The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected at a 180-degree angle.
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
But how far can it swim out through the eyes
And still return safely to its nest? The surface
Of the mirror being convex, the distance increases
Significantly; that is, enough to make the point
That the soul is a captive, treated humanely, kept
In suspension, unable to advance much farther
Than your look as it intercepts the picture
Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror
In 1982, R. B. Kitaj created a charcoal drawing inspired by John Ashbery's celebrated poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Ashbery's poem, a meditation sparked by the sixteenth-century painting by Parmigianino of the same name, eloquently plumbs the difficulties inherent in the act of self-representation. In questioning the relationship between the artist, his reflection, and the work of art, the poem addresses the instability of meaning and identity. Indeed, the voice of the poet and that of the painter are ambiguously intertwined, both attempting to come to terms with what it means to regard oneself. Kitaj casts himself in the role of the painter in his drawing, pictured with a penetrating gaze that suggests the inscrutability that he finds in his own image. The circular format echoes the Parmigianino, yet Kitaj has pressed his face closer to the viewer with characteristic intensity, placing his hand on his chin in a gesture that signals his introspective regard. The wavering lines of the contours, and the way that his body seems unmoored from a full body, suggests the flux of both perception and identity.
The searching themes and fractured syntax of Ashbery's poetic style have an affinity with Kitaj's priorities as a painter. Kitaj had deeply meaningful relationships with many writers and poets throughout his life, who both inspired him and were inspired by him in their own work. Kitaj counted Ashbery among his friends, as well as Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Robert Creely.