May 19: The idea of painting on photographs is almost as old as the medium itself, as also is painting from photographs. Both approaches to the combination of these once rival media are still popular amongst artists.
Well after the attempts by Pictorialism to make photographs look like painting had been abandoned, Pop Art once again amalgamated them. It was the last great ‘ism’ prior to postmodernism and led into it.
American photographer and printmaker Robert Heinecken (*1931) died on this date in 2006. Heinecken seldom used a camera; he did not really take pictures himself until he started making Polaroid photographs of magazine pages in the late 1970’s.
He appropriated images from magazines and television to create new art forms that attack the banality of the media, often reworking them with other media, an approach and technique that he shared with other Pop artists in the USA and UK. He was included earlier this year in Breaking News: Turning the Lens on Mass Media which finished April 30 at the Getty Center.
Such techniques borrowed from or referred to the construction and manifestation of advertising images themselves. Pop artists like Heinecken’s contemporary James Rosenquist learned their skills as commercial painters of massive billboards, from photographs, outside, until in the seventies when they worked indoors on sheets that would be transferred to the billboard. The skill started to die out in the late eighties to be replaced by computer design and digital printing. Up until the sixties photographs were ‘rendered’ in line or tone in pens, pencils and gouache for magazine ads to simplify the colour for printing processes. These artists turned the media against itself, with itself.
Heniecken often made use of pornography in his deliberately provocative artworks, here photographically transferring the negative image to canvas painted with liquid emulsion and hand colouring with chalk or pastel.
Painted emulsion is a technique not forgotten by Délio Jasse (*1980, Luanda, Angola) who employs the vintage analogue photographic printing processes of cyanotype, platinum and early printing processes such as ‘Van Dyke Brown’, as well as developing his own printing techniques.
He shows with Tiwani Contemporary, 16 Little Portland Street, London W1W 8BP which represents emerging and established artists, focussing on Africa and its diaspora. They are exhibiting his work with that of Mimi Cherono Ng’ok at Photo London which opened to the public yesterday, 18 May 2017.
His gestural hand-application of photographic emulsion results in unique, monotype prints, counter to the multiple-print capacity which is the norm in the medium. To them he applies colour.
Currently living and working between Lisbon and Milan, Jasse draws on imagery of past lives, sourced from his own and others’ Angolan passport photos, snapshots and family albums. Angola achieved independence under Communist rule from Portugal on 11 November 1975 having been its colony since 1575. Embedded in the archival imagery is this national history and personal memory, as Jasse confirms:
Photography and memory are deeply connected. Photography can bring you back to a moment in the past, we need a visual hint to remember certain things or faces. At the same time, a picture doesn’t depict just a moment in itself, but it is tied to the specific circumstances of that moment. Or memory is fragmented, it is not always linear.
His Pontus series (2011) of hand-tinted photographic emulsions deals with contemporary Luanda as an urban site of cultural convergence. As a young man Jasse had left Luanda when the country was still racked by food shortages and the depredations of civil war. He returned 10 years later, as he related in a recent Lens Culture interview;
The civil war ended in 2002 and Luanda began to transform. Finally, in 2011, I was driven to return for two reasons: a nostalgic feeling and, from the other, a plain and simple curiosity to see what had happened across the city during such an important time. I was attracted by the urban scenes which greeted me, a new vision that I could hardly recognize from the old Luanda. This attraction to the urban cityscape was how I tried to connect once again with my home.
The photographic emulsion when applied by hand leaves distinctive brush marks and results in uneven development, such that an area of white tone will print grey and sections that would be solid tones in a conventional print are streaky and uneven. For Jasse, the application emulsion and colour is more than a decorative patina. It interprets and allows him, as he says, to;
deconstruct and build the image, exploring the complex relationship between memory and photography and also the complicated relationships among the object or the people in the image and their context.
Jasse’s recent exhibitions include the group show Recent Histories: New Photography from Africa at the Walther Collection Project Space in New York, the official selection of the 12th Dakar Biennale (2016), the 56th Venice Biennale (Angolan Pavilion, 2015), Milan Expo (Angolan Pavilion, 2015), the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal (2013) and the 9th Bamako Photography Encounters (2013). He was one of three finalists in the BES Photo Prize (2014) and won the Iwalewa Art Award in 2015.
Tuen Hocks (1947, Leiden) is also exhibited at the Photo London art fair in Somerset House where Paci Contemporary, based in Italy, displays his work beside that of Czech photographer Michal Macku, whose methods this blog surveyed on March 17. Macku sculpts the photographic emulsion itself while Hocks paints over it.
Teun Hocks begins his artworks by sketching them, so while they are photographic, they start in the opposite way, with a blank canvas, pre-visualised. He then performs the idea for the camera himself in front of backdrop that he paints himself according to the drawing.
He acts a hapless character who is a cross between Mon Oncle and Magritte’s bowler-hatted public servant, but with a self-deprecatory Dutch sense of irony; an older-than-middle-aged man in an ill-fitting business suit who still blows dandelions and imagines that his breath can turn windmills.
He colours the final print with oil paint which is in places so opaque as to hide the set construction in the photograph to make it seamless, but elsewhere it is a thin tint.
Thus what results are surreal, whimsical images that combine drawings, photographs and paintings, and also theatrical performance, sets and plot. Time and space are warped at will with little regard for realism.
We can see him here, fishing for ideas.
Away from Photo London, in Germany Marc Lüders (*1963, Hamburg) exhibits Theorie des Daseins (‘Theory of Existence’) at bautzner69 gallery at Bautzner Str. 6901099 Dresden.
Lüders combines monochrome or colour photography with vigorously impasto oil paint in what he calls ‘photopictures’. In this series “objects” are applied to images of forests, meadows, rows of houses, trees or staircases. He photographs desolate no-places – anonymous housing estates, shabby hallways, or tiled industrial kitchens – with the final placement of a painted form or figure already in mind.
They seem to float through the picture, abstract but depicted with a finesse that blends convincingly with the photographic detail and texture. Painted shadows, or shadows reserved in the original photograph, enable the painted objects to assume a three-dimensional presence. Yet while they are as substantial as the photographic ‘reality’ over which they hover, they retain a gestural freshness that is in contrast with the static photographic background.
The objects present as phantasmagoric; an hallucination that plumbs the subconscious. Used as we are to seamless digital montage the physicality of the brushwork is shock because of the manner in which it sits both in and on the surface, a tactile marking but also integral to the illusion that is a photograph.
How exciting it is to see these two old rivals, painting and photography, still in creative contention!