Andrew Leventis – Can Representational Painting be Viewed as Contemporary without Mediation?

Andrew Leventis is an oil painter who references imagery from film and television in his work. He earned a BFA in Painting from the American Academy of Art in Chicago and an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London. His work has been featured in Norway at Kunstgalleriet, and in London at Matt Roberts Arts and The Griffin Gallery. In the US, his work has recently been exhibited at Axis Gallery, California and the Alexandria Museum of Art, Louisiana. Andrew has taught Graduate Painting at the University of South Dakota, been a guest lecturer at Savannah College of Art and Design, and is currently an Assistant Professor of Painting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.



Can Representational Painting be Viewed as Contemporary without Mediation?

Much of Representational Painting, particularly Academic Painting, relies on idealism. Students are instructed to omit details of the landscape that are un-picturesque; details such as power-lines, airplanes, and other forms of modern technology. Students in life classes are guided to paint from life and negate any elements of photography or mass media-produced imagery that might influence their work to look too “photographic.” But has the role of idealism shifted in Contemporary Academic Painting? If Contemporary Academic Painting is going to remain vital, are such lessons wise in an era of pervasive media imagery? One might consider that people today are trained by technology to look at and respond to technology, particularly to screens and to screen content.

This paper will consider the future of Academic Art when seen through the projects of Luc Tuymans, Judith Eisler, Vija Celmins and others who incorporate their Academic training into their works. Meanwhile, their content encourages the look of mass media images, their painting styles mimicking film’s grain, contrast and distortion. In their rendering, these artists negate traditional Academic Painting’s role of seducing the viewer into the image. There is a friction between the material of the painting and the mediated source material. Often they juxtapose the human touch of painting with the clinical look of the camera.

Roughly sketched for this paper abstract, I will discuss Tuymans, who appropriates imagery from reality television as he mimics the look of closed circuit camera imagery in his “Big Brother” painting. Judith Eisler’s subject matter is Hollywood actresses from traditional Hollywood films. Her painting style is dark, tenebristic, and colorless, as she mimics the look of 16 mm film and the distortion of a poor quality image in a work such as “Nikki Brand”. Meanwhile, Vija Celmins uses her rendering capabilities to create the illusion of trompe l’oeil frames and false watermarks in order to call into question the boundaries of her compositions in works such as “Clipping with Pistol” and “TV”. Thus she indexes the very act of painting, removing the viewer from the seduction of the well-executed image for a mere instant. This draws the attention of the viewer both to the structure of the artwork and to the source material (the mediation) from which it was constructed.

Moreover, in my paper I argue that the public are looking at visual culture on the screen, rather than spending the majority of their time looking at visual culture on museum walls. In other words, what matters to people now is what is on the screen, not the staging of objects in a museum. But the richness of painted images and the traditions of painted images are manifested in and influencing the quick, mass media images that the public takes in. So even as the public is disassociated from the painted images of the museum, they retain this engagement with painting and with painting practice through the routine mediated imagery. So in a sense, although they are not directly engaging in the viewing of painting, this is why painting patently remains significant: because it influences the photography, film and television images the public is taking in.

Reference Images:

Luc Tuymans, Big Brother, Oil on Canvas, 2008

Judith Eisler, Nikki Brand, Oil on Canvas, 2007

Vija Celmins, Clipping with Pistol, Graphite on Paper, 1968

Vija Celmins, TV, Oil on Canvas, 1964