Abstract Expressionism Techniques in John Ashbery’s "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror"


John Ashbery (1927-) is one of the most prominent postmodern poets in America who is known for his innovative techniques. He continues to be the most controversial poet, as he disregards the laws of logic in picturing reality. Ashbery’s style is deeply influenced by the experimental methods of modern painting. He has been mostly associated with Abstract Expressionism that signifies the great progress in the European avant-garde visual art. The Abstract expressionists often choose to present subjects in graceful distortion, rather than attempt to record life with absolute accuracy. Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” is typical of ekphrastic poetry. It is inspired by a painting which has the same title by the sixteenth-century Italian painter, Francesco Mazzola. The painting is not a realistic portrait of the painter, for it is deliberately distorted as it would be in a convex reflection. Ashbery unfolds the essence of postmodern poetry which illustrates the inability of the forms of language to capture the reality beyond the mental image. Like the Abstract Expressionists, he makes of his poems a depiction of the real workings of the mind which is liberated from all the constraints. Furthermore, the poem is a verbal depiction of the painting; it assumes and transforms the inner voice of the portrait.