… “the modern city hardly knows pure darkness or true silence.” Painting still does.
This is from the Introduction by Marc Valli to A Brush with the Real: Figurative Painting Today by Marc Valli and Margherita Dessanay (2014):
… The world has never been so full of images, those on our mobile phones and computer screens, on newsstands and book covers, in films and on TV, on packaging and billboards and in shop windows. We walk, work and rest amid throngs of vivid, avidly attention-seeking images, every space and every moment of our lives crammed full of them. You couldn’t imagine a more different environment from the late Middle Ages, when the world would grow pitch black as night fell.
[line break added] Not only were images rare, the very medium allowing us to see them — light — was severely rationed. Every night, you would be plunged into long (or, depending on the season, slightly less long) periods of darkness. Imagine, as Johan Huizinga once suggested, the effect of a candle-lit window on the weary traveler as he made his way through an almost pitch black landscape. Now imagine the effect of a fresco in a chapel on that same traveller.
… Today, in the world of mass media, a world where everything is being instantly, infinitely and indefinitely reproduced, a world of low-quality images, a world in which a blurry snapshot can find itself on millions of screens, in which ‘visual culture has been reduced to imaginary spam’ … painting has rediscovered its own uniqueness.
[line break added] A carefully chosen image, an image made out of accurate, thoughtful brushstrokes (or any other carefully considered technique for that matter), an image that carries the weight of human touch — of human presence, of repeated analysis, of intense gazing — a full-resolution image, life-size, and in real time — the apparition of such an image today can be just as miraculous as that of the fresco in a remote late medieval chapel.
… At this point, let us return to Johan Huizinga, writing in 1919: “the modern city hardly knows pure darkness or true silence.” Painting still does.
… Figurative painters cut curious figures in the world of visual communication, and even in that of contemporary art. Conceptual artists, for example, are trained to think (in all kinds of ways and all possible directions) — to question, to plan, to foresee: they are attuned to the frantic pace of contemporary culture. Like molecules in a solution in ebullition, the thoughts of the Conceptual artist bubble with the culture, and their often topical works will regularly create media sensations. A painter is a different animal.
… When a painter such as Ulrich Lamsfuß selects an image from a magazine or newspaper clipping and works on it for weeks, if not months, he is like a scientist studying the DNA of that image, tracking back the convoluted story of that image, its path through the world of mass media, from the original event to the position it occupies in our consciousness, re-examining the intensity of the original moment or act, as well as the incongruity of the whole situation.
Ulrich Lamsfuß, Olivier Portrat, Zebco Sports Europe (Kalender September 2008), 2009
… To quote Philippe Sollers (writing about Cézanne), a “painting is not an image.” A painting is a fact. It exists and invites us to share in that experience, the miracle of presence, of meaning, of touch, of communion with another human being through the same physical medium. And in that sense painting has never been so vital (in the literal sense of the term), so important and necessary to our culture.
[line break added] And that is why, despite the exponential growth in the number of images and ways in which they can be produced, painting will continue to fascinate, intrigue and enthrall viewers across generations, dragging them away from their screens to stare at those incongruous rectangles hanging on walls.