Go round art departments in Britain’s universities and you might be forgiven for thinking that painting was so last millennium. Among both undergraduates and post grad students there appear to be more people into sound, installation or performance than there are fretting about brush strokes and colour. Go round the commercial galleries, as I did in New York, and it’s clear that while all forms of art are represented, it is paintings, or near paintings, that are dominant. It is hardly surprising; you don’t need a private art gallery to display a painting; the gap above the sofa will probably do. The gap above the sofa may demand one. While there were some giant works, most of the wall based art would have fitted in the average elevator
The one exception was this strange and enormous piece by Italian artist Rudolf Stingel at the Paula Cooper Gallery, where it benefited from being the sole work on display. Measuring at least twelve feet by eight, it would not immediately have passed the elevator test, though of course it could have been removed from its stretchers and then re-hung. This was not in any case the work for the average apartment; it would require a complete wall, if not a complete room to itself. I cannot imagine many people would want it on the wall opposite the bed. From a distance it looks like a very slightly out of focus photograph. Get closer and you see that this is actually painted in oils.
I found the degrees of remove interesting. Here is a painting of an imaginary being that is presented to us in what appears to be an accurate portrayal of an amateurishly constructed dummy. The creature/monster/demon clearly has wooden, rather than skeletal, arms and a fabric body, rather than one made of ectoplasm or whatever is the substance of which spirits are customarily made. This is how Stringer has chosen to work the image, rather than go the more direct route and paint something imaginary from imagination. There was no information about the painting on the day that I visited so I was unclear whether he had constructed it in the first place, or, as I thought more probable, since he has in the past painted portraits from photographs taken by other people, that it was created or photographed by a different artist. Also interesting is how different this is from so much of Stringers other work, Though he is no stranger to the macabre, he also paints landscapes and has made elaborate installations. With a painting such as this, like and dislike seem quite irrelevant terms. If it were not for the broomstick arms it could have been frightening. If it were not for the screaming skull head the drape of the fabric could have been seen as beautiful. It was both ridiculous and wonderful. It was not an image you could forget
Another artist who paints in a totally realistic way is Matthew Miller, but with very different results. Portraits of people you do not know are often not particularly interesting but there is something about Miller’s skill and the singularity of his face that made the series compelling, They were showing at the Hansel and Gretel Garden Pocket Utopia.
The largest and most intricate showed Miller in the act of carving a piece of wood. The Gallery had wanted to show the block along with the painting; Miller had apparently not liked the idea as he thought it would distract from the precision of his work. But I was interested in seeing it and the gallery staff kindly took me out to a back room where it was lurking hidden under a plastic covering. So here is the photograph of the portrait and possibly the only published photograph of the block of wood. You will see that it was far less smooth than it appears in the painting and possibly Miller too is less smooth than the strange, soft, hairless way he portrays himself.
If Miller’s paintings were almost photographicly accurate, David Antonides, though also representational, were swerving towards the abstract. Shown at the Project Gallery in Orchard Street, they were of a wet oily off-key New York in that none of the pictures were shown from a totally vertical viewpoint. The technique Antonides used for these is to rub paint into sodden paper with a pumice stone producing this distressed effect.
At Ameringer, McEnery, Yohe they were showing work by Monique Van Genderen. Almost entirely abstract I enjoyed the layered effect. You can see the white shape in the foreground only partially conceals the painting behind, whilst the drip from the dark blue form goes over it. At first glance the paintings look very loose and fluid, then you realise that there is real precision there. Look at the bright green line, the way that it works with the black line to form what is suggestive of a figure in the centre of the work.
All the works are untitled and provide no clues about their meaning. They seem rather to rejoice in the act of painting. In the smaller work above, the same layering is evident, the same use of drip and again the exactitude of that yellow line.
Photographs do not do justice to the works of Marthe Keller at the Gallery Molly Krom; the subtlety of the different textures needs to be seen. The colours need to be as the artist mixed them and not an approximation that varies with the computer screen.
While this was very clearly a painting on unstretched linen, rather than a 3D work, the mix also included acetate and the odd scrap of what looked like furnishing fabric.The effect was light and somewhat wistful. Nothing seemed fixed. The surfaces reacted to each other as if they were echoes. Keller apparently paints with some home-made tools, such as brushes tied together so that a randomness is introduced. In such works it must be difficult to judge the moment at which to stop. Yet Keller appears to know instinctively when that is; nothing was overdone. It was the restraint that made them so unusual.