Artist Michelle Leivan
Workings of the Soul in Living Color
How 100 self-portraits became the secret ingredient to happiness.
A year in the making, artist Michelle Leivan has painted 100 self-portraits for her #BeingMySelfie series and is ready to unveil them all in a compelling new exhibit at Art Print Express in Fleming Place in Topeka. The exhibit opens on Saturday March 7th from 1 – 4pm.
What began last February as a simple study and a need to have a subject, eventually evolved into a collection of one hundred works in which Leivan learned that there was much more to painting yourself than you might think.
Michelle finds the selfie phenomenon fascinating as part of the social media culture and decided to create a twist on the predictable selfie. She was asking herself, what do selfies reveal about a person? What are the complex human emotions behind each selfie? How are they picked by the individual and then how is it seen by the world in which it is shared?
“I’ve learned a lot in the last year about myself, how I perceive myself and how others perceive me and my art. I guess you could say I have created one hundred shades of yellow in which I have experienced enlightenment through self-examination,” Michelle explains. “Because journeys of self-discovery open new worlds of learning, for me the key is in the brush in my hand and the door is the paint on the canvas. That world is filled with delight if you let it in.”
The series is filled with a surprising variety of emotion filled yellow faces accented with vivid color and can be seen online at MichelleLeivan.com and on Facebook. Most of the portraits were painted in a just a few hours, capturing a quick snapshot for the day. The gambit of facial expression is crucial to keeping the series relevant. Many followers of Facebook anticipated seeing the next work. As noted by fellow artist Becky Drager when talking about the online experience, "Every time I seen a new one on Facebook, I can't believe she has come up with another surprising expression and it always makes me laugh."
Michelle often receives similar comments on and offline about the work. “People were asking me if I was running out of faces and I worried that I the work would start to look redundant, but as I painted each piece, each showed its own personality. Now I know I could continue painting and probably never run out of the mysteries found on a human face,” Leivan explains.
She found humor as refreshing a medium as the act of painting with each new piece, “I discovered what I really was doing was making fun of myself because I would finish one and then come up with a half a dozen or so crazy phrases to go with each of them. Then there were other days, as I continued to look at them in my studio depending on my mood that the expression would say something completely different. It is like the secret sauce to happiness, there really is no better way to start your day then to joke about yourself.”
With social media playing an important role in the series development, Michelle decided to make the images available for public expression by creating a new site meme-a-leivan.com. On the sister site you can choose one of her pieces and create a picture with your own witticism. “Opening up the images to be used freely has added an entire new level of engagement for the audience,” explains Michelle. “The site brings the images off the easel to a life beyond the captivity of the wall where most paintings are expected be enjoyed. I get excited when I see what other people create and share which adds to the fun and develops fresh facets to each painting and sharing them spreads enjoyment farther and wider.”
Michelle owns her own business, Art Print Express, teaches as an adjunct professor at Washburn University, is a wife and mother, even though her schedule is busy, she insists on setting aside an hour each morning to paint. You can experience the full spirit of her love of life and sense of humor as you see all the pieces together live on display in her business.
What others are saying:
"What I see in Michelle Leivan’s selfies is not just the focus of the one person but of the universal “I”. In a culture that is so focused on one’s self thus the “selfies series” could be superficially confused with this product we sell as authentic online. But this “self” in truth is a carefully crafted and protected mask. It is very hard to look at yourself that deeply without editing what is. Bravely taking off the mask in this work we see a full range of the human experience with just one face. By looking so deeply at herself she looked though to see a piece of us all. What you are experiencing is a mirror not a self-portrait. She inspires me to be unmasked and brave in my own work." Miranda Easton, Topeka
I invite you to watch the progress and join in on the conversations, you can find me on Facebook here.
Recently I had the opportunity to hang out with fellow artist Belinda Fireman and The Abundant Artist folks! We talked about what it is like to work as an artist, our motivations, where we have been and where we are going.
Being My #Selfie on seveneightfive magazine! Thumb through to page 18 for insight on the artistic process and what the selfie is all about!
You can join in the social media commentary by creating your own meme text with my new Selfies series and post it on your Social Media profile. There is a face for every mood and you can use my expressions to mask your own! Create it with Meme-A-Leivan!