09 December 2011

A Curation of New Impressionists

This is part of a project for my Issues in Contemporary Art course. We had to come up with an exhibition topic, then use contemporary artists to populate the show, and write about the purpose of the pretend exhibition. This was kind of hard, because since they're contemporary artists, there isn't a lot of information about them out.
Time often repeats itself. The new and the old are always present. In the early nineteenth century, the French began painting in a style that would forever be called Impressionism. Instead of focusing on the small, minute details, they chose to enhance the emotional matter of the work by using looser techniques than classic, academic painting. Well-known painters such as Renoir and Monet, among others, employed both bold and tiny strokes to capture this emotion. They also used optical color mixing, rather than physically mixing paint to a specific color. Unlike the academic painters, who strictly worked from inside their studios, the Impressionists took their paints, easels and brushes outside to paint landscapes and people in everyday life.
Today, the Impressionistic painters from the nineteenth century are widely known and respected. Their work hangs on countless museum and gallery walls, can be found in many art history books, and is always included in art history courses. However, in their own day, they were not as well received as they are today. Critics were just as critical to Renoir and Monet as they are to present-day artists. Many critics did not see the artistic value of the impressionist artists’ work. One critic in particular, Louis Leroy, was not completely sold on this new fangled style of painting. In an article he once wrote of a painting by Monet, “Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.” (Leroy) The art critics and general population eventually came around to the Impressionists and began to value the emotion in the paintings.  In a 1912 journal, Duncan C. Phillips, Jr. wrote on his views of impressionism:
It is my firm belief that Impressionism is not a transient technique, but an ancient and abiding faith, not merely the sensational production of some revolutionary modern painters, but one of the basic principles- I might say the one true philosophy, of all painting. (Phillips)
Phillips understood exactly what the Impressionists were doing. They were painting a philosophy, or a way of thinking about a subject. Impressionists chose to paint emotion, light, colors they saw. They chose to focus on these details, instead of the usual fine detail of, say, a coat or face.
Impressionism has resurfaced in a big way in the past few years. For centuries, artists have been exploring how to express things they see. Writing, photographing faces, music are all great ways to capture emotion, but Impressionistic painting is one of the best ways to capture a visual interpretation of emotion and the human experience. The New Impressionists of today are continuing on the work of Renoir and Monet. They are painting the emotions they see in their everyday lives. These artists are painting their experiences with other people, places they come upon and even dreams they have.
The New Impressionists have more contrast in their images, because of the fact that the impressionistic style is now considered a classic technique. They are painting modern cities and technology through a technique that has been around for over 150 years. Even though these painters are capturing modern scenes, they are holding on tight to the main purpose of the origins of impressionism- capturing emotion.
Maurius Bercea; Rumors Town; 2010
            Keeping in line with the old guys, several artists have found themselves painting everyday life scenes. Mauris Bercea’s painting, Rumors Town, illustrates people milling about an area with a geometrically interesting staircase. The earthy tones of the staircase and the bright pop of green trees are reminiscent of an afternoon spent watching people pass by. None of the faces have detail- they all start to look the same after a few hours. One of Bercea’s contemporaries, Samantha French, paints with quite a different palate. Using quite vivid hues of orange, blue and stark white, French captures her time spent at a city pool in northern Minnesota:
Using vague yet consuming memories from my childhood summers spent immersed in the tepid lakes of northern Minnesota, I attempt to recreate the quiet tranquility of water and nature; of days spent sinking and floating, still and peaceful. These paintings are a link to my home and continual search for the feeling of the sun on my face and warm summer days at the lake. At the same time, I am drawn to an idealistic time before my own, where swim caps and wool swimsuits were commonplace. This combination of memory, observation and photography (old and new) has allowed me to preserve the transitory qualities of water and remembrance. (French)
French is seeking to capture a fleeting memory of feelings she garnered from her childhood summer days. In keeping with fleeting moments, Alex Kanevsky’s painting, Hotel, captures a small moment between two people standing in a bed. While a person’s first reaction to this description of the painting could be, “why are they standing on the bed?” when viewed, the combination of soft colors and vague body language painted grossly overshadows such questions. The impressionistic qualities allow us to experience the tender moment these two people are having, while the modernity to the work, the hotel bed and two people in bed, gives some added contrast to the classic technique. On a different level of tender moments, Theresa Handy’s charming painting of children piddling on a beach, Shadows, offers a classic approach to impressionistic subject matter. Handy includes some texture to the piece, via contrasting colors, to better explore the palatability of memories.
Julie Snyder; Blue Sash; 2010
            People will always be interested in people, and the abundance of portraiture in works of art illustrates this fascination. Julie Snyder’s Blue Sash is a beautiful nod to classic portraiture in impressionism. Her subject sits demurely on a seat holding some papers. Snyder’s description of her body tension through brush strokes is caring, yet bold. Painting portraits in a more modern air, Alexander Tinei paints his subjects in dark settings, often with perceived injuries. His brush strokes are long, vertical and heavy, weighing down on his subject for a depressing approach to portraiture. Much in the same tone, Ghorghe Filk paints other worldly portraits of animals, often in classic Victorian home settings. Untitled is a portrait of a herd of sheep in a large, rundown meeting room of a home. The sheep look, as they often do, out of the painting in a completely befuddled manner, but the color and free brush stroke used makes them seem regal and knowledgeable. Tiina Heiska is also interesting in a new type of impressionistic portraiture. Along with her painterly peers, she uses a dark tone, but she focuses on a section of her subject’s person, instead of the whole body or just the face. Her young brush strokes used in the series Twin Room gives the body of work a youthful feeling, but the colors contrast with the strokes to loan some tangibility to the uncomfortable air of the portrait. These combinations of Impressionistic qualities with new subject matter and color palettes offer an interesting new spin on Impressionism.
Elizabeth Meyersohn; Yanqzi River; 2007
           Impressionism did to landscapes what words did to music. It allowed for verbalization or visualization to the emotions of a place. Yangzi River by Elizabeth Meyersohn is a contemporary approach to a landscape, knowing of her methods of painting landscapes. She says, “Say it’s four o’ clock, and I really like the light—I’ll go out and do drawings and take photographs. Back in the studio I scan and manipulate and collage the photos, editing elements because I want to paint a certain kind of configuration.” (Ippolita) Using modern technology to capture a specific time of day may be considering cheating by the original Impressionists, but she is still seeking to capture the essence of a place in time. Sara MacCulloch also works from photos, which the original Impressionists would frown upon, but still manages to capture the landscape. Fields (dawn) captures the still of what appears to be a hay field in the morning. Her murky color choices and choppy stroke really puts the still quality into the painting.
            With a mix of new and old, The New Impressionists spin a new web of Impressionistic paintings. They strive to capture the emotion in their subject, and succeed with much thanks to the classic loose brush stroke of the Impressionists.

Works Cited
Leroy, Louis. "The Exhibition of the Impressionists." Le Charivari 25 Apr. 1874: Print.
Phillips, Jr., Duncan C. "What Is Impressionism?" Art and Progress. 3.11 (1912): 702-707. Print.
French, Samantha. "About." Samantha French. 2008. Web. Accessed 20 November 2011. .
Ippolita. "Elizabeth Meyersohn." Blog. Ippolita. 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Jan. .

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