A Fresh Approach to Contemporary Painting
Fresh Paint does not set out to defend the genre of painting categorically, nor does it need to. As Jerry Saltz puts it, “We need to get over the painting-as-victim-and-victor complex.” Fresh Paint does present a highly selective group of international artists whose approach, style, or subject matter is as powerful as any photography, video or large-scale installation piece. Fresh Paint features a significant body of work that ultimately questions the means and media of painting, asking viewers to consider which factors contribute to making a painting fresh and contemporary today. Among the artists in the book, the answers are found either in terms of their specific approach to the medium of painting, or in the subject matter that they chose to paint. The works range from highly conceptual to more formally oriented, and also touch upon the question of when a painting ceases (or starts) to be a painting. The underlying themes, approach, and subject matter are such that although these artists are technically proficient at what they do, the significance of their work extends beyond an ability to paint a pretty picture.
With Edvard Munch as the almighty godfather for several generations of Norwegian artists, it probably comes as no surprise that there is a strong tradition for painting in Norway. That said, and with all due respect to those painters who have worked hard, held their ground, and flourished through years and years of outdated domestic debates about the status of painting, there are now more Norwegian painters than ever who produce engaging, relevant, thought-provoking work that has become integral to Norwegian contemporary art practice. There is an increasing stronghold of seriously talented Norwegian painters whose work has enough substance and contemporary relevance to signal a solid and positive trend in Norwegian painting today.
Prior to this positive turning point, most Norwegian painters were overshadowed by the sheer genius of Munch. While Munch still holds his ground as Norway’s most mythologized, nearly deified, larger-than life artist persona, there is finally something new that makes Oslo feel slightly less like a polar outpost and, at times, almost like an international art capital. It should be acknowledged that Munch directly inspires at least two of the artists featured in this exhibition, and Munch’s style has contributed in large part to their development and success. To be sure, Norwegian Contemporary Art wouldn’t be what it is today without the legacy of Edvard Munch, but the time is right to expand the topic of discussion beyond the visible traces of Munch. The artists featured in Fresh Paint represent an unexpected mix of various approaches and methodologies that ultimately gets to the heart of painting itself and where it stands today not only in Oslo, but in New York, Johannesburg, Buenos Aires and Rio, and many other places in between.
In a recent lecture at the Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, Kerry James Marshall gave a riveting account of the development of his artistic career, punctuated by the highlights and gaping gaps of art history. Extending as far back as cave painting, and touching upon European masters and Pop Art, as well as Haitian and Yoruban religious symbolism, Marshall told the story of a young African American boy who grew up to become a legendary artist. Among the most important topics in his lecture was the inexcusable absence of African American artists in art historical narratives (with the exception of Jean-Michel Basquiat). He pointed out that African American artists only enter into the narrative when multiculturalism and identity politics begins to be discussed, but not outside that context. Through the years Marshall has fought against this injustice, dedicated to “seeking ways to bridge the gap so that you enter into the dominant narrative of art history that is secure”.
In discussing his artistic ambitions, Marshall spoke convincingly about the importance of originality, reminding the audience about Seurat’s search for something new, “an art entirely his own”. Marshall went on to talk about Pop Art, summing up that entire chapter of art history by pointing out that there are only two artists who really matter: Andy Warthol and Roy Lichtenstein. Kerry James Marshall subsequently poses the question, “Where are you going to situate yourself in relation to all that?” There is no question that he has managed to situate himself securely as a contemporary painter whose work is original, powerful, significant and empowering, and I will return to the specifics of his work later.
Kerry James Marshall’s words of wisdom provide a perfect introduction to Fresh Paint, a book that features the work of twenty contemporary artists from all around the world, who have all found an art that is all their own. Marshall’s belief that “one’s work must distinguish itself from everything else, on its own terms” could almost be the manifesto for this exhibition. Through completely different visual means and from totally different historical and cultural perspectives, the artists featured in Fresh Paint all set themselves apart in one way or another—formally, conceptually, or methodologically.
This is an excerpt from the essay. Please contact The Global Art Project if you are interested in reading more or would like to purchase the book.