Since 1981, Philip Akkerman has applied himself to painting and drawing exclusively self-portraits. The exhibition Philip Akkerman: Self-Portraits presented 450 self-portraits, dating from 1981 until 1992, along with an archive of 676 drawings and autobiographical notebooks in which Akkerman commented on the creation of his works. The works were presented chronologically, suggesting a reconstruction of the painter’s day-to-day life.

Traditionally, the self-portrait seeks to depict the inner self; it goes beneath that which can be seen, revealing what is essentially, and thus universally, human. Akkerman’s self-portraits, however, are programmatically executed in a continuing series. They have to do with the conditions of depiction itself and with the issue of resemblance, showing how a depiction is structured, how it can be altered, and how the variation in form is related to the likeness. Painted in an endless variety of styles and techniques, his series of portraits encompasses the history of painting and its relationship to reality.

Since he paints nothing but self-portraits, Akkerman’s works lack in a way the depth of the traditional self-portrait. His faces are not distilled, concentrated images of life, but faces like those of any person on any given day. Thus, his portraits are like notes in a diary, bound to commonplace occurrences and the routine of everyday life. However, in the repetition that shows that everything is the same, in showing that each day and each face is followed by another, these banal faces ultimately acquire a universal quality. It is not a heroic quest for one essential work, but an endeavor to save up images that become evident as a work only after one has placed them all together and presented them as a whole. As Akkerman once said: “I paint myself, and so I paint the whole of mankind.”