Each of these projects relies on the collaborative actions of others. In Self-Portrait by Proxy, Harris commissioned ideas for pictures from family, friends and cultural icons who have acted as an influence on his person and persona. His mother, wanting to spur on his sales, suggested someone famous mixed with an image from nature: thus we have James Dean and a bird with a worm in its mouth, which she titled save the World. Tony Hart requested a painting that responds to his interest in Islamic imagery, duly expressed in the Pollock-inspired The Moment Before Sleep. Rolf Harris was confused about the concept and remained Totally in the Dark, while Peter’s first art teacher offered Colour is Life. When installed, this series forms a chronological self-portrait across the cultural space of Harris’s identity. Each picture is back-dated to the point in which the collaborator entered the artist’s frame of reference. Small white panels list those unwilling to partake: The Clash,1978. Small black panels refer to those unavailable: Sid Vicious, 1978; Francis Bacon, 1990; and Lenny Bruce, 1992. As he delves into the formation of his own identity, Harris forces the collaborator to take measure of the continuing resonance of their pop-cultural persona, while giving away a bit of their person in the art.
Harris’s work often involves experimenting with new ways of making self-portraits, many of which become collaborations. For his Self-Portrait by Proxy series Harris invited members of his family and cultural icons who have had an influence on his life to give him ideas for paintings, searching for his identity through those who had played a part in constructing it. While gathering responses from sources ranging from his sister to Tony Hart and David Bowie, there were a few significant absentees, most notably The Clash and Sid Vicious, who, either unable or unwilling to enter into this collaboration, were sadly represented in the exhibition by name plaques inscribed with the date that they entered Harris’s psyche.
Andrew Mummery Gallery, London
24 -February – 27 March 1999