Katerina Belkina Takes Selfies to a New Level in a Series of Striking Self-Portraits
In the selfie era, it’s easy to dismiss self-portraiture as a lesser art form. Yet self-representation has always been central to art making. Just look at the oeuvres of artists ranging from Rembrandt to Kahlo to Warhol. Russian-born artist Katerina Belkina continues the tradition.
But unlike Rembrandt, who documented his own aging process in dozens of self-portraits, Belkina doesn’t depict her actual self, exactly. Like Cindy Sherman before her, she plays a variety of roles, morphing from one character to another in a process she calls “self-modeling rather than self-portraying.” On the heels of a major honor—Belkina won the 2016 Hasselblad Masters Award in Art—the artist offers selected works at Faur Zsofi Gallery, her first exhibition in Budapest.
The prize was for photography, but Belkina defines her practice more broadly, citing her lifelong enthusiasm for painting and photography alike.
“We do not call Michelangelo a sculptor or a painter,” she recently said in an interview with ArtGuideEast. “The term ‘artist’ embraces all [these] practices.” Indeed, her reverence for the great masters is evident throughout the exhibition, with works paying homage to the likes of Modigliani, Gauguin, Picasso, and Degas, to name a few.
In some cases, the reference is obvious, as Belkina injects herself into instantly recognizable painterly scenes à la For Schiele, For Degas, For Rousseau, For Gauguin, and For Van Gogh. In other works, however, the references are subtler. For Kahlo Red and For Kahlo White look like minimalist interpretations of the Mexican painter’s famously colorful self-portraits, while For Klimt offers a modern, vaguely sinister take on the Austrian artist’s seductive, decorative portraits of women.
The Sinner, which earned Belkina the Hasselblad, belongs to the latter, subtler group. Though the subject—Belkina, pregnant, dressed in casual clothing, seated on an IKEA chair—looks modern, her stylized pose calls to mind a Renaissance painting, particularly Christ and the Adulteress (circa 1540–45) by Lucas Cranach the Younger. In fact, Belkina created the work in celebration of Cranach’s 500th birthday.
“I had always wanted to make an allegory on the theme of connection between the art of the past and the present,” the artist has said. “I began to think about a modern interpretation of the Mary Magdalene character and, by coincidence, I was pregnant myself at the time. We are all sinners and commit our sins easily every day, but at the same time in each of us there is an essence of purity, which is symbolized here by the baby in the womb.”
Much has been said about the past meeting the present, about what is old being new again. But Belkina’s self-portraits are more than playful allusions to the past. Her work is both the past and the present. She is the convergence.
“Katerina Belkina | Paint | Solo Show” is on view at Faur Zsofi Gallery, Budapest, May 12–Jun. 10, 2016.