Sunday, August 9, 2015

Self as Allegory

Mary Harju "Arte" oil on panel 11 x 14 inches 2015  collection of the artist
This charming piece by Philadelphia area-based artist Mary Harju caught my eye for its interesting blend of both action and contemplation. There is a thoughtful, almost dreamy, expression on the artist's face but her arms are tensely linked by one finger, cradling the head but ready to spring apart at any moment and get to work. To me this is nicely emblematic of what it's like to be an artist. In fact the title "Arte" refers to the entire concept of Art, and in the traditional iconography (visual symbolism) of western art, a female figure usually always symbolizes this ideal. (A well-known example is this self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi.)  

I asked the artist what was in her mind when she painted this self-portrait. She replied, 
"[In iconography] the emblem of "Arte" holds the tools of her trade in her hand. I'd been working on compositions for this that had seemed stilted and awkward. One day I noticed that I stick brushes in my hair as I'm working, rather like arrows on a quiver. So, this composition was born--it just clicked... I wanted the arms to feel full of potential energy--like an archer preparing to let go an arrow."

Harju studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the New York Academy. Her work can be seen on her website:

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