Mystic Sky with Self-Portrait

  • 1992
  • Color offset lithograph with collage and construction
  • Image/sheet: 21¼ x 25¼ inches (54.5 x 64.1 cm)
  • 2009-61-72
About the Print

The artist Betye Saar’s interest in spirituality and symbolism is evident in this artwork with its collaged shoot ing stars and cosmic array of imagery, including a pair of dice (fate/fortune), a flaming heart (spiritual love), an eye in a pyramid (God’s all-seeing eye), and a floating mask (hidden ide ntity and magic). Saar loo ks outward from the bottom corner, while an open hand (is it hers?) reaches toward the warmth of a red, blazing sun. A tiny moon and a sun as well as the Greek letter omega (the final culmination of all) mark her palm. Dynam ic images of power and identity tilt and align across this orderly, personal universe.

“Curiosity
about the unknown
has no boundaries.
Symbols, images, place and cultures merge.
time slips away.
The stars, the cards, the mystic vigil
may hold the answers.
By shifting the point of view
an inner spirit is released.
Free to create.”
-BETYE SAAR, 1998

Let's Look
  • What kind of mood does this work evoke? Happy, sad, upbeat, threatening ... ?
  • What objects has Saar included? What meanings do you associate with them?
  • What does th is self-portrait reveal about the artist? What makes you think that?
  • What objects would you put in your self-portra it? What do they symbolize?

Betye Saar

American
Born Los Angeles, 1926
Photograph by Jacob Wheeler. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY
About the Artist

Betye Saar finds beauty and wonder in everyday objects that others might discard. For Saar, a bit of fabric, a broken toy, or a lost key is BETYE SAAR American Born Los Angeles, 1926 Photograph by Jacob Wheeler. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery LLC, New York, NY a treasure ripe with possibility. After studying art and design at the University of California and California State University, Saar focused on making collages and other assemblages, large and small. Politics, social norms, and issues of power–especially for women and people of color–became a topic in her work. She explores mystical themes in her artwork and often includes signs and symbols that stir emotions relating to identity and the sustaining power of memory.

Curriculum Connections

Suggested Topics for Art Projects, Group Discussion, and Independent Writing

Art

Symbolic Self-Portrait

Symbols are crucial in communicating ideas. They can be representational or abstract. Brainstorm symbols that have personal meaning for you, and translate them into a collage to create a self-portrait made entirely of symbols.

Assemblage

Betye Saar is well known for her assemblages. Make a shoe-box assemblage based on your childhood memories. Arrange a display of drawings, photographs, or magazine pictures and objects inside the box to capture the spirit of your recollections. For more inspiration, look at assemblages by the American artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) as well as those by Saar (www.betyesaar.net).

Language Arts

List Poem

A list poem is made from a list of words. Create a list poem inspired by something you like, maybe your favorite piece of music, food, sport, or emotion. Brainstorm nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and short phrases that describe it and why it is important to you. Remember to include details. Using the list, arrange the words and phrases into a poem. It can be any length and can rhyme or not.

In Your Opinion

Consider Saar's quote (page 8) about her artwork . In your opinion, does Mystic Sky with Self-Portrait reflect the spirit of her words? How? If not, why not?

Social Studies

Speak out

In her artwork, Saar challenges the myths and stereotypes that she has faced as an African American woman. Explore her works (www.betyesaar.net) and see how she has expressed her political and social views. Research how the world has responded.