light gazing, ışığa bakmak

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

painting directly on the photographic surface

Gerhard Richter's overpainted photographs or photopaintings. for tomorrow.

seguindo o trabalho fotografia/pintura de Baldessari, é impossível ignorar as mais de quinhentas imagens de Richter. os resultados são diversos, penso. para continuar e continuar: desarrumar o texto abaixo, todo retirado do Museum of Contemporary Photography, here.

(nota: a propósito de quem procure desesperadamente uma ideia apenas. por exemplo, a bicicleta chinesa daria para uns três pares de anos e tornar-se-ia em chapéu chinês, cão chinês, Mao chinês, e por aí fora. mais tarde esse grão daria lugar a outro, digamos açúcar e começaria tudo de novo, em torno deste novo material. lembro-me sempre do homem que recolhia pólen. havendo uma ideia sequer, há uma imagem de marca. os bons, penso eu, mudam de etiqueta sem medo e têm muito mais do que uma só visão. mas isso que viram um dia tem de ser usado até à exaustão.)

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Since the introduction of photography in 1837, photography and painting have had an alternatively hot and cold relationship. Even before 1837, a series of lens based drawing aids—camera lucida, camera oscura—recently brought into popular culture by artist David Hockney, introduced what we now would call lenticular vision to painters. But the high points of the relationship after 1837 are still very much with us, such as Edgar Degas’ inclusion of the limitations of photography in his paintings—over and under exposure, scale distortions—and later double exposure experiments with his own camera. Later photographers would learn to animate their images by imitating Degas’ habit of dividing his images with posts and columns. Around the turn of the 20th century Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard and Gustave Caillebotte all painted from photographic sketches, a fact left out of art history books until recently. Another period of active exchange occurred in the 1950s between American Abstract Expressionist painters like Franz Klein and Robert Motherwell and photographers like Aaron Siskind and Minor White who adopted both gesture and abstraction from the painters. But these gestures also entered non-abstract photography through the work of Louis Faurer, Lisette Model, Robert Frank and others of the New York School in the 1950s. They remain embedded today, though highly evolved, in the newer work of Lee Friedlander.

The current contact between photography and painting, explored by this exhibition, includes this history and an additional set of factors. During the past two decades the photographic image has nearly made complete its escape from the single image in a frame. As an art form, it is now much more commonly combined with other media, transformed fully into another medium, or part of time based sequences and video. But photography has not escaped another of it’s confines—the debate as to whether it is just another picture making tool or an as yet not fully understood cultural language. Our association with it is so intimate and conservative in this latter regard that we still hesitate to accept translations or transformations, hanging on to the photographic until it disappears. We generally have no objection when language artists remove everyday language from the street or the bedroom, or wherever it presumably gains its meaning and power, and recombine it into a new metaphoric idiom, poetry. But we don’t trust language as much as we trust the photographic image. Seeing and reading may be believing, but seeing a photograph is knowing. Digital manipulation has considerably weakened this, ironically blind, faith in the public mind, but it remains.

Many of the artists in this exhibition have turned this seeming limitation to their advantage, and engage photography from a variety of angles: painting directly on the photographic surface (Moni K. Huber and Gerhard Richter); painting from but altering a photograph image (Eric Fischl); creating a tableaux drawn from the history of painting to photograph (Joel-Peter Witkin); arranging a scene to include a painting as an integral part (Gregory Scott); fragmenting a known image from the media to the edge of its photographic identity (Eddy de Vos). What these artists also accomplish is to cause us to become self conscious when looking at both photographs and paintings, and to understand that what we see in both is a flat field of elaborately but narrowly represented information that combined may lead us to truths not present in either individually.

Zero Sum Game, Michael Fajans (American, born 1947) reproduces with paint the distortions in photographs he made of four politicians with fast film and a telephoto lens. The grain of the film, the strange breakdown of color within this grain, the lack of separation of shapes in the shadows, the over-exposed highlights, and the occasional failure of focus all have become characters in a drama he directs on the canvas. In order to approximate the grain, he spray painted through screens of various mesh size that coincidentally replicated the rosettes of color half-tone printing.

Through all of this, we still recognize the politicians, even the face of President Clinton in very deep shadow. The body language of the four men combines in a strange choreography: Clinton always smiling, Mayor Rice in constant motion, Congressman Dicks always clapping, and Governor Locke frozen from one frame to the next. What is going on here are three layers of image that may conflict in informative ways: the political self invention of the four men; the formal and technical construction of the photo-based painting; and, somewhere between those two, the murky area of rallied social energy that is not fully controlled by either Fajans or the politicians.

Randy Hayes (American, born 1944) painted from photographs for many years before he began painting directly on them. He learned early on that certain gestures in the photographic image don’t happen in the imagination because they don’t need to and don’t happen in the eye because they are either too fast to notice or too unexpected to anticipate. He concentrated on these and learned to combine them suddenly in his viewer’s field. When he now paints on a grid of photographic prints tacked to the wall of his studio (and later tacked to the wall of an apartment or museum) he is careful not to completely obliterate the underlying imagery. The larger painted image is often derived from one of the photographs. This tends to create an analog for memory: in real time he saw a very large array of things, but the memory of the experience is defined by a single image superimposed on the field of choices.

Unlike Hayes, Terry Turrell (American, born 1946) has only recently worked with photographs, painting directly on but not from them. His imagery is drawn in part from his childhood memories and experiences growing up in his father’s salvage yard. On an obvious, practical level, his painted surfaces are reminiscent of the layers of lubrication and paint on old car bodies and frames. These layers communicate the passing of time, and perhaps hidden realms of previous experience, that once revealed will trigger a new story, new possibilities. The addition of photography to this mix has obvious advantages. Tiny camera details emerge from the painted image to snap memory into focus.

- Rod Slemmons, Director

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