Judy Carducci: 86th Birthday Self Portrait

The Cecilia Beaux Forum’s first Chairwoman, Judy Carducci, shared some thoughtful insight into the creative process that helped compose her recent self-portrait. Judy is a masterful portrait artist and pastelist -- her work is expertly drafted, often vibrantly colored, and always striking. Judy’s pastel self-portrait was painted this year for her 86th birthday. Below, you’ll experience a personal story behind the painting, and get a glimpse into Judy’s creative mind.

I thought you might find my 86th birthday self-portrait entertaining. Reminiscing has been an inextricable aspect of the Pandemic, and David [Judy’s son] exacerbated it by giving me a T-shirt for my birthday. In Ohio every town has its own individualized welcome sign, but in Massachusetts the signs are standardized. Bearing the Massachusetts seal, my hometown’s reads, “Entering WALPOLE inc. 1728.” David also found images of the house I grew up in, still looking almost exactly the same as when I lived there.

I intended to add to the graphic quality by posing in my black and white marled L.L.Bean sweater, but then the color, texture, and compositional possibilities of the drape of the shawl captured me -- admittedly along with the thought that my mother would have been shocked by the inappropriateness of the combination. The portrait is real life and the background is a dream, with the large Children’s Moon and the backyard apple tree all the neighborhood kids lived in. There is a private (and bitter) joke memorializing my mother throwing everything out of the attic window in a paroxysm of grief when my father died -- including all my artwork from babyhood, my first oil portrait of my first love at age 13, and all my art through high school graduation at 17. There it flies, but not across the moon... too “ET”!

There is also a non-bitter joke; instead of playing “Where’s Waldo?” viewers can play “Where’s WALPO?”

The painting has continued to evolve because there hasn’t been a chance to get it framed yet. Today I added the last bit: on the roof above the window to my room. When I emailed the final photo to my webmaster, she thought something was stuck to her screen and tried to brush it off. Puzzled, she enlarged it and discovered the brownie that always lived in my room. He was free to come and go as he pleased. (The fairies, brownie, and elves all lived behind the bookcase; the troll, of course, lived under the bed). I’d considered having the brownie skitter off the right edge, perhaps tossing back a grenade, but decided the balance and sense of the narrative worked better with him over my window. Getting him tiny and foggy, but still detailed enough to be recognizable as an authentic brownie, was the hardest part of the painting. I never got a look at him when I was a kid because brownies move so fast and are all “so tickly.”

By the way, there turned out to be a surprise with this piece. Exactly 25 years ago I did a same-sized self-portrait that became known as “The Kick Butt Self-Portrait” because people thought I looked stern and had one hand on my hip. I was also wearing a flowing red Indian dress, and it too was a half-figure landscape format with a three quarter face. Now, all these years later, without having thought of that painting, here I am at 86, throwing two elbows. It’s interesting to me to see how, while they both look like Carduccis, the technique has significantly changed. More free and confident. Also humorous... Not so tight-assed.

Judy’s narrative map of this portrait makes us feel like we’re in on a secret -- like only we know the private meaning behind the details of her composition. It’s not often that the viewer understands the private experiences and history of a self-portrait, so certainly in this case we are grateful to get a glimpse into the master’s mind of self-reflection.

To see more of Judy’s work, visit her online gallery.


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