It’s sad how stilted the establishment art approach to painting has become, draining it of so much of its potential.
Painting excels as a means to convey personality both by documenting the artist’s individual decisions regarding craftsmanship, and by capturing unique impressions of the greater truths. The paintings of a fully engaged artist must be seen as a form of confession-not just about flaws and errors, but of what is essential about that person.
However, there is a prevalent mindset operating in the art world that just copies outward appearances without participating in these fundamental revelations. For imagery, many artists working under the post-modern influence rely on viewer recognition of appropriated mass media images or plagiarisms of previous artists’ explorations as a substitute for compelling content. Hopping on a bandwagon doesn’t lead to any essential communication.
In the creation of paintings, instead of putting in the work necessary for the coordination of eye, mind, and hand, there is an overdependence on technological shortcuts. Working in mere fidelity to projections and photographs, needing machines make their discoveries for them, practitioners limited to these methods would reduce artists from skilled visionaries to second-rate stenographers.
Fortunately, many other artists still take full advantage of the possibilities the varied and flexible medium of painting offers. The three artists of the recent Trunk Space show “Transmute” presented an exciting environment where their three distinctive demeanors still worked together as a cohesive exhibit. In a selection of largely figurative paintings, their differing approaches highlighted the versatility of painterly techniques and priorities. These artists all showed the influence of the mass media saturation we all live with, but they were not limited by it. Each still introduced his own character into the pieces, and expressed his own vision.
Dain Quentin Gore weaves skeins of lightly impastoed brushwork to activate the entire surface of his canvases. The forms depicted are almost subordinated within the energetic, overall treatment; their intricate details emerge gradually through a restless haziness. Hard spots of scattered highlights help to shape and define the figures and terrains. Looser passages of color are contrasted with more carefully controlled drawn elements, which provide stability within the pictures. The bold characters and creatures shown are both mythic and comical, creating dramatic tableaus that complement the animated mark making and assured draftsmanship.
In the works of Daniel Funkhouser, the paintings are superimposed over mixed media assemblages, composed of wood, plastic, hardware and seemingly random objects. The painted imagery is a series of self-portraits, a well-realized likeness with a questioning gaze. The interaction between the portraits and the varied materials used as supporting structures are integral to these particular works, and display technical virtuosity across the changing textures. The well-crafted wall hangings are as much sculptures as paintings.
However, compared to the emotive painting, the sculptural elements feel more arbitrary, and ultimately anonymous. The jumbles of surface treatments, glitz and patterning lean towards the decorative rather than conveying any substantial implications. It would be interesting to see what this artist could achieve with a more deliberate strategy of insight supporting the experimentation, making all the elements as expressive as the paintings. The quality of the assemblages imply great potential; they could be more than just pretty props.
James B Hunt’s pieces also possess some mixed media and assemblage elements, in this case more cohesively incorporated into the works. His emblematic compositions are balanced by small passages of cryptic texts and icons, but the focus is on the figures. These are built on tonal backgrounds by delicate lines rendered in muted, subtle colors-but the beings these marks define are monstrous. Misshapen, caught in either a moment of melting or forming, their dominate attribute is sharp scrutiny. They are looking back. They feel as intent as birds of prey.
The camaraderie and sense of discovery of Transmute can be best summed up by a collaborative piece by the three artists. “Mercury Melting Man” is an Exquisite Corpse painting, a play off the old Surrealist parlor game. Each painter created a third of the work, unaware of what the others were doing, except for shared marks on the edges of their small panels to show where representational elements would connect. Here, despite challenges presented by different decisions regarding the background, the format becomes a chance for each artist to highlight his particular techniques. The contrast of the conjoined images enforces the strengths of each, and expectations are literally turned on their head.
Transmute demonstrates what happens when artists are inspired by their influences, instead of merely imitating them. Adding their own peculiarities makes for something new, and an enriching experience.