Tag Archives: Contemporary painting

Jill Mulleady

The gallery Island in Brussels is showcasing work of artist Jill Mulleady in a solo show “El Dorado” until next Sunday. The artist, who used to be active in theatre, shows her latest work in this exhibition, replacing the canvas by iridescent plastic sheets and integrate painting in installations. 


After intending to become a theater director, she heads back to childhood favourite activity painting and attended the Chelsea College of Art. Her uncle was a painter and stimulated her to paint by giving her brushes with her name engraved on them when she was 8. She moved since her London solo show in 2011, “Painting rituals” (book published at Shelter press) where she still used white canvas but used it as a base for her spontaneous poetic brush strokes.

Wars, 2011 Oil on Canvas 160 x 170cm

Wars, 2011
Oil on Canvas
160 x 170cm




Her new work is cold, plastic but retains this poetic touch and outlandish feeling conveyed through her gesture. In an exhibition in Paris “Et dans une explosion de joie”, you see her brushstrokes adventuring outside the limits of the canvas on the walls, obeying only her personal rules, focussing on the process.


Better to go and see the exhibition for yourself on Chaussée de Wavre in Brussels, but hereunder a couple of pictures from the show, courtesy to Island gallery. She once again conceived the exhibition in situ creating a dialogue between the space and her work.




Island 155 chaussée de Wavre – 1050 Brussels

Jill Mulleady website.



Nicolas Van Kerckhove’s painterly loitering

Live in Ghent, or planning to travel through? Don’t miss the exhibition of Ponyhof painter Nicolas Van Kerckhove at De Zebrastraat.

Nicolas’ recent work is a contemplation of the abundance of pictures generated by the Internet, many of whom are very boring — like the captures dispatched by a google street view webcam showing a snow-laden road at different times of the day, or the profile picture of a teenager on skype. Nicolas explained to me that their banality first disappointed, then attracted him: there was a possibility of something happening, someone entering the frame, the profile picture changing to the better. This sense of waiting — ranging from great expectations to simple loitering — hovers over his paintings, providing per se uneventful topics with a very poetic quality.

The very gifted photographer Joke De Wilde visited Nicolas in his studio as he was getting ready for the show. We are very happy to present some of her pictures on the Ponyhof blog.

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The exhibition is on at De Zebrastraat (32/001, 9000 Ghent) from 1 March to 1 April 2012, opening on 1 March at 20.00

Read our text on the uncanniness of Nicolas’ work and visit our website to see more of his work.

The Naked State by Betty Tompkins

When researching background material for this post, I realised that Betty Tompkins’ Fuck Paintings are often presented as: painted hardcore porn that was locked up in a NY dungeon for over thirty years! Sequestrated by French customs officials in 1973! Locked up again by their Japanese homologues in 2005!

Even so, it is not for border protection to decide what becomes big in the art world. As upset as the bureaucrats might have felt, the main reason why Tomkins’ paintings were not shown on a broader scale is because no gallery was interested in showing her work, at least not more than once.

In an interview with Filthy Gorgeous Things, Tompkins explains:

“The response to them was essentially negative. One dealer walked into my studio, ran out and then backed in (…) Most [dealers] refused to come (…) at all. Whether it was because I was a young artist or whether it was because I was a young woman artist or whether it was the subject matter or the subject matter being done by a young woman artist, I never knew. It was a very different time. I would beg [Tompkins’ husband at that time] to take the slides in as his own as he was so much older than me and he was a man but he refused.”

Furthermore, her renaissance is to a large part due to the fact that thanks to the support of Mitchell Algus gallery, which exhibited the original fuck paintings in 2002 and helped Tompkins to take part in the 2003 Lyon biennale. Centre Pompidou bought Fuck Painting #1 for its permanent collection a year later, making it appropriate to show “large-scale photorealistic paintings of heterosexual intercourse”, as described in the words of the artist herself, to the general public (the French/European one, albeit). Collector interest ensued.

Anyway. Having attended the opening of her solo show at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen last Thursday, I do think that these over-sized genitalia are worthy of thought.

Betty Tompkins, Fuck Painting #11, 2004 Acrylic on Canvas 213.4 x 152.4 cm, courtesy of Galerie Rodolphe Janssen

First of all, Tompkins’ work provides an interesting example of the painter’s dilemma of abstract vs. figurative representation. Tompkins explains in the Galerie Rodolphe Janssen catalogue:

“As an undergraduate, I had fallen in love with Abstract Expressionism. By the time I was in graduate school, I had a lot of facility with it and got bored. In my youthful arrogance, I made up a list of all the things I loved about the act of painting and was also really good at doing. With each subsequent painting, I did not do another thing on the list. I thought by the time I was through, I would have either obliterated painting or invented something new for myself.”

In her quest for a way to embrace imagery, Tompkins took to her husband’s collection of pornographic photos and figured that by disposing of the subjects’ identifiers, such as heads, hands, and feet, she would be left with “beautiful abstract images out of the part of the photograph that was most compelling”.

Abstraction was reinforced by her choice of technique: she used only white and black paint applied in hundreds of layers. This, in combination with the paintings’ scale, meant that the images went out of focus when the beholder approached. Actually, of the paintings exposed at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, my favourite was the most abstract one, made by the marks of thousands rubber stamps.

As for the subject matter, I found it interesting to consider the fuck paintings through the prism of John Berger’s analysis on the nude, as put forward in the BAFTA award-winning BBC series “Ways of Seeing” and the subsequently published eponymous book. They further benefit from having been made at the same time as the original fuck paintings (early 1970s), thereby sharing the mood of the moment.

"Why are these pictures so vacuous and so perfunctory?" --- John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Berger argues that the nude is a highly conventionalised genre in European oil painting, typically depicting a female subject who is aware of being observed by a male beholder (as opposed to the naked state which is simply being without clothes). This corresponds to the different presence that women and men have assumed throughout the times.

“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping (…) Men watch and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relationship between men and women but also the relationship of women to themselves. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision – a sight.”  (p. 46p)

Nude, naked, natural? --- Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814, Courtesy of Louvre.

Furthermore, besides being reduced to a sight whose only purpose is to beguile, tradition demands that the woman is to be blamed and punished for her vanity, Berger contends.

This archaic and unequal foundation may well be the reason why the nude has become less important as a form of contemporary art. Few are able to imagine a nude that does not objectify and diminish – according to Berger, art history has witnessed, at most, a couple of hundred paintings showing naked women (their reason to undress:  because true lovers need to overcome the unnecessary distance of layers of garment), capturing the traits of a loved and desired and irreplaceable woman.

(Meanwhile, the tradition of female objectification holds sway in contemporary marketing.)

Anna de Rijk by Sofia Sanchez Mauro Mongiello for Tar magazine

In this regard, Tompkins offers an interesting way of overcoming the limits of the nude. Far away from fulfilling the role of flattering the male spectator, her paintings put men and women on equal footing as both sights and spectators. They furthermore serve as a means of exploring one’s own sexuality and offer a personal way of interpreting. In Tompkins’ own words, cool as cucumbers:

“Everybody has sex one way or another, but we don’t see ourselves doing it. So we have a real curiosity about what it looks like. I think that for many people curiosity is a plus and a minus, they look and are attracted and repulsed at the same time. That is okay with me.”

Betty Tompkins in her studio. Courtesy of Ari Marcoupolos.

> Fuck Paintings are on at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen until 17 March.

> See our text on the work of Wouter van de Koot for a comparative endeavour of a painter striving to move from figurative to abstract painting.

— Aleksandra Eriksson Pogorzelska —

Painted images and photography (Part I)

In La carte et le territoire (Prix Goncourt 2010), Michel Houellebec portrays a fictive artist Jed Martin who made a painting of him – he staged himself as one of the main characters of the novel. In the book, Houellebec says that out of all the numerous photographs taken of himself, only one portraits will remain over the years and decades and it will be the one painted by Jed Martin. That same portrait which eventually – fictively – will cost him his life. But I’ll stop here in case you still want to read that book. So again the same question comes up, what is it that makes people nowadays engage with painting as a medium when there are so many exciting other media out there such as photography or video? I read recently interesting articles that clarified my thoughts on the articulation between painting and photography and video making. Again, I must repeat it is not about ranking one medium above another but to question the choice of contemporary artists for such medium in comparison to others.

 Upon the invention of photography, few gave much about painting being able to capture with so much precision and accuracy the subject-matter. Photography was seen as having a causal effect from the reality to the image and benefitted from “indexical quality”.

Painting was thus seen as threatened by photography which “withdrew from it the task of representation” and which thereby fully allowed the development of abstract painting  (this is however of course contested in art history – things are never so simple – if you consider for example the Impressionists who already made a substantial move away from pure representation). Malevitch, Rothko, Mondrian, to quote only but a few of the grand abstractionists, have shown that painting could have quite some other function than being a form of representation. “No, as Yves-Alain Blois jokes in his well-known essay Painting as Model, there is no solar eclipse in Malevitch’s Black Square or New York subway map in Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie…” (Barry Schwabsky).

Mondrian (1942) Broadway Boogie Woogie

But to come back to the relationship of painting with photography, after a generation showing a limited realm of chosen images, such as Gerhard Richter accurately reproducing the seamlessness of the photographic image, painters started to capitalised over the insufficiency of photography.

Gerhard Richter (1988) Betty, Oil on canvas, 101.9 x 59.4 cm

With the overabundance of photography and moving images in this world, photography and video have quickly shown their limits and lost their value. “Not being remembered at all: this has, in the end, been the fate the subjects of most photographs argues Geoffrey Batchen, photography historian, for whom ‘straight’ photograph has always been an insufficient vehicle for memory.

Contemporary painters use paintings’ almost unlimited abilities to add “material sensuality, tactility and atmospheric possibilities” (Alison M. Gingeras). If in the old times, painters were trained to reconstruct pictorially what they saw with their eyes, whereas contemporary painters “work a reality that is already image” (Barry Schwabsky).

Jan de Lauré (2011) James

The imprecision of the painting brush actually corresponds to inaccuracy of the brain’s mnemonic functions. If a photograph is rather very faithful to what one sees, painting plays a better role in triggering free play of association and reminiscences through its subjectivity and its lack of  “pictorial authority and truth-telling capacity (which pertains to) photography”.

Greet van Autgaerden (2009), Kamp 5, Oil on Canvas, 180 x 200 cm (Ponyhof Gallery)

In a world over-saturated with “camera-made images, hyperrealistic forms such as photography and film have become banal and ineffective. Painting has regained a privileged status”, argues Alison M. Gingeras. “The medium’s tactility, uniqueness, mythology and inherent ambiguities has allowed painting to become an open-ended vehicle for both artist and viewer to evoke personal recollections, to embody collective experience and reflect upon its own history in the age of mechanical reproduction.”

Go to  Jan de Lauré on Ponyhof Gallery

Go to Greet van Autgaerden on Ponyhof Gallery

“An art that eats its own head – Painting in the Age of the Image” by Barry Schwabsky


“The Mnemonic Function of the Painted Image” by Alison M. Gingeras

“Painting as Model” by Yves-Alain Blois

Sfumato in contemporary painting?

Most of you who had some sort of art history education must have heard of sfumato. Think Leonardo da Vinci and his revolutionary painting technique consisting of obscuring lines or borders to create soft and mellow transitions between shades and colours; basically using high contrast and diffused light. It was his way of rendering the “mystery of life”. Now my question is: what about sfumato in contemporary painting? Is it enough to just make a blurry painting à la Gerhard Richter to create sfumato effects?

Sfumato comes from the Italian ‘sfumare’ which means  “to tone down” or “to evaporate like smoke”.  Take a look at the background landscape of the world’s most famous painting and you’ll see this subtle transition light to dark areas which evokes a hazy feeling whilst adding a gloria of enigma to facial features as if they were seen through a veil.

Leonordo da Vinci - Mona Lisa

It is not the role of this blog to give expert lectures on art history techniques, but in a nutshell, sfumato could be summarised to the “no brush” technique.  By using X-rays, scientists discovered how da Vinci perfected his technique by using 40 layers of ultra-thin layers of glaze and paint. They suspect he used his fingers as absolutely not a single brushstroke can be identified. The way da Vinci managed this near-perfection has long been a mystery for art historians.

Gerhard Richter - Landscape near Hubbelrath (1969)

Gerhard Richter is known for his “out-of-focus” trademark. Whether for representations of landscapes, still-life or portraits but also for his abstract pieces, Richter gives a blurred and hazy appearance to his paintings. No one before applied such a systematic blurry  approach to his work as Richter does. None of the Turners, Monets or Renoirs, who created a flowing unity among colours, went as far as managing this “perfect” blur (although unlike da Vinci he uses dry brushes to “feather” wet paint or in somes cases scrapes into the drying portrait with a ruler or spatula).

Gerhard Richter - Selfportrait

When I first encountered the work of Sophie Pigeron, I had the reflex to say ‘Ah Gerhard Richter’, by the sight of all those blurry paintings. But by giving it a closer look, I realised that Sophie draws the “blur” concept much further as she focuses on details of the “hazy” landscapes to the point of flirting with abstract painting. She wipes out details and points of focus completely so that the painter’s hand vanishes. Sophie deliberately called her series Sfumato and lay claim to the Renaissance technique. Yet, through her use of saturated colours such as fluorescent pink, her paintings are also reminiscent of graffiti street art and contemporary culture.

As we have set forth already, there is a certain return of the pathos and the emotions in today’s contemporary art and Sophie Pigeron’s work typically encourage the viewer to contemplate and remain puzzled by her work, which similarly to da Vinci, attempt to render the “mystery of life”.  As colours blend with light, it is for the beholder to fill in the detail with the help of his sensibility, personal memories and imagination.

Just as I decided to write on Sfumato and ‘blurry’ painting, I heard that there is currently a exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle called “Out of Focus. After Gerhard Richter“, which runs until 22 May 2011. The exhibition description refers to “the tradition of European painting since the fifteenth century, like for example in the sfumato-technique of Leonardo da Vinci.” The exhibition offers a closer, coherent look at this stylistic principle by presenting the paintings and photographic works by 21 artists all born after-1960 together with 21 works of Gerhard Richter. It shows how the artists used different kinds of blurring in various combination as a part of their pictorial language.