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James Guppy’s self-portrait Chagrin is a reaction to a number of self-portraits by artists that have rather got up his nose. “I’ve seen a few artist self-portraits where it’s basically been blatant self-exhibitionism, they’re so in your face,” he says with a laugh. “And some of them have been done by fairly top international artists. It’s like, ‘what is this?!’ It’s so silly.
“In some of the naked self-portraits, they look so composed with a smug ‘I’m in control’ look. That’s not what being naked in front of strangers is like. It’s embarrassing! The other aspect is the awkwardness of going in for something like the Archibald Prize and feeling naked in that situation. There are so many emotional and psychological strings attached to it, it makes you feel awkward and diminished. That’s why the scale of this portrait is so important. I’ve painted the head bigger so my body is slightly distorted and makes me look smaller. So it’s a portrait of awkwardness and embarrassment and reflects my feelings about doing a portrait for the Archibald.”
Born in London in 1954, Guppy came to Australia in 1982 and lives in Byron Bay. He has a BA (Hons) in Economics and a Masters in Visual Arts from the UK. He was a lecturer at Lancaster University in the UK from 1978 to 1981 and an Adjunct Professor at Long Island University from 1999 to 2001. He is currently a lecturer at the Southern Cross University in Lismore. He was awarded the Fisher’s Ghost Prize in 2004 and was a finalist in the Blake Prize in 1989 and the Archibald Prize in 1987. He has had regular solo exhibitions in Sydney since 1991 and has also exhibited in New York and Houston, Texas.