A prolonged and exasperating search for a hair clip yesterday led me to a mildly revelatory moment. Hmm. Can something be “mildly revelatory”? Sounds oxymoronic to me. Oh what the hell, let’s go with it. Anyway, I finally found the elusive hair clip – my best tortoiseshell one – tucked away on the shelf of my bathroom mirror, wedged behind a jar of skin cream. I removed the clip from its hiding place and, since I was standing right in front of the mirror, looked up and saw my reflection. I saw, staring back at me, my “beast face”. My “troubled” face. A face of sadness.
When you consider that I was completely makeup-free, with air-dried, uncoiffed hair, and had only four hours of anxious, fitful sleep, I actually didn’t look half bad. From a purely superficial standpoint, my appearance was surprisingly decent given the circumstances. But something else was going on underneath. It was the unmistakable look of sadness. A look that easily overrides glowing skin and shiny hair. When one is profoundly sad, as I am these days, it marks your face indelibly, the telltale signs found in the eyes, the corners of the mouth, tension in the brow. An overall expression of despair. A mask that carries the desperate message, “Help me”.
The bathroom mirror incident led me to think about how sadness or, more poetically, “melancholy”, has been a popular theme in art through the ages. Sad women (it’s always women!) are considered a “beautiful” subject in the eyes of many painters. The Pre-Raphaelites had a particular fondness for dejected and forlorn women. Who knows? Maybe they suffered from depression too!
I’m somewhat relieved that artists aren’t disturbed or distracted by unhappy models, and even find beauty in them, because I have to pose at the New York Academy of Art tonight. And the beast, tag-along that he is, will be up on that platform with me. He’s a menace. It’s what he does.
John William Godward’s Tambourine Girl: