Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Perspex: an amalgamation of two representational modes

Perspex when used as a substrate it seems to become a direct mediation between artist, surface and landscape. In effect it acts as a lens and a compromise between a photographic process of representation and that of the painter, this is also in reverence to artists of the renaissance.

According to Gerhard Richter "painting has a reality you can touch" and "photography has almost no reality” (Obrist 2009, p.273) in reference to their physical qualities. In regards to this statement it could be said that painting creates its own reality and when marking the lens (Perspex) the artist is recreating reality or a presence of one. Moreover, where photography requires an image to be chemically fixed upon a surface this use of an acrylic plastic substrate requires the artist to intervene in order to retain the image.
Photography itself seems problematic; Richter has flagged the importance of "not having to invent anything any more" (Harrison et al 2003, p.757). However, he appears to think of this as positive it could be argued that the opposite is true. Photography lacks the ability to transcend reality - Edvard Munch once said, "Photography can never depict heaven or hell". Furthermore, photography is often regarded as a tool for documentation and when used as such removes almost all ambiguity from an image – In painting perhaps one of the greatest agents for power is that of mystery.

If we were to consider Perspex painting as a photographic process we would have to consider its mechanical faculties and the issues surrounding these.
“Mechanical labour cannot give birth to products which can justly be ranked with the production of the human spirit” (Tribunal de commerce Turin 1861).
Jeff Wall’s photomontage ‘The Flooded Grave’ is the product of two years of image gathering/capturing it also reflects many aspects of the “human spirit”, one being a concept of time, of our mortality and our ability to make choices. Importantly it highlights the significance of decisions in regards to composition, location and technique.

Lamartine stated: “Is the reflection of glass on paper art? No it is a sunbeam caught in the instant by a manoeuvre. But where is the contemplation of man? Where is the choice? In the crystal perhaps. But one thing is for sure it is not man” (Tagg 1988, p.109)

Perhaps Lamartine has been a little parsimonious with his description of the creative opportunities photography presents. There are more possibilities for “choice” than chemical or darkroom, which are both relatively cosmetic and can hardly be described as expressive. Surely the real choice available to the photographer is in the composition of the shot itself. Composition as an artistic license also appears to apply to painting (the flexibility painting presents in terms of composition is irrelevant here) therefore; if the element of artistic control exists in photography as it does in painting does it not qualify as art in the same way that painting does?
According to John Ruskin art must involve both “human skill” and create something “beautiful”. We have established that there are elements of photography that require creative decision making therefore, skill and photographs as images are often beautiful.
Ultimately, the questions photography has created in relation to painting and its status as a “theoretical object” (Fried 2008, p.445) have made it an integral part of how we approach representation whether you believe it to be art or not. Therefore, Perspex is entirely justifiable as a medium for both a visual aid and a substrate for painting.

“The burden of representation - essays on photographies and histories” John Tagg Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988

Tribunal de commerce Turin, 25 October 1861

“Why photography matters as art as never before” Michael Fried. New Haven, Conn, London: Yale University Press 2008

David Hockney interview with Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, Thursday 4 March 2004, Available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2004/mar/04/photography, [Accessed: May 2010]

Charles Harrison, Paul Wood Art in Theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas
Blackwell publishers Ltd. 2003

Hans Ulrich Obrist, Dietmar Elger, “Gerhard Richter- Text, Writings, Interviews and letters 1961-2007”, Thames and Hudson Ltd London. 2009

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Whistler and Lecoq

Here follows an extract from the book, Whistler Landscapes and Seascapes by Donald Holden:

Whistler's method of painting the nocturnes was as unconventional as the paintings themselves.

T.R Way, who printed many of Whistlers lithographs, describes a walk with the artist, who stopped suddenly and "pointing to a group of buildings in the distance, an old public house at the corner of the road, with windows and shops showing golden lights through the gathering mist of the twilight said, 'Look!' As he did not seem to have anything to sketch or make notes on, I offered him my note book. 'No, no, be quiet,' was the answer; and after a long pause he turned and walked back a few yards; then, with his back to the scene at which I was looking, he said, 'Now see if I have learned it,' and repeated a full description of the scene, even as one might repeat a poem one had learned by heart"

Whistler was methodically training his memory according to the principles of a great and forgotten teacher, Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Whistler had not studied with him, but Legros and Fanin-Latour had. These two closest friends of the American's formative years in Paris must have described Lecoq's unique teaching method. "Lecoq conducted his last series of classes in the open air," says Horace Gregory, "in woods along the Seine, while models strolled through the sunlight and shade. While the models rested students were required to reconstruct from memory what they had lately seen, the walking figures, the glancing light between the leaves."

Lecoq had taught "that the imagination does no more than fuse the material furnished to it by the memory, thus producing completely new compounds." Equally important, Whistler discovered that painting from memory - with the occasional aid of a few scribbled compositional notes - radically simplified the image that emerged on the canvas. Details dropped away. The mind retained only the big, bold shapes, the abstract structure of the subject, suppressing the trivia and reducing the pictorial design to a pattern of essentials. If this abstract structure was right, neither detail nor finish mattered much. The job was to put the right shape in the right place, and Whistler was one of the first artists to acknowledge the role of the unconscious in making such decisions. Whether he knew it or not, he was also following the classic method of the Chinese landscape painters when he said, "Painting from nature should be done in the studio."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Truth and the Mnemonic

The truest expression of an idea is from the image within the mind, from personal memories and experience. By taking on the role of flaneur and immersing oneself in their surroundings the artist gains intense memories and ideas that can be expressed through the painting. ‘All good and true draughtsman draw from the image imprinted on their brains, and not from nature.’(Baudelaire, 1863, p16)

Adrian Ghenie’s Dada is Dead & Duchamp’s Funeral (2009)

The sources of Adrian Ghenie’s paintings are derived from a combination of his own personal store of memories and from historical books, archives and film. This basis of memory conjoined with vast cultural knowledge leads to this Truth of expression.
‘The weaving together of personal histories with collective memories makes for a psychologically disturbing encounter on the part of the viewer, who may experience a sense of unease or an uncanny jolt of recognition as he surveys the paintings.’(Ritter/Zamet, 2007)

Ahmed Alsoudani’s Untitled (2007)

‘In the daily metamorphosis of external things, there is a rapidity of movement which calls for an equal speed of execution from the artist’ (Baudelaire 1863, p4)

The impact of being present in the Gulf Conflict and the following difficulties of escaping to the US have lead to Alsoudani expressing the related thoughts and images in a equally violent and disperate manner. The sense of movement and chaos that Baudelaire desires is visible.