What changed when photography, with its inherent possibility of straightforward recording, cheap reproductions and easy distribution, demoted painting as the popular medium of representation?
This question was brought up already years ago by Gerhard Richter, who made his first photo painting in 1962 after a picture of Brigitte Bardot. Tired of capital lettered art, composition, colour, invention, design etc., “painting from a photograph seemed to me the most moronic and inartistic thing that anyone could do”, the delightfully lugubrious German explains in The Daily Practice of Painting (p. 22). The above-mentioned question was later re-stated by Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans and many an emerging painter (read Liv Vaisberg’s series on some different outcomes). But I wonder what John Berger would say about the ‘newest’ world, as seen on screen in facebook updates, tumblr feeds, pins, tweets and prolific blogging? Today, any kid can make a visually appealing picture of the most banal event with the help of a concealing vintage filter on his smartphone (FOAM Magazine had an interesting facebook post on this topic recently). Allegedly, a picture is worth more than a thousand words but some photography has developed to convey nothing at all, making it perfect for equally vacant advertising. As visual communication rapidly gains presence and power, the assessment of its influence is even more topical for painters and photographers alike who reflect on contemporary creation and use of images.
Aurélien Dupuis takes his inspiration from familiar and over-abundant motifs, such as school and workplace portraits (the series ‘48 portraits’, ‘Employé(e)/Medewerker’), real-estate development catalogues (‘Pavillons’), amateur photographs found on flea markets (‘X’), the Internet or social platforms (‘Enfant + chien’, ‘Madonne’, ‘Dormeurs’). He re-creates these widespread images – hackneyed captures of modern life – using ‘slow media’ such as charcoal and children’s markers, preserving the low definition, pixelisation and overexposure of hasted snapshots.
It is precisely the choice of technique that makes his work compelling despite the uneventful topics, by introducing complexity and pathos. At a first glance, the colourful children’s markers connote a feeling of babyhood nostalgia, but paradoxically, there is also something absurd of a trained painter playing with toys when he could make art, using proper materials. Also his choice of subject is ambiguous. On the one hand, these are pictures of people and situations of no particular charm or consequence. On the other, the painter must think that they are worthy of consideration as he spends so much time and effort re-creating them.
Further uncertainty is brought by the fact that Aurélien works in series and with repetitions, which both simulate and challenge the mechanic use of images in media and on the Internet, given the considerable labour that went into the re-creation of the given images.
Moreover, when watching his series, I am often pulled into one picture in particular. When meeting with Aurélien some weeks ago, I asked if the picture of my attraction was better known than the others — it was not, but he guessed that maybe my own memories were projected into the ‘eye-catching’ picture.
Aurélien does, however, sometimes work from famous pictures: the posers of ‘Enfant + Chien’, for instance, are all anonymous but one, which was made after Andrei Tarkovsky’s polaroid of his family. By showing how certains ‘kodak moments’ repeat themselves, how certain actions become engrained into our culture and habits, the series is put into perspective.
The quality of Aurélien’s work lies precisely in its openness for contradictory interpretations (quite interestingly, in the art world, «confusing» is often close to «compelling», whereas words such as «decorative», «aesthetic» and «commercial» can be used as strong criticism).
On an ending note, I can reveal that in the framework of POPPOSITIONS, Aurélien Dupuis has prepared a series inspired by Belgian administrative clerks for whom the Bruxelles Congrès station was created. If you are in town during the Art Brussels week, come and see the result as well as the works of other emerging artists.
POPPOSITIONS off fair is on at Bruxelles Congrès from 20-22 April, 12-9 PM, with a Friday opening party and performances by invited guests from 9 PM until late. The full programme is updated at the website.
— Aleksandra Eriksson Pogorzelska —