The persistence of painting in contemporary art makes it increasingly difficult to think of the medium as an artistically obsolete or socially irrelevant act. While this remark may seem absurd to both casual and serious observers of art, painting has suffered numerous “deaths” at the hands of artists, critics, and historians alike over the past 150 years, and yet, it still persists. Once again painting appears to engender communicative, expressive, sexual, and informative traits that no other medium or expression can replace or fulfill. Consequently, there is a renewed commitment to and faith in painting among contemporary artists and a renewed interest in it among their audience that can only be described in general terms as something human. Despite the advent of photography, the reductive reign of Modernism, the influence of popular culture, and the strain of media technology on art, painting persists. As a historically grounded object and an anthropologically expressive act, it continues to be beautiful and meaningful, relevant to human life, and emblematic of both personal and social knowledge and experience.
Joe Scanlan will present and discuss the resurgence of pictorialism in the paintings of such artists as Robert Colescott, L.J. Douglas, David Kroll, Gerhard Richter, and Peter Saul. These artists and others consciously acknowledge, accept, and sometimes incorporate the communicative limitations and powers of painting into their artworks, which are predominantly narrative or theatrical and are often romantic. In addition to presenting incredibly rich and complex characters and situations in their works, which suggest many precisely literal and elusively allegorical stories, these artists’ paintings indirectly evidence their strong faith in and commitment to painting.
Joe Scanlan is Assistant Director of The Renaissance Society, and a critic. He is the Chicago correspondent for Artscribe magazine, London, and also writes for New Art Examiner magazine.