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Self Portrait

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

In May 2018, it was my first time to be formally asked to paint a self-portrait as a project in the art class. However, I thought if I barely draw a picture of my real face would be too stereotype. Suddenly, there was a flash in mind that told myself, "why not draw a portrait of your mind?"

"Who am I?"

"Where did I come from?"

"Where will I go?"

Doubtlessly, to know ourselves is a crucial topic that I believe people have questioned for generations to generations. Everyone may have the similar experience that this kind of query would pop into the mind repeatedly. I attempted to understand more about myself through this project.

The Moment

Instantly, what spontaneously coming into my mind were the star child that appeared in the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and Friedrich Nietzsche's Superman philosophy. The reason why I quickly thought about them is because in the Summer of 2017, I joined a summit for youth student and took a course about the philosophy in films. In that course, we talked about the connection between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Superman philosophy. At here, I roughly remembered that we talked about the three different levels in Nietzsche's doctrine that corresponding to the three evolving stages of human being in the film.

The classical shot transits from the bone to space station.

Therefore, I subconsciously tried to separate some points about me to see if it can help me to analyse myself. To be noteworthy, the character of the star child really inspired, because the baby gave me a pure and innocent sense. I firstly planned to study the film.

From 2001: A Space Odyssey

The Cover of 2010: The Year We Make Contact

2001: A Space Odyssey is directed by Stanley Kubrick, scripted by him and Arthur Clarke. The written story was published after this film had shown, which is also written by Arthur Clarke. This film is mainly talking about the first half of the story and both the sequel novel and film of the second half was published in 1982 and 1984 respectively (2010: The Year We Make Contact).

Comparing to the film and the novel, as for me the film gave me an intense visual impact and clearly introduced the three stages of human's involvement; whereas the novel provided many details that I did not notice in the film, such as the story of the apes. Based on them, I was inspired by the design of the progressing stages. The film generally gave me a sense of past, present and future, so that I was also considering to paint from this perspective.



The mysterious space and the star child deeply attracted me, and helped me to abstractly built up a primary design in my mind. The universe was vast and had existed for an extremely long time, it let me feel old, gave me a sense of the past because whenever I was looking at the glittering stars, I always told my self that the light I saw has traveled for a long time and came into my eyes. In addition, as a part of the universe, sometimes I would imagine that the particles that constructed my body may have experienced innumerable changes, perhaps they used to travel different planets. Therefore, I chose the space to imply the past. Meanwhile, I also wanted to express the tininess of me. I was revering this vast universe and constantly feeling curious about the unknown. This kind of humbleness and loneliness were something hided in my heart.


The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo

As for the present, I used the character of a babe sleeping in swaddling clothes to present. It was somewhat influenced by swirling cloak that floating behind the God in Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam and Buddhism thought that the physical body restricted people. Thus, I wanted to use the swaddling clothes to imply the restriction of the world as well as the body, even the mind. Does not like the star child, I could feel the limitation of myself, especially sometimes when I actually felt that the things did not always meet with the expectations. This world always had the boundaries, the mountains to let you confront and challenge again and again. As for the figure of an infant, it was the pure and innocent part of my inner wold, which was also the thing that I wanted to protect and maintain. Moreover, the babe was closing the eyes, dreaming another world, which also meant that the picture perhaps was the dream of the babe.


The future, for me at that time, it was a quite ambiguous topic that reminded me a blog that I saw nearly 10 years ago. I remembered that when I was a primary school student, one day I read blog that introduces the after death. The information was probably not true, but deeply impressed in my mind. The blog reported a man's description of the world he saw when he nearly dead, he said that it was a pink place. Therefore, the pink he said is really inspired me. Although the future was vague for me, I still wanted to make this kind of fuzziness as soft as a pink cotton candy.

Finally, I decided to use a pink cloud to represent my understand of the future, that though it was not explicit yet, I was using an optimistic view to face it.


It was the most entangling part for me. I tried to express a kind of wish that one day my mind can some how be freed, and that's what both Buddhist and Taoist wanted to pursue. In Buddhism, it was called "Nirvana", that getting the rid of the circle of life and no longer be suffered from it. In Taoism, Zhuang Zi used to conceive a realm that human eventually merging with the universe for the ultimate freedom. These ideas were appealing me, so I wanted to use a symbol to present it.

At first, I planned to use a crystal ball, because it let me think the divination which the wizard can see the past and future through it. However, after consider I thought it does not fit with my idea. In the end, I drew a little wild flower between the infant's hands. I always believed that the meaningful things were existing in the nature. Although the flower was tiny and fragile, the ephemerality and immortality were happening in it simultaneously, which was as same as all the beings. Meanwhile, there was a Buddhist story about the flower edified me. The story mainly told that the Kassapa Thera smiled while the Buddha held up a flower when the others kept silent, then the Buddha announced that Kassapa Thera had realised the true idea. This idea could be regarded as the origin of Zen, which told people that the principle of Buddhism is not relying on the words.


Salvador Dalí, Madonna of Port Lligat (1949)

By the inspiration of Dali's the Madonna of Port Lligat (1949), I quite want to give the painting the similar spaciousness and airiness, to create a dream like image to reflect the lightness of the mind.

Painting Process

I placed the babe in the middle of the canvas as the position of the Sun. So the planets were orbiting around it to create a spatial sense. The pink cloud was added with light blue on the left and right side, and a bit of orange was mixed in top and bottom.

Then was the babe part, it was literally my first ever time to use acrylic to paint, and also my first time to draw a coloured body. At that time, I was quite satisfied with it because I thought that at least on the colour, it was generally acceptable. However, when I look it again right now, I found that the structure of the legs and the colour of the face still need to modify.


Whether it is a dream or not? As a tiny creature, I could barely show my humbleness to the universe, where the place constructed me, the particles that are able to think. Though I can feel that they are also a wall that softly restrained me, let me cannot clearly see the so-called future. However, the life might be a boat that flowing in the dream, I dreamed that I am a wildflower as well as the universe.

To be continue..


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