Unreal Nature

May 10, 2016

The Clarity of the Object

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… he has always been more interested in the way images are transmitted than in their meaning.

This is from Contemporary American Realism since 1960 by Frank H. Goodyear, Jr. (1981):

… In earlier traditions the subject matter of still life, whether flower, fruit, fish, game, breakfast, or banquet pieces, followed established patterns often predicated on iconography; almost never was a still life composed of objects chosen randomly, without consideration of their meaning. Iconographic significance, however, is no longer an essential component of most still-life painting, and by and large, contemporary painters choose to paint objects because they are convenient, because they pose descriptive challenges, or simply because they delight the eye.

[line break added] Contemporary realist still-life painters are challenged by two imperatives: a passion for forms, perceived either factually or essentially, and their ordering in space. No matter how untraditional its subject may be, the still-life genre in America today embodies a sort of classicistic revival based on nature.

… Much of the best contemporary still-life painting lives in limbo between the artist’s need to describe forms objectively and, at the same time, to transcend description. Janet Fish has said that she is interested in the literalness of specific forms so that they “read right” (she admires the precision and tangibility of Dutch seventeenth-century still-life painting), but she seeks simultaneously to divest her paintings of their explicit reality.

[line break added] William Bailey wants his shapes to have “the credibility of real objects — or real place” so that there is “always that tension between the clarity of the object — the reality — and the artifice that’s employed,” a credibility enhanced by the deliberate ordering of forms seen frontally. And yet Bailey, who paints from memory, endows his forms with a mysterious, even supernatural, quality that transcends literalness.

[ … ]

… For contemporary American realism, trompe l’oeil still-life painting is best understood in terms of abstraction; in fact, artists like John Clem Clarke, Paul Sarkisian, and Stephen Posen may be considered abstract illusionists rather than painters of trompe l’oeil. Clarke’s art has strong conceptual links with Pop Art, particularly with the work of Roy Lichtenstein.

[line break added] Using photographs as the basic structure for his abstract concerns, he has chosen to paint an eclectic, even bizarre, range of images only because he is basically not interested in their content; like other photo-realists, he has always been more interested in the way images are transmitted than in their meaning. Nor is he at all interested in the photographic quality of the image that he works from.

[line break added] In Clarke’s Old Master series of the late 1960s the character of the forms reflects not only the distortions inherent in the commercial reproductions that he works from, but equally his working method. In his Plywood series of the mid-1970s the image has become more illusionistic, so that initially the viewer is deceived into believing the painted surface is the real object.

[line break added] In spite of the heightened illusionism of Plywood with Three White Sections, for example [not the picture shown below], Clarke is not principally interested in replication but in the process of transposing reality onto a two-dimensional surface. Additionally, in creating an object so close in appearance to its original, Clarke raises basic questions about the meaning and identity of reality.

Clarke_PlywoodRollerMarks
John Clem Clarke, Plywood with Roller Marks #3, 1976

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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