Self-Portrait of Me

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Housepaint on wood
25 x 24 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Throughout a thirty-five year career as an artist, Mose Tolliver produced numerous self-portraits ranging from realistic images of the artist on his crutches to imaginative, anthropomorphized abstractions. He altered his likeness with a frequency that suggests an acute level of self-awareness and a desire to explore the multiple—and sometimes contradictory—physical and personality traits that constitute an individual’s identity.

This intense self-portrait is Tolliver’s interpretation of a painting by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), perhaps from his Weeping Women series of circa 1937, which he saw reproduced in a magazine clipping brought to him by a visitor. Tolliver’s interest in Picasso’s work belies the stereotype that self-taught artists are mostly unaware of the larger art world. Tolliver painted himself with a menacing, twisted green mouth with expressively bared teeth. The white tears falling from his eyes echo the white teeth, making the face simultaneously frightening and frightened. —Lauren Palmor