I would guess that over the six decades of his career, Don Bachardy (b. 1934) – one of the best-known Los Angeles artists – has painted thousands of portraits. Portraits of his friends, portraits of his clients, portraits of his life-long partner, British novelist Christopher Isherwood, and, of course, hundreds of portraits of himself.
The first sensation upon entering the new exhibition of Bachardy’s self-portraits at Craig Krull Gallery is that the artist is staring at you and judging you mercilessly. It takes time to remember that when artists make self-portraits, they study themselves in a mirror.
In his earlier self-portraits, we see Bachardy as an attractive and self-assured young and middle-aged man. But, obviously, this kind of complimentary self-presentation isn’t his concern anymore. Now, in his mid-80s, Bachardy is digging deep into his soul: into his insecurities, his fears, and, yes, his mortality. In his latest self-portraits, he is visibly vulnerable, and, on occasions, we see him truly scared. Let me put it this way: few artists have been as amazingly brave as Don Bachardy to drop their façades and reveal their naked souls.
Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968. Acrylic on canvas, 212 x 303.5 cm. Private collection. © David Hockney. Image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I want to remind you that David Hockney, a close friend of Don Bachardy and Christopher Isherwood, painted their portrait five decades ago, in 1968. It became one of Hockney’s best-known images, capturing the spirit and glamour of LA.
According to the exhibition’s curator Kate McNamara, Shiokava’s totems “concern … [the] visibility of the human spirit. Life, death, rebirth, and associations with the sacred can be detected within every hand-carved contour and elegantly placed object.”
As artists, Don Bachardy and Kenzi Shiokava couldn’t be more different – one a figurative painter, the other an abstract sculptor. But, what they share is a maturity and wisdom in their art – the result of many decades of searching for truth.