The Adam Portraiture Award 2016 – The People’s Choice Award: Why I voted for…Domestic self-portrait by Priscilla McIntosh

Clémence Vole, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Host reflects on her People's Choice.

Domestic Self-Portrait, 2015. Pricilla McIntosh. Enamel paint on board. Adam Portraiture Award 2016 finalist.

Domestic Self-Portrait, 2015. Pricilla McIntosh. Enamel paint on board. Adam Portraiture Award 2016 finalist.

The portrait I chose for the Adam Portraiture Award People’s Choice is a small painting entitled Domestic self-portrait by Priscilla McIntosh. I hope you noticed it tucked away at the rear of the central moveable wall, because it’s worth having a close look at! This portrait immediately struck me, as I am often receptive of small-format artwork, and I enjoy taking a close look at small detailed paintings. From the moment I set eyes on it, this self-portrait gave me a warm and intimate feeling. It’s beautiful to look at, and I enjoyed losing myself in the various details present in the painting.

Rightly or wrongly, upon seeing Priscilla McIntosh’s Domestic self-portrait I was reminded of historical portraiture practices like medieval illuminations and Japanese prints, which I’m really fond of. Perhaps this was due to the portrait’s small size, the fact that it was painted on a board, or the striking combination of colours and perspectives. 

Le Livre des cleres et nobles femmes [anonymous French translation from De mulieribus claris, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1374], 1488-1496, Cognac (France). Illustrations by Robinet Testard - BNF, Paris

Le Livre des cleres et nobles femmes [anonymous French translation from De mulieribus claris, Giovanni Boccaccio, 1374], 1488-1496, Cognac (France). Illustrations by Robinet Testard - BNF, Paris

Young woman,  Kunisada I, 19th century.

Young woman,  Kunisada I, 19th century.

I think the angular almost jagged dimension of the perspective gives this portrait with a real energy and singularity. This is emphasized by the position of the carpet in the foreground, and by the staggering angular position of the body, which simultaneously reinforces the presence of the artist and creates some movement in the painting. I also really appreciated the application of colour and shades in this painting. The layout is comprised of flat areas of opaque colours and delineated shadows and the pure, vibrant colours of the portrait are well enhanced and contrasted by the deep black of the eyes, hair, t-shirt, suitcases and frame. The delicate brush strokes and glossy finish of enamel paint contribute to this portrait’s great finesse and subtlety.

I find that the techniques applied in the creation of Domestic self-portrait mirror the atmosphere created in this painting. By observing the detail, we can notice numerous elements in the background which give us a glimpse into the artist’s intimate space. This personal world seems to be delivered candidly, and yet, with quiet restraint and keeps the objects partially hidden from view, lending the portrait an air of intrigue. The room is depicted as an intimate setting, where the artist, in her solitude, can get inspired and dedicate herself to creation.

I was very moved by the representation of the artist, which shows her relaxed (in her thick socks!) and reserved all at once, with her hands hidden between her legs, and her feet locked together, barely scraping the ground. With a sideways glance and a vaguely lost look, the artist’s neutral and gentle expression displays a great earnestness and sensibility. I like the way the portrait combines a feeling of comfort with a certain humbleness and shows a solitude that encourages artistic creation. I think this portrait provides an enriching reflection on contemporary portraiture and self-portraiture, and especially on how artists can depict themselves with great humility.