Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980)


Kokoschka forcing us to see by pointing at the spot where he was seriously wounded (by a bayonet) when he was a soldier during WWI. He was very young, had just enlisted, and had to fight rifle against rifle battles.


Kokoschka suffered from poverty throughout his whole life, but mostly from endless cruelties of life and human mistreatments of one another. He was a successful painter, but it is observing the wounds of human life that made him feel himself as a morbid outsider. This tall man with a strong physique had a melancholic character. Looking here at his eyes it’s, as if, they’re filled with tears and pleading to persuade us, the inhabitants of the Earth – to stop the feeling of rancor/bitterness/vindictiveness and an ongoing desire for revenge and clash.


This and the following self-portrait are especially… strange and even magic – Kokoschka somehow has… stopped to look like himself. His face is not just melancholic, in this two self-representations (this and the next one), he, as if, is… transformed into a worker or subordinate insulted/offended by his superior. His face is distorted, as if, he was just addressed with something injurious, condemning and, as if doesn’t know how to react.


In this painting his blue eyes have lost life, as if, he is not looking as he was usually, as if, he doesn’t care about what is happening in the world. In the previous self-portrait he took what he was seeing seriously, but, now, here, he is, as if, distant from everything. Part of his lower lip is, as if, swelled, but he doesn’t pay attention. What happened? The light blue color wandering on his face superficially touches it as indifferently as light wind. He possibly have given himself over to drinking.


Here Kokoschka seems to be in the mood to self-assert. No, he is not quarreling with anybody or anything! But as though he is challenging the circumstances or even the world. He is not putting his face up as a snob with a proud gaze, but he, as if, saying that his gaze is still sharp, that he is still able to study life, human faces. His shirt collar is a bit outworn but his gaze belongs to noticing the world.

The painterly artistry of self-portraits is an exhausting and a careful craft. On the one hand it requires vigilant self-examination and honest self-criticism, but on the other – any artist would indulge in giving a free rein to one’s imagination. Artistic indulgence is dangerous because imaginary magic is a despotic player – it plays with the artist, often provoking him into exaggerations as the case may be with an inexperienced and an impulsive painter risking finding himself in the puddle of a sleazy or even stinking dirt. For a self-portraitist to love imagination it means to limit himself with self-love, but to admire himself it means the necessity to limit his creativity. That’s why Kokoschka sometimes uses humor and satire working with his own face and even parody his facial expressions, features and gesticulations in his self-portraits. Also, he experiments with changing his face in his self-portraits (two of them represented here). Kokoschka, as if, slightly modifies himself in each painting to accent how under concrete tormented condition of life and belligerent aggressive people around – his personality changes – for example, sometimes he is losing himself, even his inspiration is exhausted and he is transformed into a person without any creative desire or motivation. In such self-portraits we observe how Kokoschka depicts the loss of his human face and the ability to resist or capitulate to human despair or resist or surrender to human rudeness, stupidity and vulgarity.