Portrait of the artist as a young woman

REFLECTIVE: Painted on cheesecloth Carol Montgomery’s 1982 self-portrait that features interior, exterior and introspective reflections has never been exhibited but will be part of the Gisborne artist’s retrospective of self-portraits when her exhibition opens next week. Picture by Paul Rickard

The cigarette-in-hand pose recalls May Smith’s 1941 oil painting Characterisation in Colour and Rita Angus’s 1937 Self-portrait, both strongly influenced by European modernists. Along with the painterly influences the women, with ciggies in hand, signify a brave new world.

In Montgomery’s self-portrait, the starkness of the trees, the pensiveness in the independent young woman’s face, and the smoke, though, seems quintessentially New Zealand.

How the artist managed the arrangement of mirror and window to achieve the multiple reflections is a mystery even Montgomery struggles to recall. Some time has passed since she painted that early work — which is the point of her upcoming exhibition, a retrospective of self- portraits. Until now, the work has never been exhibited.

The portrait is a difficult subject matter often avoided by artists, she says. The self-portrait is even more difficult in that the artist must try to be objective when it is in his or her nature to be subjective.

“It is unusual in that regard,” says Montgomery whose oeuvre ranges far wider than herself.

“I’m my most patient model. If you paint other people for them there’s a big responsibility because you have to please them and you have to please yourself.”

A capable artist from an early age Montgomery studied University Entrance art as an adult student at night classes held at Gisborne Boys’ High School, and then the following year as a University Bursaries day pupil. She contributed to her art folio two self portraits drawn in pencil.

The first oil painting Montgomery produced, and exhibited, was a self-portrait. The work was one of two she submitted to the 1981 Montana Art Awards and which made the finals. Selector Melvin Day described the work as “Pre-Raphaelite realism”.

“At that stage I had no idea what Pre-Raphaelite was,” says Montgomery.

Artists involved with that British movement took inspiration from late medieval and early Renaissance art and literature. Figures in Pre-Raphaelite portraiture often have a sepulchral, sublime, wistful mien that tilts towards the mystical or mythical.

One of Montgomery’s self- portraits — a finalist in the 2008 Adam Portraiture Award — is more stylised in structure. The portrait stands out in sharp relief against a dark background. Twin bands divide the picture plane. On the right are a couple of lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet to undying love and mortality:

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come.”

In this work Montgomery explored a looser painting technique.

“I was trying not to muck around with the paint. It doesn’t look laboured.”

In a lighter, brighter, oil pastel self portrait the artist wears a straw hat ringed with orange flowers that seems almost too high on top of her head. The perched hat isn’t an afterthought though. Montgomery took as her reference point Pablo Picasso’s 1905 painting Famille de saltimbanques (Family of Saltimbanques).

A saltimbanque is a kind of itinerant circus performer.

In Picasso’s work the group of performers stand in a desolate landscape and seem to look past, rather than at, each other.

The woman in the high-perched, straw hat and dark orange skirt is oddly key to whatever connection they have, but is ostensibly the most disconnected of the group.

“The woman sitting alone was part of the inspiration,” says Montgomery.

“I put myself in the Picasso painting.”

The Self-Portraits of Carol Montgomery exhibition opens at Tairawhiti Museum on Friday, July 12.

The cigarette-in-hand pose recalls May Smith’s 1941 oil painting Characterisation in Colour and Rita Angus’s 1937 Self-portrait, both strongly influenced by European modernists. Along with the painterly influences the women, with ciggies in hand, signify a brave new world.

In Montgomery’s self-portrait, the starkness of the trees, the pensiveness in the independent young woman’s face, and the smoke, though, seems quintessentially New Zealand.

How the artist managed the arrangement of mirror and window to achieve the multiple reflections is a mystery even Montgomery struggles to recall. Some time has passed since she painted that early work — which is the point of her upcoming exhibition, a retrospective of self- portraits. Until now, the work has never been exhibited.

The portrait is a difficult subject matter often avoided by artists, she says. The self-portrait is even more difficult in that the artist must try to be objective when it is in his or her nature to be subjective.

“It is unusual in that regard,” says Montgomery whose oeuvre ranges far wider than herself.

“I’m my most patient model. If you paint other people for them there’s a big responsibility because you have to please them and you have to please yourself.”

A capable artist from an early age Montgomery studied University Entrance art as an adult student at night classes held at Gisborne Boys’ High School, and then the following year as a University Bursaries day pupil. She contributed to her art folio two self portraits drawn in pencil.

The first oil painting Montgomery produced, and exhibited, was a self-portrait. The work was one of two she submitted to the 1981 Montana Art Awards and which made the finals. Selector Melvin Day described the work as “Pre-Raphaelite realism”.

“At that stage I had no idea what Pre-Raphaelite was,” says Montgomery.

Artists involved with that British movement took inspiration from late medieval and early Renaissance art and literature. Figures in Pre-Raphaelite portraiture often have a sepulchral, sublime, wistful mien that tilts towards the mystical or mythical.

One of Montgomery’s self- portraits — a finalist in the 2008 Adam Portraiture Award — is more stylised in structure. The portrait stands out in sharp relief against a dark background. Twin bands divide the picture plane. On the right are a couple of lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet to undying love and mortality:

“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come.”

In this work Montgomery explored a looser painting technique.

“I was trying not to muck around with the paint. It doesn’t look laboured.”

In a lighter, brighter, oil pastel self portrait the artist wears a straw hat ringed with orange flowers that seems almost too high on top of her head. The perched hat isn’t an afterthought though. Montgomery took as her reference point Pablo Picasso’s 1905 painting Famille de saltimbanques (Family of Saltimbanques).

A saltimbanque is a kind of itinerant circus performer.

In Picasso’s work the group of performers stand in a desolate landscape and seem to look past, rather than at, each other.

The woman in the high-perched, straw hat and dark orange skirt is oddly key to whatever connection they have, but is ostensibly the most disconnected of the group.

“The woman sitting alone was part of the inspiration,” says Montgomery.

“I put myself in the Picasso painting.”

The Self-Portraits of Carol Montgomery exhibition opens at Tairawhiti Museum on Friday, July 12.

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