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Tim Mara, Reeded Glass and Shadow, 1997
Tim Mara Artist's Alphabet

S, T and U > S: Self Portraits back | start | next |

back to the alphabet grid Tim produced several self-portraits throughout his career. In fact, he appears in both the first print 'Mirror Man' that he produced in 1970 and the final print of his career 'The Head' from 1997 (which was signed post-humously by the technical assistant with whom the Artist collaborated with on its production).

Tim always denied that his art was autobiographical preferring to view it as pure investigation yet it obviously involves aspects of both approaches and is both conceptual and self-referential particularly during the work produced in the final two years of his life although other examples of autobiographical or self-exploratory works exist throughout his career.

In his student days, clues to the Artists identity tended to take the form of favorite objects, familiar people and family and friends.

Tim took on the roles of both Director and Producer in these prints but occasionally could not resist also being one of the stars. In 'Mirror man', 1970 he can be clearly seen in the 12th square of the work reflected in the mirror above the sideboard. The Artist, then in his second year at Wolverhampton Art College, was 23 years of age and sports a beard and long hair, he is seen photographing the ongoing narrative. At the time he had ambitions to produce films (which he never actually made due to shifting interests and lack of finances) and also admired the way in which his great hero the Italian Film Director Fellini referred to and included himself in many of his own narratives.

In the subsequent prints produced as a student Tim's disappears behind the camera in the role of Director and his portrait is not directly revealed to us although the works and their cast of his immediate family, associates, colleagues and friends can be very easily interpreted as an extension of self-portraiture and his personal world.

In 1978 he produced a photo etching 'Self Portrait with Saw Blade' in which his distorted face can be seen reflected in the metal surface of a circular saw blade whose shape acts as the actual plate for printing the etching. The print has something of a 'Trompe'L'oeil' look about it, suggesting an illusion of a mirrored reflection distorted by the surface of the saw blade. The image occupies a very shallow space behind the picture plane and at certain angles seems to project beyond the picture surface.

Tim appears in part in the imagery of 'Handgrip', 1979 where his hands represent his identity, preempting a more intense investigation and fascination with his hands which he would pursue in the 1990's.

In 1980 he produced 'Four Heads' and a year later the related 'Self Portrait with Family' which both use the photographic half tone dot techniques to superimpose the Artists own face with immediate members of his family. These prints are a very real and complex investigation of genetic connections and variations within families and an examination of self, which was significant for Tim at the time, in his discussion of his various roles as husband, brother, son and father.

These works were followed by 'Self Portrait with Contour Gauge' in 1981, which explores the Artist's identity through a profile suggested by imprints and inanimate objects. It uses various techniques combining four colour separation silkscreen and photo etching with coloured and blind embossing. The Artist's face is seen repeated in profile seven times across the paper and is represented in photographic form, shadows, line and also impressions taken both by embossment and pressed into a contour gauge. In the same year he also produced a related print 'Self Portrait with String', again representing himself in profile but in this case in a much more abstracted composition using lines of string receding into a distorted perspective to create his face's outline.

Also in 1981 he produced 'Self Portrait with Overcoat' in which the Artist's face is edited out of the image by close cropping at the chin. Faces, he had begun to believe, distracted from the print's interpretation. He was interested in how an identifiable portrait could be produced via the clothing which an individual wears and how they can be used to identify them and be associated with them. It is also interesting that in this work Tim again chooses to reveal his personality and identify through his hands repeating the motif once more.

Tim enjoyed the fact that the coat's material looked like the half tone dot process he used in the creation of his prints. He was also interested in the fact that people had recognised him from a distance because of the coat which he liked and wore frequently. He would later repeat this concept of identifying the self through clothing in his later works most notably 'Light bulb and Book', 1995-96 where he extended the idea to produce a self portrait identified by his jacket, shirt, cufflinks and hand.

During this period he had undergone several operations on his little finger, which was permanently crooked due to the hand tendon condition 'Dupytrens Contracture' which he suffered from. The operations were intended to try and correct the further deterioration of his finger. A diary of this deterioration is mapped in the sketchbook by drawings traced around his hand which can be seen on the right hand side of the print. The cufflinks he is wearing where a present to the Artist from his eldest daughter Emily and the shirt and jacket were considered his 'lucky' clothes which he had worn for his successful interview for the job of Professor at The Royal College of Art. The check of the jacket and the stripe of the shirt continue a lifelong fascination the Artist had with patternisation in clothes design.

He produced two more self-portraits which he completed in 1997 'Reeded Glass and Shadow' and 'Flemish Glass and Rubber'. In the first of these Tim can be clearly seen, yet distorted, through a pane of reeded glass in which he wears his own father's glasses and again as a profiled shadow cast onto a brick wall. At the time Tim was concerned about the deterioration of his eyesight and the natural effects that the ageing process has on our bodies. It is tempting to think that this is the reason why he has used the glass whose pattern distorts and blurs the image behind it to illustrate the effect and results of poor sight and the blurring abstractions this can create. He was assisted in the photographing of the shadow by his youngest daughter Alice who says of the making of this print:

"He wanted the shadows to be just right and it took ages to get the right position. He couldn't really see it so he instructed me to tell him when all his features were clear ....". The profile is instantly recognisable especially when compared to his earlier profile works. At the time of making Tim was interested in the idea of print in its broadest sense, and notions of imprint, impression and trace/imaging. This image exists as a print of an imprint.

A similar investigation takes place in the second of these works in which the Artist himself apes the composition of a flower vase and bouquet by imprinting his hands and arms into a sheet of stretched pink rubber. Again he identifies himself through his hands and the clothing he wears; in this case his favourite watch that he had worn for many years.

Tim's final self-portrait and last completed work is a small print intended for The Royal College of Printmaking Department's 1997 box set portfolio. It is a full-face impression of the Artist's face entitled 'The Head'. The face is pressed into a sheet of yellow rubber which reveals the shape of the Artist's face and some of his features. Even without hindsight the print resembles a death mask and the face has a ghostly and eerie presence which the suffocating potential of the rubber intensifies. In an insightful questioning of this print his daughter Alice has commented:

"The Head �� someone said a death mask ��. It is interesting how the final series of dad's work i.e. the lithographs, seem to catalogue the deterioration, his hands �.. eyes �� and how dad seems to play a starring role in most of them �� I think dad was thinking about death ��. Helen Chadwick (a colleague and friend of Tim's) had died around the time that he started on these works and I think that her sudden death had really affected him. It had got him thinking �.. I remember one of dad's technicians (who I know) saying that he thought it was strange how dad had been affected by this death almost insinuating that he had over-reacted �� I didn't think so �� I think we all start to wonder about our own mortality and I think that dad would have been interested by this, not in a morbid way but in an honest way �� I don't mean that he thought that he was going to die, I mean that he started to think about his life and how age was affecting him".
© Text: Mark Hampson / Images: Belinda Mara
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