"Before the appearance of a mirror, the person didn't know his own face except reflected in the waters of a lake. After a certain point everyone is responsible for the face he has. I'll now look at mine. It is a naked face. And when I think that no other like it exists in the world, I get a happy shock." Clarice Lispector - Agua Viva
I have never seen Lispector's face naked. She made herself up. Her portraits are a silent film star's. Overexposure blanks out her lines and wrinkles, and eventually the burn-scars she sustained in a house fire, leaving planes of pure light and shadow. What makes her easy to photograph makes her difficult to draw. How do we know it's her? Those lips...
Is she what she looks to be, or does she come about some other way? She writes,
"You who are reading me please help me to be born."
Like Colette, who once ran a beauty parlour, and Jean Rhys, who worked as a model, Lispector spent time in the beauty business - as an advice columnist for Correio Feminino*. Lispector's photo-portraits are so very much like a model's in a magazine, her face displaying the same kind of lonely rapture. Intense sensation without apparent stimulation - is that what beauty is?
This series of drawings came about partly because I happened on a photo of Lispector that looked a bit like me on a good day.
I have tried to draw this picture of her, looking a little like me, many times and, although this photo shows her at her most stylised, her most cartoonish, her least naked - although that's perhaps where I find the resemblance: anyone can paint on those lips, those brows, anyone can look a bit like Clarice as she looks here - I have never quite succeeded in capturing her.I don't have her teeny nose or bee-stung lips but I am infected by the sympathetic magic most women experience on seeing a photograph of a beauty. Look at that model in Vogue! Seeing her, taking her in through my eyes, knowing I could buy her dress (if I were rich enough - another layer of fantasy), I could also buy her sensation, her experience - I could buy being her - or so it seems. If a man desires to possess the beautiful woman in the photograph, a woman desires to be possessed by her. To be possessed by Lispector: imagine...
Drawing is always some kind of attempt at possession - to possess or to be possessed - and I'm never sure which.
*if anyone can track her columns down in English send me a link, please do: I'd very much like to read them.