Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) is an unconventional self-portrait. At the center of the work are brand names that represent day-to-day consumer choices. At the margins the artist repeats "Susie," his signature and trademark for this series, in the graphic style of a corporate logo. The work was inspired by self-portraits painted by Vincent van Gogh, but rather than relying on expressionistic brushstrokes, Bickerton proposes an abstract visage composed of consumer logos as a new form of self-expression and identity for a consumer society.
Gallery label from Contemporary Galleries: 1980-Now, November 17, 2011-February 17, 2014.
After moving to New York in the early 1980s, Bickerton began making what he called “contemplative wall units,” which imitate the rectilinear forms and industrial materials of Minimalism. Unlike the Minimalists, however, Bickerton attached his anodized–aluminum boxes to the wall with heavy–duty decorative brackets and covered them with corporate logos or brightly colored rocklike forms. In Tormented Self–Portrait, Bickerton portrays himself through the brands of products he uses, from ConEdison electricity to Bayer aspirin. The subtitle refers both to “Susie Culturelux,” a brand name he invented, and to the city of Arles, where Vincent van Gogh, another artist famous for creating self–portraits, worked. Looking like a sponsored automobile or even a household appliance, Tormented Self–Portrait debuted in Bickertons first solo exhibition at Sonnabend Gallery, in 1988, and was acquired by MoMA the same year.
Gallery label from Ileana Sonnabend: Ambassador for the New, December 21, 2013–April 21, 2014.
Inspired by Vincent van Gogh's self-portraits, Bickerton created a new mode of self-representation that reflects how identity is experienced in the contemporary world. The artist has asked, "What exactly constitutes our notion of individual identity? We wake up in the morning and select our individuality from a finite catalogue of readymade possibilities." Rather than expressionistic brushstrokes or an emotion–laden palette, in Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) Bickerton supplies an array of corporate and personal logos and proposes that their combination forms an honest and "tormented" self–portrait. Occupying the center of the composition are the brand names that represent those day–to–day consumer choices that obstensibly express our personality to others. At the margins the artist repeats his signature and his trademark for this series, "Susie," in the graphic style of a corporate logo. Bickerton does not ignore how integral consumption is to self–expression, and he also does not elide the degree to which the art object is a commercial product. Encased in protective leather that can be unfurled with ease, equipped with a complete hanging system, and prominently branded, Tormented Self-Portrait (Susie at Arles) is ready for purchase and shipment.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 84.