Celebrated artist Alberto Giacometti once said, “The object of art is not to reproduce reality, but to create a reality of the same intensity.” Giacometti was an artist noted for his abstraction and deconstruction of the human form, which he depicted through a multitude of sculptures, paintings and drawings in elongated shape and scumbled lines. Figurative paintings and portraiture are nothing new, yet subgenres of portraiture continue to emerge, survive and move us. The common phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” aptly applies, and the activation of perception, observation and process are represented in beautiful and intricate ways in the four contemporary artists whose work is featured here. Featured artists include: Karim Hamid, Colin Chillag, Borondo and Angela Fraleigh.
The work of Mathew Zefeldt (previously featured here) successfully balances improbable combinations – modern with historical, digital with classical, painterly foregrounds with computer-like backgrounds – all by densely rendering them in traditional painting techniques with oils and acrylics. Having created an advanced personal lexicon of art historical references to classical sculpture, as well as to abstract and figurative painting, these figures cohesively exist alongside more modern glitch aesthetics, shifting colors, garish patterns, and computer-like repetition. Through the combination of these disparate elements, Zefeldt recalls the history of the painting medium, while referencing the potential to represent our new, hybrid reality. Explaining his work, the artist says, “My paintings are still-life arrangements that take place in my head; they are windows onto a fictional world, governed by rules based in the real world, but bent and broken…”.
These still-lifes exist in another improbably capacity, that of using both illusionistic depth and perspective, but on two-dimensional plane. This use of the flat-plane is more often found in collage, as is Zefeldt’s tendency to repeat (almost) identical imagery. When asked by Beautiful/Decay why he chooses painting to construct his explorations of a variegated contemporary visual culture, Zefeldt replies, “It would be a million times easier to collage or photoshop rather than paint. But paint forces you to slow down. Painting the same thing over and over again is almost meditative. Painting can be subversive too. Everything is getting more digital, movies etc. I think its important to keep making things manually, by hand.” This attention to craft highlights a uniquely human quality, where each sculptural bust appears exactly the same, but holds its own standard of flawed beauty upon closer inspection.
Artist Ramiro Gomez alters luxury magazine ads and photographs by adding in the often-underpaid workers that make their beauty and opulence possible. He paints gardeners, cleaning ladies, people who maintain swimming pools, and more. They are faceless bodies and appear like ghosts in and in front of mansions and sunny palm trees. By doing so, Gomez highlights the disparity between these lavish lifestyles and the workers who barely make minimum wage.
Gomez experienced this firsthand as a live-in nanny for a wealthy West Hollywood family. In an interview with Fast Company, he states, “It was interesting the feeling that would happen as I was signing off this purse, that the family had so much already, yet they weren’t able to pay [me] more,” Gomez says. “I took it personally, in a way.” This job was also where he first had the idea for the series. After fishing magazines like Dwell and Luxe out of the trash, he tore out the ads and started painting in figures.
So, what do affluent folks think of Gomez’s work? Those that have seen it actually like it, including his former employers. His paintings illustrate the complex economic system that find ourselves in. Those who can most likely afford Gomez’s work are ones that identify with the luxury lifestyle. But, they are essentially buying work that is critical of their status. That’s part of the point of Gomez’s paintings – to engage with an audience who might otherwise not realize the other side of their privilege. (Via Fast Company)
When artist Amanda Burnham first moved to Baltimore, Maryland, she didn’t know anyone. So, she spent a lot of time in her 7th floor apartment that had interesting views of the city. The time spent observing and recording her surroundings later informed her temporary, site-specific installations that are a patchwork representation of Baltimore. Burnham draws and paints street signs, fire hydrants, architecture, and store fronts, piecing them together in a manner that’s fractured yet cohesive. Taking elements of a neighborhood (or neighborhoods), she fashions her own view of the city, creating work large enough for a viewer to walk around and between. In an interview with Dwanye Butcher of Visual Baltimore, Burnham explains why she chooses to work this way (and why she reuses paper and boxes):
The idea of things being layered and pieced together is important to me. I see this city, and really all cities, as these giant ad-hoc organisms – collectively authored, chop-a-bloc, joints exposed – an ongoing melange of edits, adjustments, negotiations. I hope to suggest that with the deliberately collage-y, visually dense, maximalist aesthetic of my drawings. I also love paper and what it does when treated as an object – the shadows it casts, the way tears and cuts are line. Most of the paper I use is really cheap stuff – low grade drawing paper that comes in rolls, kraft paper, packing materials. Boxes. That’s important because I’m not rich, but also because I see it as conceptually significant – resourcefulness is an ethic I sometimes see evidenced in the forms of the city, and it’s one I really respond to.
Burnham not only takes the outdoors indoors, but creates a whole new environment in a matter of a few days to a week. Lighting, astro turf, and electrical tape craft an ambience that’s unique to the city.
We are a society mesmerized by extremes. In our fascination with art this generally translates into obsession with magnitude, scale and sheer quantity, while our consumption tendencies of technological objects tends to swing the opposite, manifesting in compact phones-computers-everything else in one hand held device. The works featured here are as mind blowing as the compactness of current computer software programs, packing so much detail into such tiny confines. All of the works here are created on standard matchbooks, with the painted or drawn imagery measuring in at no more than four inches of length on any given piece. Joseph Martinez, Mike Bell, Jason D’Aquino and Krista Charles all demonstrate immense technical skill in their matchbook art.
Los Angeles-based painter Justin Bower makes portraiture a glitched metaphor, literally and figuratively, to the present and future of a combined human and computer existence. Bower “…paints his subjects as de-stabilized, fractured post-humans in a nexus of interlocking spatial systems. His paintings problematize how we define ourselves in this digital and virtual age while suggesting the impossibility of grasping such a slippery notion.”
Absorbing different movements and styles (visually one could see a connection to the paintings of Francis Bacon, Jenny Saville, Op Art, as well as early 90′s Cyberpunk and post-Millenium Glitch aesthetics), Bower creates large-scale works that seem almost pained, frustrated or weariness, but with a computer-like void of any tangible, specific emotion. This is balanced delicately by the controlled, digital-referencing malfunctioned backgrounds, combined with loose, painterly brush work, affirming the power and communicability of the paint medium.
Artist Christopher Murphy paints memories, using old family photographs as source material. He paints the Hoover Dam, large family gatherings, his younger self, and more. Murphy’s work is technically very good, and the realistic renderings of his paintings to look like photographs. They also depict quiet moments. While a lot of them involve people, there is very little tension among subjects. Colors are desaturated, which ages the look of them. Murphy spoke to New American Paintings about his work. He describes the overarching theme of his paintings, as well as his decision to use old photographs for reference. He says:
Imagination playfully cavorts with authenticity to fabricate the essence of memory. It is at this intersection, between the poles of fiction and truth, that my current paintings and drawings are situated. Issues of contrast, specifically of finding harmony between dissonant elements, have been a constant theme in my work. I see my paintings as opportunities to explore the conceptual contrasts of reality versus illusory and permanence versus ephemeral as applied to memory.
I choose old family photographs (largely culled from my own family’s albums, but supplemented with a selection of found photos from estate sales and thrift stores) to serve as the basis for my work, because of their unique qualities of semi-permanence, staged semblance, and ostensible candidness. In these photos, skies fade to pale yellows, skin tones sink, and details blur and grow fainter with time. Sometimes, dated technology necessitated blank stares or static poses, caused colors to skew, or impacted the framing of an image. By either exaggerating or minimizing these characteristics, along with re-contextualizing figures and objects or dramatically re-staging the action of a photo, the divisions are obscured between the reality that existed at the moment of the photograph, the memories of that moment, and the possibilities of reality that are presented in my work.
You might have read countless comics and watched all of the movies, but how often do you see a geriatric superhero? Not much, I’m sure. Arguably, these types of stories are less fun and offer less fantastical possibilities. A lot of stories are action-driven; The less action means potentially less appeal. The paintings of Andreas Englund, however, offer a different perspective. In his series of realistically-rendered oil paintings, Englund highlights mundane, amusing, and the occasional ass-kicking moments by an aging Superhero. We see him eating clementines, watching tv, and choking at a dinner party. And it’s not boring.
Age is the overarching theme in this series. Author Philipp Windmüller’s writes a short essay about Englund’s Superhero and highlights his transition from young to old. He states:
… the character himself needs to face up reality and the aging process. He has to acknowledge to himself that he cannot live up to expectations and that the “perfect life” is nothing more than wishfulness. Englund’s artworks are focused on the maturing process. Even in the old age it is still possible to achieve something valuable although someone’s drive and vigour won’t bluster out explosively. Nevertheless everybody in his advanced age deserves to be recognised and respected for what he has achieved in life.
Recognizing that we live in an ageist society, Windmüller goes to write that we should identify and have empathy for this character:
Every one of us will find himself in the same situation as the “Aging Superhero” anytime soon. Of course, all good things must come to an end but we don’t have to bow to social marginalisation. One day we all will be old and start realise we need to dial it down and stop pushing on harder. In a worldwide society where mostly older people live, we need a survival packet with superpowers in order to make sure that everybody can film his own superhero blockbuster. (Via This is Colossal)