Self-Portraits With Disability: Josephine King

Joesphine King is an artist with bipolar disorder who produces startling and evocative self portraits.

Josephine King remembers her first self-portrait and how it showed up out of nowhere. She was “really ill” with bipolar disorder, living alone in a flat in Amsterdam. “I was in psychosis. I was desperate, not at all well in my head. I thought, the only thing to do is a painting.” She worked until a woman emerged against a brilliant pink background. This was the painting that launched five years of obsessive self-portraiture, framed with texts spelling out what it is to be manic depressive. (source)

Originally establishing herself as an artist in ceramics, she turned to portraiture after her diagnosis in 1999.

A painting in several scenes. Across the top, representations of childhood: The artist sleeping in bed; a cozy house; the artist standing as a young child; a lighthouse. Two smaller scenes below, one of the artist sitting in a kitchen with a defeated expression, another of a cheery stove with a quilt behind it, a dog curled up on the hearth. Below, a larger image of the artist turning away from a canvas and being slapped by her brother. Around the frame, the text: 'My brother hit me in the atelier. Childhood fear + pain made me do it. Unbreakable bond.'

‘Unbreakable Bond’

The artist in a bold red skirt and grey striped top, holding a tiger with legs outstretched. Around the frame, the words: 'After the clinic, I went to India to look for tigers: I found none, just paper tigers.'

‘Paper Tigers’

The artist in a brown patterned dress with an apron, a small white and brown dog curled up next to her. Around the frame, the words: 'My beloved dog Primo decided to close his eyes forever. Grief released depression.'

‘Grief’

The artist in a blue shirt and skirt, standing stiffly with her arms by her side. A cigarette dangles from one arm. Around the frame, the words: 'My psychiatrist was a chain smoker. I didn't get a cure, but I took up smoking.'

‘Chain Smoker’

Each portrait tells a little piece of her story. I really love her use of colour, textures, and shapes and I like that while each picture stands on its own really well, they can also be viewed together as part of a larger narrative about her life and her disability.

More pictures of her work can be seen at The Independent and FWD readers in and around London can see her work on display at the Riflemaker gallery.