In Marius Bercea’s watercolor painting Untitled (Dear Painter), a young artist twists on his stool in front of an easel, lost in thought. Though his posture suggests he was on his way out the door, his fixed gaze betrays a mind obsessively occupied with the possibilities of the blank canvas and the craft of painting. But more than just a painting about painting, Untitled is also a window into introspection and self-knowledge. In Bercea’s work, the depiction of everyday objects is also the symbolic representation of complex inner thoughts. The subject's vividly patterned sweater echoes the drop-cloth behind him, suggesting the painter's devotion to his art and communion with one’s surroundings in the solitude of the studio.
The depiction of an internal state of mind is a challenging task for the artist. In a work like Peter Doig’s Blotter, self-reflection is quite literally beheld in the watery image of a lake staring back at a young man ankle-deep in a cold winter pond. Though he looks at the concentric ripples of water, his gaze seems to extend beyond them, to his own distorted reflection, and perhaps into the murkier depths of his own thoughts.
Some of the questions that emerge when engaged with a frank investigation of the self can be difficult to face. According to Carl Jung, "People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls.” In Mattea Perotta’s A Study of Lilith 5, a female figure gazes beyond the frame of the painting, her mouth slightly taut, her eyes unfocused. She appears to be summoning the inner strength shown by the painting’s namesake, the biblical figure of female autonomy and self-reliance. The solidity of the painter’s construction and the broad painterly strokes massify the portrait, entering Perotta's work into conversation with Picasso’s paintings from the early 1920s. With Iberian archeological finds as his inspiration, Picasso too combined the specific features of his female sitters with a geometrical solidity. Like Auguste Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker, an emphasis on the massed weight of the human form speaks to the grounding effect of introspection, suggesting mental and physical stoicism in the face of difficult truths.
The ethereal paintings of Jenny Morgan, in contrast, inspire an altogether different kind of inner work, one that invites the viewer to enter the space of abstract meditation. Evoking a fine wood grain, the biomorphic symmetry of Through the Narrow is almost a Rorschach test – its interpretation, by design, also reveals the viewer to herself. Like the puddles in Doig's paintings or the mystical abstractions of Hilma af Klint, the painted undulations serve as a point of focus, a place to look “beyond” the material, to render the ineffable, and to embark on a journey of self-discovery.