There is a feud taking place at CB1 Gallery; it sets in conflict the looking-glass and the hour-glass—our waning but resistant vigor versus our inexorable putrefaction. In her exhibition, revealingly titled in lower case the self-portrait sessions, Susan Silas wrestles this feud to an uneasy détente in order to tell us that the elaborate view of ourselves in the mirror—the one that at just the right angle and in the virtually perfect light, hides the fat under our chin and the bags under our eyes and the skull beneath the skin—is ritually essential as it reveals our vanity to us when we are alone, so that our anxious insufficiencies may be kept private.
The title series in the exhibition, eight quadruple self-portraits, are Rorschachs of the artist shoulder to shoulder and cheek to cheek. All are similar enough to cause repetitive confusion but reveal the subtlety of posture and eye contact (or not) that was the strategy of the silent film star. Indeed, the entire exhibition has a Sunset Boulevard patina, particularly the life masks the artist has made of herself at various ages, some represented merely in photographs.
There are also ten sculptural versions in two sets of five, one fashioned in beeswax and the other in bronze. The renderings of just the face are surprisingly small, bordered by an edge that defines her chin, cheeks, and forehead, like a nun’s coif and bandeau. Otherwise smoothly curved and suggesting Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse, they seem ideally sized to fit into a pair of cupped hands, ready to be kissed good morning or, alternatively, rest in peace.
The self-portrait here is a time keeper. Ms. Silas’s self-portrait, 1979 is included. It is one of the heavy bookends of the exhibition. She was 26 at the time and would soon be turning 30 (an age beyond which no one should be trusted), but her gaze was, even then, set upon a farther horizon.
Her stare in this early self-portrait suggests the unflinching scrutiny she has directed at herself over her career, as participant, witness, and chronicler. Yet artworks change as we age; as they reveal to us what we were previously unprepared to acknowledge they also forgive us for the living fast that didn’t produce the dying young.
Susan Silas, “the self-portrait sessions,” June 4 – July 17, 2016 at CB1 Gallery, 1923 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021, www.cb1gallery.com