This self-portrait was inspired by a number of artists but particularly by the work of Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797). Wright is most well known for his use of ‘Tenebrism’ – dramatic illumination, a more extreme form of chiaroscuro. His most well-known work focused on technological and scientific progress during the Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. I’ve always loved his dramatic lighting and wanted to replicate this, drawing parallels between modern digital technology and the advancements he captured in his time. Using the phone screen as the only source of illumination felt both a technical challenge and also thematically appropriate. Wright also painted a self-portrait titled ‘Self-Portrait at the Age of About Forty’, which again seemed fitting.
The painting is titled 'Engagement', a reference to one of the key metrics tech companies measure to guage the level of time spent and interaction users have with digital products. This is captured in the familiar behaviour of staring into the glow of a smartphone screen.
Working with such dark shadow tones, as well as unconventional uplighting, was a new challenge. I also enjoyed attempting to capture the translucency of skin in the thumb with the screen’s light diffused through.
©2023 joshua leigh