This catalogue is published on the occasion of the exhibition Philip Akkerman Self-portraits that took place at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (May 16 -July 12 1992). The exhibition was curated by Chris Dercon and Gosse Oosterhof, and 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 book Philip Akkerman Self-portraits and the exhibition of the same name in Witte de With are the results of a lively correspondence between Philip Akkerman and Witte de With. Like Philip Akkerman’s self-portraits and his written comments and recommendations, this book is a collection of messages. The messages are primarily about Akkerman’s self-portraits and hereby pertain to all self-portraits; in short, they are about mimesis and about art, and therefore also about the sense and nonsense of art. On March 9, 1981 Akkerman noted in his diary: “As far as my work is concerned, I’m now involved with self-portraits (a whole series of them). It’s going reasonably well.” In December 1991, Akkerman himself counted 495 painted self-portraits, including those that were destroyed: “No paintings are missing.” (PA, February 4, 1992). In 1984 Akkerman had moreover begun to produce drawn self-portraits; he gradually lost count of these. But that doesn’t matter so much, “(…) for, after all, it’s better to make paintings than to count them.” (PA, February 7, 1991). Between 1982 and 1985 Akkerman rarely dated or signed his paintings, and he “sometimes had to guess at the year.” (PA, February 4, 1992); the other paintings are very precisely grouped and provided with such information as the materials used.

This perfectly illustrates the duality of Akkerman’s entire oeuvre. On the one hand, there is an obsessive urge for observation and a classical concern for the essence of painting itself and, on the other, a complete disregard for technique, color and composition. What first appears to be a contradictory attitude of Philip Akkerman is, in fact, thoroughly consistent with: “There is just one thing for me to do, and that is to Go On.” (PA, May 21, 1991).