During a recent conversation, I was prompted to dig out an old self-portrait of myself, made in May 1994, when as may be apparent I was strongly influenced by the portraits of Lucian Freud. When I drew it I was still recovering from a serious case of pneumonia some months earlier which had seen me miss most of the winter term and had left me very thin and weak. It took me quite a while to recover my strength. In May 1994 Kurt Cobain had committed suicide. I had been in a state that I might call quasi-living – I only just managed to exist when I was ill and I think the illness made me recognise with some urgency the shortness of life. Certainly, as Heidegger suggests, my greater consciousness of death allowed me a greater consciousness of my free will and so it was that I decided to cut off all my hair and have it dyed pink and do other radical things in my life. The pink hair was partly in reaction to the death of Kurt Cobain and partly to the feminist texts I was studying, partly in reaction to a lot of the Riot Grrrl culture that was increasingly apparent and partly, it has to be said, inspired by a photograph of a woman with a pixie cut dyed pale blue in Parisian Vogue.
I didn’t have very much money so I opted for a £5 student cut at Vidal Sassoon in central Glasgow. I had very long hair and the girl was pretty nervous when I told her what I wanted and she kept saying “Are you sure”? “Are you really sure?” I felt a bit like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, when she repeatedly tells the reluctant hairdresser “All off!”
It took hours, first cutting the hair and then bleaching it – which took quite a lot as my hair is dark and then the dye. It was beautiful, she had mixed the bright pink with little marblings of purple. On my way back from the salon I popped into King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut where I had enquired about a job, Frankie, the bar manager, saw me straight away and I walked out with a job.
I drew this picture shortly afterwards. It was the beginning of a new and exciting phase of my life where looking back, I was incredibly brave. The shoulders look large because I was wearing my brother’s striped t-shirt and it hung off my shoulders, which are quite square due to my love of swimming! I wish I had worn something daintier now!