Peter Berrisford’s self-portrait was painted around 1956, when the artist, born in Northampton in 1932, was twenty-four years old. Looking dapper in a collegiate way – with his red bow-tie, sweater and shirt in different shades of green, neatly coiffured, wavy blonde hair, and prominent glasses – the artist looks the epitome of the mid-50s smart young man. His keen, wide-eyed expression captures to the quick the very instant of self-reckoning in the mirror. Peter Berrisford quite recently asked why, in this picture, ‘did I elongate myself?’ The answer perhaps could be that, by doing so, he was able to accentuate – literally to heighten – a sense of the artist’s rapt, dignified self-absorption.
The painting is an assertion of a young man’s identity and aspirations – each plane in the multi-faceted surface reflects some aspect of his profession: the foreground palette, the canvas to the left, the stacked canvases reflected in the mirror, what he has since described as the ‘enigma behind the right shoulder, part of a poster with a Japanese print on it’.
What are we to make of the mysterious figure on the oval mirror, a shadowed spectre with undefined features but seeming to resemble the artist? Writing in 2001, Berrisford asked,
‘And what is behind the head? After all these years I am not too sure! It may well be me in an oval mirror. But if so, this creates a spatial enigma. Was I perhaps thinking a bit of that Velazquez… Or do I vaguely recall a Gauguin wherein there is a brooding second presence? Or maybe I just wanted to make the picture more interesting.’
The figure reflected in the oval mirror does seem to hint at a darker, hidden aspect.
He studied at Northampton and Chelsea Schools of Art and Bournemouth College of Art. Since 1953, Italian landscape and Italian art, on which he lectures as an art historian, have inspired much of his art.