|Sarah McEneaney "Self-Inflicted Portrait" 1989 private collection|
The scene appears simple at first glance, but deceptively so, and there are many points to ponder. Is the knife we see only a drawn representation, like the cheese packet beside it, or is it a "real" knife lying on the drawing paper? The artist appears to be drawing with her left hand: is she naturally left-handed or is this perforce because of her injury? Or, if she is is gazing in a mirror, a common practice among self-portraitists, then it would only appear that she is using her left-hand. Is she in reality right-handed?
I'm also interested in the way the drawing tools lie on the edge of the table, tools which are used to "open" the story to us, echoing the way a knife is used to open a package. Is there some reminder in this of how easy it is to make a mistake, to slip up (albeit less bloodily) when performing such an aesthetic opening or telling?
The title too, carries layers of meaning. Obviously we see and read that the wound was self-inflicted (and almost certainly accidental) but the title creates a sense of unease...a feeling perhaps that the artist felt compelled to "inflict" the painting upon her audience. Nonetheless, such a depiction of a wound taps into several traditions, the classic Christian European depiction of martyr injuries and stigmata, and also the related mexican retablo tradition of depicting the injured or diseased body part for which the supplicant begs relief. Another point is that the painting has been made in either oil or gouache...yet we see the artist wielding a pencil. This visual inconsistency and all other details as well add vibration to the otherwise still and contemplative air of the piece.
McEneaney studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She is represented by Locks Gallery in Philadelphia and by Tibor de Nagy in NYC.