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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Strange Still-lifes

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Ham, Eggs, and Razor Blade; Au jus, Ben Tripp
Copyright, Jim Lane
Father Hubbard (You Are What You Eat),
1998, Jim Lane
If there's one type of painting which today, gets even less respect than the late, great, comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it is undoubt-edly the still-life. I've always enjoyed painting them; I've never enjoyed trying to sell them. In fact except for paintings of cars (which are in a class all their own) I can't even remember the last time I sold a still-life. I do remember once, a client supplying the objects for me to paint, what amounted to a commissioned still-life (an arrangement of antique firearms arrayed upon a hearth before a roaring fire). Why is it art buyers today tend to ignore still-lifes? The French call them "nature morte." which seems to translate, oxymoronically as "dead life." I've railed about this before. I've done my part. I've searched high and low for items to paint which might instill new life in the genre. My most recent one (three or four years ago now) was a close-up of a very delicious looking salad I was served one evening while on a cruise. I called it Honeymoon Salad (lettuce alone). I suppose my strangest still-life (certainly my largest) was an installation piece I painted life-size of our kitchen pantry (above, right), stocked floor to ceiling with food. Then I installed life-size Masonite cutout portraits of myself and our dog in front of it trying to decide what to have for dinner. I called it Father Hubbard (You Are What You Eat).

Still Life: A Butcher's Counter, 1810-1812, Francisco Goya
The Slaughtered Ox, 1655,
Rembrandt van Rijn
Down through the centuries of art history, I'm by no means the only artist to try to breathe new life into the genre of still-lifes by choosing strange subjects. The Spanish painter from the early 19th century, Francisco Goya, traveled to his local butcher shop to paint what appears to be a substantial quantity of fresh beef as seen in his Still Life: A Butchers Counter (above) from around 1810. How fresh the beef was when Goya finished painting it is a matter open to question. Notice, the skinned head to the left with the eye still open. It is debatable as well whether Goya was aware that no less an artist than the Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, had also tried to shake up the still-life painting establishment with his The Slaughtered Ox (left), as far back as 1655, some 150 years before. If either succeeded in their noble mission, the results were only temporary. By and large, still-lifes are still the most boring type of painting an artist can produce.

The Picnic, 2006, Veronique Le Merre,
Maybe if we quit slaughtering cattle to satisfy the demands of McDonald's and their ilk, these friendly bovine might offer an opinion as to why the still-life they contemplate in Veronique Le Merre's The Picnic (above) is so lackluster. Do the horn and the shoe offer a clue? Still-life artists, it would seem, have tried about everything to get noticed, from painting the extremely mundane as in News and Views (below). by Parimal Vaghela to Ben Tripp's delicious looking, but lethal, Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, Ham, Eggs, and Razor Blade; Au jus (top). Is the razor blade intended merely as a garnish or as a means of cutting the ham?

News and Views, Parimal Vaghela
One artist I came upon, Yoonkyung Kim, of South Korea has even gone so far as to title a painting My Strange Still-life Painting (below). This one is but the first in a series of similar works. Macabre? Perhaps, yet strangely elegant, even beautiful. It would seem the artist is showing off the "pearly whites" as well as pearly pinks and blues. Okay, the pearly whites could use a bit of polishing.

My Strange Still-life Painting, Yoonkyung Kim, South Korea
Sometimes still-life painters have to strain the definition of still-life, even strain the bounds of good tastes as well. Justin "Coro" Kaufman with his miles-long still-life, Jackson (below) certainly stretches the definition, almost to the point it melts into the realm of the urban landscape. Is it, in fact, still a still-life or has it become something else. And if so, what? There doesn't appear to be a living soul in sight, as if the automobiles have devoured their human masters only to find that there sheer numbers leave them just as incapacitated, to the point they become, in effect "still-death." Tracking a different tack, Kaufman presents us with the startling image, Condom, Large (bottom). Worse, it appears that it might be a used condom. Most would say he's surged far beyond the limits of good taste. But then, the very definition of "strange" suggests that good tastes may not be a meaningful criteria in any attempt to jolt those who don't buy still-lifes into sitting up and taking notice. Would you hang it over your couch? Probably not. But hanging it over the commode in the bathroom might make it a humorous conversation piece. Or perhaps a place on the wall beside the bed in your boudoir, as a frequent reminder of the benefits of safe sex, might make it seem not so strange.

Jackson, Justin "Coro" Kaufman

Condom, Large, Justin "Coro" Kaufman


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