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On Creating Versions & Variations

Self portraits by Shelley Stefan


Have you ever felt like you made something really wonderful - a drawing, painting, or project in any other medium and you like it so much that you have like this tremendous inner reluctance to move on to the next subject? Have you ever considered paying heed to that internal fixation and using it as a guide to more deeply explore your subject? My case in point is a recent art exhibit I viewed by artist Shelley Stefan. 


In the image above you can see a perfect example of what I'm talking about. This photo depicts one area of the exhibit by artist Shelley Stefan. When I recently attended this particular art exhibition for artist Shelly Stephan I was reminded of how artists can present many versions of one subject which can have a dramatic impact on the viewer. Her only subject for this exhibit was herself. She created a huge quantity of self portraits and it created a really interesting exhibition since she explored subtle variations of expression in an endless array of nuanced portraits. She shifted mediums, angles of her face, lighting, and the clothing pictured in the image. Her palette was fairly limited and this helped to create a strong exhibit and cohesive viewing experience. 


This exhibit reminded me that it's not always necessary to move on to the next big idea. Like Shelley Stefan's exhibit there are times when repetition of a subject can lead to new discoveries and the work itself can become and interesting meditation for the artist - in this case a meditation on the idea of identity.  The more you create similar works or versions of a single subject the more each piece becomes part of a unified whole - these pieces immediately add context to each other, allowing points of comparison and discussion. As an artist I would call you to question the necessity of moving on to the next subject - ask yourself if its necessary and try to determine if you really have resolved your interest in a particular subject before you leave it.


What I loved about this exhibition is the wide-range of subtle changes in expression on her face. At times the faces seemed quite distinct but altogether the faces created a rich visual understanding of the artist's face. There is something intimate in being asked as the viewer to look again and again at the same face, to see it in it's many manifestations. Are there any subjects that you feel strongly about asking the viewer to look at again and again?

Shelley Stefan self portraits
Shelley Stefan self portraits

Rebecca Chaperon and Shelley Stefan
PS. Since I had just looked at all of these great self-portraits it was easy for me to pick the artist Shelley Stefan out from the crowd at the opening and get this photo of her and I  : )

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About the author

Artist in residence Rebecca Chaperon

Rebecca Chaperon is our Artist-in-Residence

With a compulsion to create unique visual stories, her paintings often follow the thread of a heroine's misadventures through a surreal landscape.

She's had the pleasure of teaching at Langara College and given community workshops on painting techniques with an emphasis on watercolour, oil and acrylic. She is a board member at the Grunt gallery.

View her online portfolio

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