In that camera-sharp place where planetary upheaval had lift its signature: the now placid monuments that, as far as anyone out there cared, had been there forever, I would undertake—"dare" would be a truer word—to paint the unpaintable. One year was enough to sear it on the lens of memory (It was not done on the spot, as artists generally did: planting their shaky easels in sand or shale, wind and sun; dipping brushes in globs of paint and hope) so that, in the studio alone with my dream I would record it like a diary entry, just like that.
- from Dorothea Tanning: Birthday and Beyond. Exhibition brochure. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000.
Happy New Year, everybody! This time of year always brings to mind a particular painting by Dorothea Tanning.
Self-Portrait is a 1944 work where Tanning stands, her back to the viewer, at the edge of a seemingly eternal rocky landscape. The expanse is vast, endless, deep, and filled with mysteries and secrets. It is a fortress of the unknown. That is what New Year’s feels like to me. I am not one for making resolutions, but a certain feeling of change permeates the air, of searching for new opportunities and the sense that anything can happen. As Tanning stares out, searching for the unknown, I feel a sense of solidarity.
The translucent, hazy soft colours and lights provide a dreamy quality. At the same time, the distance between Tanning and us — she’s a tiny figurine in a vast, sprawling landscape with her face hidden from our sight — makes it impossible to determine whether she’s confident in her gaze or fearing the unknown. That’s part of the beauty of the painting: its ambiguity. The image always strikes me as deeply sincere, but not in an annoying, cloying way. Speaking as someone who has struggled with imposter syndrome throughout my life, I find the work liberating and invigorating. In Tanning's painting, nothing happens, but everything occurs.
The beauty of Self-Portrait is that while she appears small, the landscape in front of her is endless. This new year, I feel that deeply. The unknown, the fear, sure, but also the thrill of plans, adventures, and opportunities. Of daring, hoping, believing and taking a chance.
Last year brought heartbreak, but it also brought some of the most wonderful memories and people into my life and strengthened my already-cherished friendships.
I’m not above ambition and saying I want certain things. And I believe that what I want is out there for me. As I stand on the edge of a new year, gazing at what it might bring, I only ask for it to be kind. Other than that, I am ready.
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