Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Robert Sobieszek, LA County Museum of Art, Van Pelt’s Relationship to the Photographic Image

Alison Van Pelt’s relationship to photographic images is quite direct and unapologetic, as well. Carefully choosing images that interest her, she manually copies them, simply painting what she sees, and often manipulating and enlarging their scale. So far, there is little by way of innovation; earlier painters did this as a matter of procedure. In traditional representational painting, the image on the surface of the canvas was a mere analog to the image on the surface of the photographic emulsion, only the painting was done by hand, as if that gave it an edge of superiority. Modern artists had a choice; accept the surface of the image as it had been since Alberti – as a window onto the world – or challenge that surface for what it was: a fraud, a simulacrum, a fiction. Neither realist paintings nor photographs are “windows to the world” or “portals of perception.” They are simply surfaces which someone has played with, regardless of their chemicals or techniques.
Interrupt that surface, alter it, transform it, however, and something deeper may be gotten to Man Ray knew that in the 20s when he solarized his photographs, making us look more deeply upon their surfaces. Lucas Samaras knew it in the 70s when he physically disturbed his Polaroids’ emulsions before they dried. Van Pelt also knows this, and here, she breaks from slavish appropriation of the photographic image. While her faithful rendition of her source is still wet, its oils not yet set in their ways, she takes a dry brush to subtly blend, striate, blur, and dematerialize her forms until, as it were, they become mere Platonic shadows or suggestions or hints of themselves. Hidden within the surface of the paint and not atop the canvas, her subjects take on an essential quality of becoming, of yet to be finished, of possibilities rather than definitions, Caught in some viscous primal ooze, embryonic, dreamlike as in a dense fog, her images appear more within our vision than without, or as if they were projected from us outwardly upon the external retinal field from some deep recess of memory.

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