Portrait of JMCS in front of the mirror

Every self-portrait is the fiction of a reflection in which someone -usually the artist- looks at himself in a mirror and contemplates a specular image of himself and the space that surrounds him.

In the winter of 2018, I received an email from José Mª Calvo-Sotelo, whom I have known since our school years at Madrid’s Colegio Estudio. He wanted to commission a painting, a portrait, in which he proposed to appear peering into a mirror in a kind of exercise of early morning self-contemplation. Leaving aside the fact that the proposal was uncommon as a commission, the ambiguous underlying idea of a self-portrait by delegation interested me. There is an inevitable confrontation in any portrait between the self-image of the person portrayed -his mental self-portrait- and what the author sees. José Mª’s proposal took this conflict to the extreme. I found the challenge attractive and accepted it.

José Mª proposed posing very informally and it seemed perfect to me because his Egyptian silk dressing gown offered very interesting effects, with its stripes suiting me very well to compose with the vertical lines of the radiator. However, I resisted his proposal to pose without his glasses because they seemed to me an inseparable part of his character and I insisted on maintaining them, to which he agreed. The book by Dino Buzzati Il deserto dei Tartari and the blue shirt substituting the burgundy pyjamas were incorporated later. The reasons for the inclusion of the book were personal for the sitter; the shirt was simply included to introduce an element of luminosity and chromatic contrast which seemed necessary to me.

For the scenography we explored the different available locations and finally opted for his spacious Madrid apartment which was ideal for logistics. The flat had a large master bathroom with good natural lighting and a large mirror behind which, wall to wall, there was a room with the same lighting and similar spatial proportions. I decided to use the mirror to represent the scene from the same point of view as the subject, and made José Mª pose in the adjoining room, as if I were looking at him through a mirror without quicksilver. The resulting image was consistent with what he himself would see in the mirror when contemplating himself, even though it was not a mirror image in the strict sense. José Mª is left-handed and in the painting holds the book in his left hand.

Once the work was finished, the painting was delivered to him and we looked together for a place to hang it in the house. After discarding several conventional emplacements in areas usually considered more noble, it ended up, without either of us having planned it beforehand, in front of the mirror, in the same place where the scene was imagined. This gave José Mª the possibility of simultaneously contemplating a mirror image of the painting and of himself, something that only he will be able to experience.

Portrait of JMCS in front of the mirror

Oil on panel; 110 x 110 cm, 43¼ x 43¼ in