Research Point: Painting Style – historical and contemporary painting

20 March 2017. It took me a while to grasp the concept underlying the very first parts of my new course, since the research points here are much more directly connected to the actual work required in the exercises to follow than in the previous courses. In order to achieve a maximum gain from my research activity I will try and follow consistently the points listed on pp. 31-32 in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015), when combining theoretical and practical research:

  • How does it make you feel?
  • Do you like the work?
  • What does it remind you of?
  • What about the composition?
  • What style is the work in?
  • What colour palette has the artist used?
  • What is the subject?
  • What’s the significance of the title?
  • What’s the date?
  • What medium has the artist used?
  • What about the support?
  • Where is the work exhibited?

While most of the information (the last 8 points) will, most of the time, come with the painting anyway in print or online, composition and style may require some additional research and the first three points are highly personal. It is interesting that the OCA put the questions in this order. I will try and follow just this: let the work of art do its magic, then deal with the statistics, and not vice versa.

We are advised to research in detail at least one artist listed in one of six style categories on p. 36 of the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2015). After having had a quick look at all of the artists I chose my subjects on impulse (and not just by liking!). Here is the result of my research. I am not quite sure if and how all of these relate to the tasks set for exercises 1.1 – 1.4 in Part 1 (“Using Found Images”) of the course, but the connection may evolve while experimenting. The works chosen I will print out and put in my new research sketchbook, which I started alongside the exercise sketchbook, where I hope the influence of the artist to become part of my own work:

Slick, flat paint

  • Gary Hume: bold, simple, colourful, flat, reduced palette (reminds me of Alex Katz)
  • Sarah Morris: geometrical, large size, sober (reminds me of Joseph Albers)
  • Ian Davenport: seen him before (Practice of painting, lines (reminds me of ….. woman painter line castle, think)
  • Inka Essenhigh: like Arik Brauer, mystic, elaborate, luminous (like the subject)
  • Jane Callister: abstract, colourful, landscapes, looks like poured paint (like the technique)
  • Brian Alfred: townscapes, geometrical, sober, political, looks like photos painted over

For me the cool, geometrical and sober approach is not what I am after, because it is not what I would naturally do, but maybe this is exactly what I will need to contemplate, so here come, as a contrast, Inka Essenhigh and Brian Alfred.

23 March 2017. On the Victoria Miro Gallery’s website (Victoria Miro Gallery, n.d.(a)) Inka Essenhigh‘s (*1969, USA) approach is described as follows: “With its pristine, high-gloss surfaces and accentuated colours Essenhigh’s work moves towards an almost sculptural three-dimensionality in its delineation of forms.” While I am not so much drawn to her earlier cartoonlike style, many of her more recent paintings radiate enormous energy and it was difficult to choose two favourite pieces.
In the end I went for “Snow” (2007) (Victoria Miro Gallery, n.d.(b)) and “Stubborn Tree Spirit” (2012) (Victoria Miro Gallery, n.d.(c)), both large size oil paintings on canvas. Their immediate appeal comes from the connection I feel between Essenhigh and Arik Brauer, as mentioned above. I love how in her hand seemingly mundane subjects show the eerie side of their existence, as if parallel worlds existed in one space. This allows the natural world to be not just populated by, but merged with, an all-encompassing spirit. Her attention to detail, meticulous composition (appearing to be derived from a diverse array of styles from the renaissance via Japanese woodblock printing to contemporary cartoons) and execution and use of high-gloss finishes all help to enhance the effect. Essenhigh’s style has been described as “pop surrealist” or “lowbrow”, which comes along with a humorous view on the chosen subjects (Schultz, 2014). This is maybe also why I feel an affinity, since my own approach is similar.

Brian Alfred (*1973, USA) appears to me to have a very technically minded approach to choosing his subjects, thus his combination of traditional and new media appears to reflect that well. On Sedition (n.d.) he is described to create “flattened and usually depopulated worlds of color reproduced in two dimensional bold patterns, often derived from found images.” When browsing his work on the Internet (see e.g. Artsy, n.d.,) this is exactly how his world feels. At the risk of sounding unfair and preoccupied, I have to admit that to me it appears as if Inka Essenhigh had drawn all the spirit from his world to use in her own. I feel a tremendous energy imbalance between the two here, but have not yet been able to pinpoint the source. There is one image I quite like, however, titled “Animation and DAF and MARFA/May 5 2015” (Alfred, n.d.). It appears that it is a screenshot taken from an animation created by Alfred, but I was unable to find that. To me this image is attractive for its wonderful composition, consisting from a low angle shot of an urban high-rise bridge with a full moon rising at eye level. I love the choice of colour and, as it is near dusk, the flattened appearance of the view is completely believable. As a contrast I chose a second work, which I thoroughly dislike, in order to make this the basis of a compare and contrast exercise. This was to be “Obama”, an acrylics portrait made in 2008. For me the feeling of energy depletion is at a maximum in this painting, Obama’s expression seems debilitatingly empty. Maybe I find out more when making a sketch of it.

19 April 2017.

Loose, thin paint

  • Mimei Thompson: playng with half-diluted oil paint to create eerily beautiful brushstrokes serving to create volume (reminds me of several of my own attempts)
  • Annie Kevans: loose, faint portraits of famous, ambiguous characters (ideas similar to my own, but for me too soft and straightforward in approach)
  • Cathy Lomax: portraiture in style similar to Annie Kevans, but choice romantic and in my opinion less well executed than the former
  • Eleanor Moreton: corresponds in my opinion to the category, reminds me in jumbled style and weird choice of clashing colours of many different painters, e.g. of Oskar Kokoschka’s paintings (but without his amazing energy)

Since I have come across Mimei Thompson‘s (*?, UK) work before and her technique and subtle approach at twisting colour and along with it reality remind me of my own intentions, I chose her from the list of loose-thin painters. I do not think, however, that her style is any of the two in the sense I thought was meant after having been pointed to the work of Luc Tuymans by my POP tutor. E.g. in her oil on canvas painting “Brambles” (Thompson, 2016a) I can guess at a relatively loosely painted background, but both middle and foreground are strongly pigmented and especially the brambles are worked out in great detail. Her cave paintings, though, e.g. “Cave Painting: Pearl” (Thompson, 2016b), appear to exhibit, at least in part, these qualities. I like how she used a mix of pastel colours, all very likely on the same flat and wide brush to create the beautiful pattern of rock colours, which reminds me of certain national parks in the west of the USA. What I think makes her go in the thin paint list is the beautiful brushstrokes one can create by carefully diluting, to a certain degree, a set of colours put next to each other on the palette.

I had a look at all four of the above artists, but apart from the wonderful paintings by Mimei Thompson I am not drawn to their work. They all seem to remain strangely vague, which can be a very good thing in a painting, but in my opinion the solution of leaving everything half-finished can backfire, if the technique is applied indiscriminately (which is what it feels to me). For my own work I want more volume and depth, both literally and figuratively. There are very likely many other artists painting thin and loosely, whose style and technique have a greater appeal to me and I will try and find some if time allows.

20 April 2017.

Photo-realism

I have always admired the incredible patience and stamina in the adherence to the smallest detail, but want to feel something on top of the faithful reproduction, which serves to me as an indication that the painter’s intention was to investigate beyond the superficially obvious.

  • Chuck Close: using a variety of materials and media to investigate techniques and story-telling power of photo-realism, appeals to me because he confronts his dramatic personal history
  • Mark Fairnington: nature painter, highly realistic, beautiful, interesting for me to see from the biologist and museum person point of view, but too distant, my emotions were exactly the same when working in our museum depot, I can even smell the depot again
  • Robert Priseman: not sure whether this is the correct artist, but in my opinion his work is not photo-realistic. He moves among different styles, but his work seems to lack the photographic part of realism, so did not consider him
  • Tim Gardner: it appears that Gardner is mostly a watercolour painter, which allows him to combine a photorealistic effect with the loose watercolour quality, something with a great appeal to me. His paintings are complex, so I will try and select part of a piece that combines both.

In an impressively honest interview (Arts Et Culture, 2015) Chuck Close (*1940, USA) explains the intentions behind his first far larger than life-size self portrait. He says that he wants the viewer to be unable to scan the whole portrait in order for it to attract him/her to move very close and inspect the fine detail. Close used a grid for enlarging the image, a technique I thoroughly dislike, and filled the individual squares with dots taken from the greyscale, derived from the “halftone” printing technique (Christensson, 2014).
21 April 2017. His later work, however, employing an enhanced technique painting something like multicoloured “lenses” to replace the dots above, seems to be working a magical trick. The lenses seem highly unconnected when looking closely, but make perfect sense when viewed from a distance, and they radiate a weird emotional quality hard to describe (see e.g. Walker Art Center, 2017). I will try and reproduce part of one of those paintings and apply the technique to one of my found images.

Tim Gardner‘s (*1973, USA) style appears to be photorealistic only at first sight. If inspected more closely his paintings exhibit all the features typical of watercolour, very unlike the photorealism produced by some, whose work is practically indistinguishable from the original photo. Compositionwise Gardner’s paintings mostly look like snapshots, though carefully devised.
22 April 2017. Like others, however, he seems to have committed his work to a long-term trend of depicting persons isolated within their modern, detached environment. In contrast his subjects – mostly young males – do not seem to be depressed, but at ease and satisfied with their respective activities (303 Gallery, n.d.). I would have liked to investigate his technique more closely through my sketchbook, but the available resolutions together with my printer prevent this. Having said this I found “Untitled (Bhoadie running on dunes: Africa)” (Gardner, 1999) and selected that to try and copy the beautifully simple depiction of the sand dunes in the background.

Black and white

  • Raymond Pettibon: there was an exhibition on Pettibon in Salzburg recently, which I wrote a post on in POP (Lacher-Bryk, 2017). To me he is more of a drawing than painting artist, therefore omitted here
  • José Toirac: I like the energy in his black and white portraits, also the political statements, which I feel close to
  • Alli Sharma: again a portraitist like Kevans and Lomax above without, in my opinion, an extraordinary technique or style which would make her an attractive option to research
  • Gia Edzgveradze: regarding the black and white requirement like Pettibon he is more a drawing artist, so left out from this research despite his enormous versatility

José Toirac, born 1966 in Guantanamo, Cuba, does what may be expected from a Cuban artist. He takes photographic evidence from the political history of his country and reworks it in black and white paint, sometimes combined with techniques derviced from the advertising industry to add some exquisitely observed emotional quality. I was drawn to the less clearly worked-out “Untitled (con Fidel) (from Serie Gris)” (Toirac, 2004), which I will be trying to sketch for the interesting line of energetic while silent communication appearing to exist between the depicted persons despite their not exactly looking at each other.

Colour and pattern

  • Peter Doig: one of my favourite artists, see e.g. Lacher-Bryk (2016)
  • Édouard Vuillard: symbolist one hundred years before Doig, but connected in style, very bold and daring, but subjects very much those of the 19th century, to which I do not feel connected
  • Tal R: same age as Doig, born in Isreal, lives in Denmark, the appeal of his work to me changes from disbelief at the ugly rough carelessness of some work (especially that found on Pinterest) to fascination with several of the intricate patterns he creates, but overall I can feel no connection
  • Daniel Richter: same age as Doig and Tal R, for me he is right between Doig and Tal R in both the choice of subjects and use of colour, with great subtlety and and sure feeling for composition and pattern

There was no question which artist to choose first from this list. Peter Doig (*1959, UK) speaks to me in terms of genuine colour magic. His work is described as idiosyncratic, which does not say more than that Doig does things his own way and this is probably where his great appeal to me comes from. Contrary to so many of his contemporaries he seems oblivious to trends, walking between representation and abstraction (Sooke, 2008), very likely without the goal of meeting any expectations. I am going to try and find out more about his famous “White Canoe” (Doig, 1990/91), which is a surprisingly large 200 x 243 cm in size and whose composition appears to me ideal for an investigation of colour and pattern, because it is the one on top of the other.

Daniel Richter (*1962, Germany) belongs with the neo-expressionist/symbolist movement. On artnet (n.d.) he describes his approach in this way: “I don’t believe in technique. For me, painting is a form of thinking, and I keep control over the things required for this form of thinking.” This is something I am keenly interested in learning for myself. So in order to find out more about Richter, Doig and myself, I have chosen to examine Trevelfast (Richter, 2004), also a very large size painting (232 x 283 cm). To me his approach resembles Peter Doig’s in White Canoe, but with an additional ghostly emotional quality achieved by combining pure colour and patterns derived from these colours to create a vibrant, moving three-dimensional experience.

Messy

I don’t like messy and this is why I should probably have a go at just this. It will help me loosen up, relocate some of my planning from head to heart and most likely discover something completely new.

  • Denis Castellas: I have come across his work before, he includes many drawing elements into his paintings, which do not look messy to me. His compositions using line and tone are very cleverly and attractively arranged, great intuition
  • Cecily Brown: only superficially messy, enigmatic constructions weaving messages into complex environments, technique looks very attractive to me
  • Carole Benzaken: cannot find anything messy, but something on shadows, very attractive black and white work also, will come back to her for Assignment 1,
  • Elizabeth Peyton: I could not find any truly messy work on the internet. Again I find that she is one of an immensely large group of contemporary painters whose deliberately careless style and choice of subjects is very similar
  • Chantal Joffe: her subjects are mostly women and children and as with Peyton above I could not find any truly messy work on the internet. Choice of style and subjects resemble Peyton’s work
  • Jasper Joffe: appears to be, among other things, a satirical portraitist and this makes him interesting for me
  • Harry Pye: not my direction at all, deliberately childlike but not in the magical way. Like the way children learn to paint when made alike at school (except for a few co-productions with other painters). Why would he do it?

25 April 2017. It was difficult to select from this list, because with most of these artists I was unable to see the messy in their style. They seem to have mastered with great skill what to me seems incredibly difficult: to evoke an impression of random application of paint while maintaining control of a great composition. I am at a loss of how to fulfill the task of copying such complexity and will need to restrict the practical research to part of a painting.

Although the subjects at the centre of Cecily Bown‘s (*1969, UK) work (extremes and excesses in human life) are not akin to my own, I was intrigued at her ability to literally capture them between the edges of a canvas. For the above discrepancy it took me ages to settle on a painting. At first I went straight for “Teenage Wildlife” (Brown, 2003), because of its beautiful light and delicately woven patterns, but after a while of examining it the connection between subject and pattern seemed too obvious, so that I went to look for something else. Although incredibly complex to copy even in part I chose “High Society” (Brown, 1998) for its strange mix of seemingly representative elements, which it a second glance would dissolve into an abstract collection of colour, depending on which segment of the painting I chose to view – an effect, which Brown describes beautifully in an interview (Planet Magazine, 2013). In the end I selected a smallish square from the painting.

Jasper Joffe (*1975, UK) is someone, whose intentions appear so be very like mine at least at some points and therefore I think that I may have a somewhat easier access to interpreting some of his work as compared with e.g. Harry Pye. Since in the study guide he is listed in the “messy” category, however, I chose the messiest piece I could find. The work presented on his website does not come with any information, so I can only guess that it is a square gouache and/or watercolour painting on paper, a mix of colour, lines and writing (Joffe, n.d.), but I will try and reproduce at least some of it in my sketchbook. This work probably reflects his dual nature as a painter and writer, is very awkward to view at first sight and I am very curious to see what I will come up with once finished with the copying exercise.

References:

Inka Essenhigh

Open College of the Arts (2015) Painting 1: Understanding Painting Media. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley, pp. 31-32.

Schultz, K. (2014) ‘Big Eyes’ and the Bigger Picture [blog] [online]. The Huffington Post, 29 December (updated 28 February 2015). Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kimann-schultz/big-eyes-the-bigger-pictu_b_6387470.html [Accessed 23 March 2017]

Victoria Miro Gallery (n.d.(a)) Inka Essenhigh. About the Artist [online]. Victoria Miro Gallery, London. Available at: https://www.victoria-miro.com/artists/23-inka-essenhigh/ [Accessed 23 March 2017]

Victoria Miro Gallery (n.d.(b)) Inka Essenhigh. Survey: Selected Works. Snow [image collection] [online]. Available at: https://www.victoria-miro.com/artists/23-inka-essenhigh/works/artworks9784/ [Accessed 23 March 2017]

Victoria Miro Gallery (n.d.(c)) Inka Essenhigh. Survey: Selected Works. Stubborn Tree Spirit [image collection] [online]. Available at: https://www.victoria-miro.com/artists/23-inka-essenhigh/works/artworks15620/ [Accessed 23 March 2017]

Brian Alfred

Alfred, B. (n.d.) Animation and DAF and MARFA/May 5 2015 [online]. Brian Alfred, New York. Available from: http://paintchanger.com/news/2015/5/5/animation-at-daf-and-marfa %5BAccessed 23 March 2017]

Artsy (n.d.) Brian Alfred. Works [image collection] [online]. Artsy, New York. Available from: https://www.artsy.net/artist/brian-alfred [Accessed 23 March 2017]

MutualArt (n.d.) Auctions. Brian Alfred. Obama, 2008 [online]. Available from: https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Obama/38217195A74EA80A [Accessed 23 March 2017]

S[edition] (n.d.) Brian Alfred. Profile [online]. S[edition], London. Available from: https://www.seditionart.com/brian_alfred [Accessed 23 March 2017]

Mimei Thompson

Thompson, M. (2016a) Brambles [oil on canvas] [online]. Thompson, London. Available from: http://www.mimeithompson.com/work/view/brambles/ [Accessed 18 April 2017]

Thompson, M. (2016b) Cave Painting: Pearl [oil on canvas] [online]. Thompson, London. Available from: http://www.mimeithompson.com/work/view/cave-painting-pearl/ [Accessed 18 April 2017]

Chuck Close

Arts Et Culture (2015) Chuck Close A Portrait in Progress (2015) [online]. Arts Et Culture. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-UpVzwCau4 [Accessed 20 April 2017]

Christensson, P. (2014) Halftone [online]. TechTerms, 2 September. Available from: https://techterms.com/definition/halftone [Accessed 20 April 2017]

Walker Art Center (2017) Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 [online]. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Available from: http://www.walkerart.org/calendar/2005/chuck-close-self-portraits-1967-2005 [Accessed 21 April 2017]

Tim Gardner

303 Gallery (n.d.) Tim Gardner. Selected Works [online]. 303 Gallery, New York. Available from: http://www.303gallery.com/artists/tim-gardner [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Gardner, T. (1999) Untitled (Bhoadie running on dunes: Africa) [watercolour on paper] [online]. 303 Gallery, New Yoek. Available from: http://www.303gallery.com/gallery-exhibitions/tim-gardner5/selected-works#5 [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Raymond Pettibon

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Own Artist Research: Raymond Pettibon [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 21 February. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/own-artist-research-raymond-pettibon/ [Accessed 22 April 2017]

José Toirac

Toirac, J. (2004) Untitled (con Fidel) (from Serie Gris) [oil on canvas] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: https://www.phillips.com/detail/JOS%C3%89-TOIRAC/NY000212/43 [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Peter Doig

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Artist Research: Peter Doig [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA Painting 1 blog, 2 November. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/artist-research-peter-doig/ [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Doig, P. (1990/91) White Canoe [oil on canvas] [online]. Saatchi Gallery Collection, London. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/peter-doig/white-canoe-a-4LtT0G6jpVpukr5JurrsTA2 [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Sooke, A. (2008) Peter Doig: Journey to Edge of Abstraction [online]. The Telegraph, London, 5 February. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturereviews/3670972/Peter-Doig-Journey-to-edge-of-abstraction.html [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Daniel Richter

artnet (n.d.) Daniel Richter [online]. Artnet, Berlin. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/daniel-richter/ [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Richter, D. (2004) Trevelfast [oil on canvas] [online]. Available from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/richter_trevelfast.htm [Accessed 22 April 2017]

Cecily Brown

Brown, C. (1998) High Society [oil on linen] [online]. Saatchi Gallery Collection, London. Available from: http://www.saatchigallery.com/artists/artpages/brown_high_society.htm [Accessed 25 April 2017]

Brown, C. (2003) Teenage Wildlife [oil on linen] [online]. Saatchi Gallery Collection, London. Available from: http://www.artnet.com/artists/cecily-brown/teenage-wildlife-a-whoUYOuUmHV6PUiTVeraug2 [Accessed 25 April 2017]

Planet Magazine (2013) Cecily Brown [online]. Planet Magazine. Available from: https://vimeo.com/49612137 [Accessed 25 April 2017]

Jasper Joffe

Joffe, J. (n.d.) [no title] [n.k.] [online]. [n.k.]. Available from: http://www.joffeart.com/h5z2vc7f6qfsk5sn02gxbl8yldybtk [Accessed 24 April 2017]

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