This is a haunting self-portrait by the Belgian painter Léon Spilliaert. I found a most fitting analysis and description of this dark painting in one of our newspapers. The author, Eric Rinckhout, mentions 4 important elements: the Night, the Eye, the Clock and the Mirror.
Being a gastric patient Léon Spilliaert often wasn’t able to sleep and therefore he wandered through his house in Oostende and silently observed himself. This work of art is not a painting, but it is water-colour drawing combined with coloured pencil and East Indian ink. The absence of colour, the black and white, greyish green and red tints emphasize the drabness of the Night. The Night is very important in the Bataillean occult for the Night defies all ‘vision’, all understanding, all understanding. Look at the artist staring into Nothing, aimlessly as if is he waiting for some demon to appear.
The eye. Being an insomniac the artist looks at things from an uncanny perspective. Beyond logic and durability. All the certainties of one’s daily life are now gone, evaporated so to speak as the greyness of the Night enters. The Eye staring at us is the Left Eye, the ‘evil eye’. Evil not being the absence of good, but the presence of vitality, power, ongoing energy without purpose. A Solar eye. This is the eye of corruption for its power destroys our identity. It makes us realize that we are ‘nothing’, that man in the end is utterly meaningless despite our self-centred ideologies. There is fear and anguish reflected by that eye. The head seems to be death’s head; almost headless. The Joy before Death.
The Clock: can you hear the ticking sound of an old clock? The clock standing on the mantle piece in front of an empty mirror as if it were a passage way into another time frame, a parallel universe where the Old Ones dwell.
The Mirror: Spilliaert observed himself in a mirror from the bottom up so the figure seems to stare into an abyss which fulfills him with horror. This has created a claustrophobic atmosphere which makes this work of art even more impressive.
We may not have an ‘identity’ but this drawing shows the anguish, the dread, the horror that lurks within us, deep down, hidden beneath shallow thoughts. It is not a ‘truth’ but far beyond because it is non-human and inhuman to experience.