Anything but vanity

Self-portraiture varies vastly, even within the confines of the traditional singular frontal approach. The artist's own instinctual method of self-portrayal reveals as much as anything he actually intends to tell us. Consider Cezanne regarding himself as objectively as a bowl of fruit, or Courbet indulgently exalting his dark good looks. It's almost as if in conforming to the conventional direct lone confrontation, the limits of expression were lifted rather than imposed.

John McCrady was an artist who never confronted to the standard format for self-portraiture. In fact, his self-portraiture suggests that self-portrayal was never really his intention at all; that in the process of investigating often whimsical ideas, this literal -- minded painter happened to sneak up on himself. Although he is known for his landscape and genre paintings of the Mississippi Delta, his early paintings of black angels could be considered a McCrady trademark. He always had a penchant for fantasy, and through the years it found a unique and graceful growth. It was within the context of fantasy that we usually find his self-portraiture, and this, especially the sleeping self-portraits, might also serve as a McCrady trademark (although his wife and daughter say the horizontal position was atypical, for McCrady was a very active man). The first of these sleeping John McCradys appeared when he was a young man on a scholarship at the Art Students League in New York. They recurred in variations three or four more times during his life. This was the last one.

He meant it to pose an answer to the question "What would happen if Gulliver appeared in Lafayette County, Mississippi?" He intended it as a Swiftian satire on man's inclination to exploit. The fun he makes of the natives, so efficiently transforming Gulliver into a tourist attraction, is gentle at worst. His nature prevents him from any biting satire, but he seems ready and willing to make fun of himself. His sprawling figure is hardly flattered and his mouth hangs ajar. Even though his awkward vulnerability is actually rather endearing, he has made himself into something of a buffoon. So what began as a satire becomes a self- portrait after all.

What kind of a man takes dead aim at others and gets himself right between the eyes? In fact the Lilliputians come off rather well. While Swift's Lilliputians react fearfully and devise means to use Gulliver in power politics, McCrady's Lilliputians seem confident and capable, thank you, to stage around him life's joys: Its watermelons and its weddings.

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