Ruth Borchard bought Anthony Green’s self-portrait at the ‘Young Contemporaries’ exhibition in 1960. Green, a recent graduate from the Slade School of Art, was just twenty-one when he painted it.
In 1978, Green examined his early artistic development:
… my principal heroes were van Gogh and the European Expressionists. Later I fell in love with the Flemish primitives…
My youthful visits to the Louvre [Green was born in London in 1939 to a French mother and an English father] introduced me to the great French painters of the 19th Century.
In 1960/1 I lived and worked in France and made the crucial breakthrough which leads uninterruptedly to the current work.
In my second year at the Slade I had fallen passionately in love with a beautiful girl, to whom I was returning from France in a few months to marry. The fact gave me the motivation and subject matter I needed – my family and its continuing story.
To those acquainted with Green’s post-1970 paintings – elaborately detailed, vividly coloured, sharply focussed, perspectively askew montages from Green’s family life, presented on sprawingly asymmetrical canvases and, latterly, freestanding structures – this self-portrait may hardly seem to be by him at all. However, it was painted during a particularly explorative time.
It is very much a self-interrogating picture. The brilliant, bare light bulb, with its swirling van Goghian ‘aura’, may even call to mind an image of a bare bulb in an interrogation cell. The fierce, scared look on his face is communicated partly through two huge, bespectacled eyes, the left one unnaturally enhanced in perspective. Yet the overall effect, containing an element of feigned truculence, is as much comic as disquieting.
Green’s neat appearance reminds us that art students were then accustomed to looking quite orderly on the surface. His self-portrait endows a muddy Euston Road School palette with edgy, Expressionist overtones.
Mirrors feature in many of his highly imaginative later paintings. The portrayal, for instance, of himself and his wife, the artist Mary Cozens-Walker, in various guises in a single picture from 1978 (Mary naked on the bed, also bare-breasted at a mirror, Anthony seen both flying in through the window in his pyjamas and ascending the stairs with a tea tray) is not solely the result of mirror-like illusionism.