What I was primarily interesting in finding at the Minneapolis Institute of Art were examples of figurative work over the years. We were to take photographs of a few pieces and, with them juxtaposed differently then they were in the Institute itself, analyze the "conversation" between them that arouse. Although I'm terribly interested in the pieces themselves, I found myself more curious about the great differences they held. I was pretty sure an interesting conversation about art movements could arise from them as well.
Let's start with this familiar face:
This is "Frank" by Chuck Close (1969) done in Acrylic paint, something not often seen in figurative work. Close uses a grid system to create his paintings from a photograph and uses an air brush to apply the paint to the canvas. He uses a razor blade to cut into the paint to get fine lines to describe hairs, or wrinkles, or whatever. Close was considered to be a Photorealist. (Goddamn, right!) This was a small movement that took place in the 60s and 70s as a reaction to Pop art, so it's safe to say that Photorealism was a postmodernist thing. However, one could make the argument that Photorealism could be considered a little on the modernist side because, although it has heavy emphasis on subject matter, is all about the paint.
Next we have a piece by Egon Schiele:
This is "Portrait of Paris von Gutersloh", 1918, done in oil. This subject of this piece seems crazed sitting there with his claw like hands awkwardly in the air. The tone of the ambiguous background really matches that of the subject's emotional state. Let me provide you with a detail of this piece that really allows you to better see the brush work:
Although any images of this piece does not do it a bit of justice, from what we have here, you can see the messy brush strokes and mingling drab colors and how they lends themselves to the erratic state the subject is in. This interpretation does gray the line between modernism and postmodernism, with equal emphasis on the subject matter, but based on the date of this piece and the paint work, I'm sure we can lean towards modernism.
This next piece was done several years later by Milton Avery, in 1940:
As a realist painter, when I look at this, I really don't know what to think. Realistically, this piece is highly lacking. but what do we have? This is "Seated Nude" done in oil in a modernist era. If we were to look at this as a contour line study, we have very elegant lines, despite them being grossly hyperbolic. Other than that, everything is very flat (no rhyme intended). Although the value of the figure suggests depth it is, again, very flat. The only that suggests the figure is really even seated are the dips in her thigh, but other than that value has not been used for any sense of grounding. It's much like a field painting. The paint has been applied to look very uniform so it is hard to see brush strokes, but despite that, we can still draw a line towards modernist paint experimentation. No pun intended.
And finally (finally) we have "Head of a Young Woman" by Pierre Auguste Renior:
This piece was done in the late 1800s in oil. Although done in the late 1800s, we can still see that this was before modernism; that's right, this was Impressionism. We can really see, however, the influence work like this had on modernism. We can link the Impressionists love of brush work to that of the modernists. Here, I'll show you:
Although, you can see a distinct difference in paint application between the two movements. In this piece, the paint was treated more like soft pastel than oil. We see hard edges, but like soft pastel, the individual strokes are blurred together. But despite the visual distortion up close, standing back, the images comes together as incredibly realistic, something we've seen before in Jenny Saville's work.
So what do we have? We have here, four pieces placed side by side in an imaginary gallery that show definite change in art movement. All these pieces, placed in chronological order of completion, are approximately 30 years apart. Although they can be categorized into different art theories that dictate what they're all about, one thing is still a constant: Painting is still all about paint. We see an example from Impressionism, that focuses on subject, but the paint still has its emphasis. We have two very different works from the Modernist era may clash with the modernist idea of "just paint" but they still show interesting brush work. Then we have a photorealist piece, coming from a movement that isn't supposed to like the idea of Modernism, but despite the overwhelming emphasis on subject matter, uses paint in a total and completely different manner.
For me, anyway, this brings up a philosophical question: Why do we have to put ourselves into labels? Is it for understanding? Self-validation? Who knows... Looking at the pieces, especially the first three (those are easier because they're all more accessible for my generation), I see differences within a movement. Schiele and Avery are dabbling in subject matter within a movement all about paint, and Close--well, he just kind of came out of no where. But the question that this brings up is now, is: where artists caught in a movement trying to escape it? Or where they all thinking similarily. I think only time can help me answer this one. I, myself, am probably caught in a new art movement right now and totally unaware of it. The only thing I think I could do would be to evaluate the remnants of postmodernism, my work, and the work of new active artists around me. But I think I can be certain of one thing in the years, and movements, to come: Painting will always be about the paint.
All photographs taken by William Lindau at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2009.