By Gonzalo Ortega
Painting as representation of nature; as decoration, as witness to history, psychic internalization, spiritual exploration, technical experimentation, vestige of the quotidian, conceptual enunciation, result of action, extension of the human body, accumulation, subtraction, viscerality, cartesian perfection, spectacle, attitude, etc. The list of painting typologies is endless. With every waking moment of its history, however subtle the alterations have been to the established academic canons, debate over painting continuously remerges between painters, critics, historians, etc. The list of players in this paradigm isn’t short either. In this back and forth, has it been declared too often “The end of painting”.
Many have arrived at this conclusion as a reaction to that which they observe as the direction in which painting has moved forward in, challenging their preconceived notions of what should be considered art. Others, a smarter group, have pointed at this as a way of breaking off from the established in order to step into the innovative. What has remained then is the spectacular ability to evolve within this pictoric medium. That from its point of self denial, it may emerge from the ashes of its own past. Time itself has taken care of conservatism within each movement. Painting, now and always, has managed to find its place.
Ridiculed - for the sake of mentioning a scandalous example - were those that mocked the “degenerate artwork” of Dix, Beckman, Klee, Ernst, Kandinsky, Chagall, Marc, Munch, Kirchner, Nolde and others (what a list!), whose work was dragged along through over a dozen cities of nazi Germany with the objective of having it publicly smeared. Today, those that mocked are forgotten and the mocked are revered masters of our history.
It was by the end of the 19th century, when painting had freed itself from representation and started to be valued for its physical materiality as a medium, that the debate revived. It would be this revolt which would pave the way for new ways of painting which gave birth to abstraction and its variants. A spectrum which includes Sol LeWitt to Pollock; Mondrian to Pierre Soulages. It must be said, however, that these tendencies did not look to demote realism from its established place in the hierarchy. That tradition of pushing and forcing the materials to simulate reality. No one would ever say that realism disappeared but rather that it held on until it could and would be considered relevant once more. Many continued “forcing” the medium to represent the “real world”. It was pushed long enough to where they arrived at hyperrealism; copying every eyelash and pore to its most delicate detail. It was with the passing of time that history would take different groups of painters through different journeys, experimenting and reaching nothing less than impressive results. Without this intrinsic knowledge, the world would be without a Bacon, Immendorf, Hockney, and more recently a Gerhard Richter, considered by many as the most important painter in history. What would be the point of honoring some but sneering at others? Today Olafur Eliasson's tinted glass installations can be considered painting as much as Pierre Huyghe obsession with the color pink. Equally, James Turrell’s subtle light variations that make up his work.
Painting needs to be considered as a whole of everything it encompasses. It is through its historical revolts by which it has learned not to abandon the conceptual function of pleasure for form. It learned how to move forward by not taking itself so seriously. It survived the relentless era of mechanical reproduction and it continues to do so in the digital era.
Every stance and attitude associated with the act of painting has been implicated by a sort of conflict in its respective time. It is a fact that the evolution of every political, social and philosophical trend -among others- can be traced with the study of painting. Maybe today we are experiencing painting’s one thousand renaissance. In our present, painting, as such, must be telling us something new in the context of steroid-hyper production where it must compete with hyper attractive images. All I can say, with my relentless passion for the ever changing ways of thinking and making art, I continue to enjoy great painting. That is, when I do encounter it.