from this which I did my preliminary drawing.

The Symbolist Painters

Aesthetically, I was inspired by the formal divisions of space, and outlines of Paul Gauguin. The color palette resonates with the harmonies which come naturally to my sensibility: dazzling greens, pastel pinks and flattened turquoise. A series of beach paintings by Maurice Denis gave me further confidence to render my work in such a color scheme.

Both Gauguin and Denis are classified as Symbolist painters. Along with a decorative style, which entails a sort of cartooned sense of dimension, they included symbols in their art. Symbols are a type of image which conjures an array of associations in a given person. It is a representation which has no single designation, and instead, in its broadness, can imply many ideas.

The composition is supposed to read with this meaning: A tonal harmony of pink and blue, which play throughout the painting, and the strict division of space signal a resolute state of balance. Further, the face, rendered in a peaceful gaze, reinforce this mood.

It is the hawk which acts as a curious addition to this piece. I wrote in my journal as I began work on the painting:

“October 3rd, 2017. Hawks represent my spirit soaring! They are my child-self, which is timeless, and never-born, always-born. The bird self is me! unfettered by this world, and yet feathered for the love of existence still. A paradox of spirit and matter is seen in a hawk! And I am that love; love for the life of living and dying, and love for the spirit unborn and undying.”

It is this quality which the hawk evokes in me, although it may bring up other ideas to each individual.

Ongoing Process

Working in this Symbolist technique is direct and relatively quick (in terms of other figurative techniques). This affords me the opportunity to keep up the painting process with the continuing evolution of themes in my life. The hawk continues to appear in my work, along with variations on the image of self.