5 – Of the absence

This last intervention aims to introduce those contemporary painters who have tried to give representation to the human being today, highlighting the denial of identity given by the socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-media situation. Where the excess of information, instead of giving voice, has made intelligences, humanity and collective instances mute and annihilated, swallowed up in the deafening noise of the avalanche of images, words and communications, resulting in a paradoxical absence caused by the excess of presence. The subjects and the technical-pictorial execution, in these painters, reveal with determination this dramatic absence. This area – not programmed, not decided a priori, but given by a widespread generational feeling without prior theorization – can only be read in a social direction. Totally different from self-referentiality on the artistic language, therefore not just a game or an exercise of style, but a living and carnal need to denounce and reject this social and existential state, all the more true precisely because it is widespread and spontaneous; even if, it too, risks falling back into the meat grinder of the spectacularization of the social media, which grind everything up into a dehumanizing trivialization, transforming concrete and real needs into fragments of entertainment.

This analytical path of mine is a pale attempt to remove this human and artistic phenomenon from the oblivion of the burning speed of the media. A phenomenon made up of the lives and researches of painters with different backgrounds and geographies, and of which I try to render memory.

In my last speech (https://www.danilosantinelli.it/danilos-blog/4-of-minority-feeling/) I tried to trace a path of the historical-artistic precedents that determined the intensification of this phenomenon from the mid-nineties of the twentieth century, until the end of the forties of that century. The generation of those born between the sixties and seventies is the one that embodied this feeling, but among them we have to list some artists born in the fifties that for proximity I wanted to include in this more recent phenomenon.

I would like to point out that the list of authors, which I am about to draw up, is not to be considered complete; it includes those painters of whom I have been able to find out, since it is a phenomenon that is still in progress and undergoing transformation and the artists who make it up are numerically superior to those that I will report. Some of them are known and have met with the favour of the market, others are unknown both to the general public and to the market itself. I will try to make up for any shortcomings with future interventions.

I would like to point out that this phenomenon, although recent, is already undergoing changes in the commercial direction, i.e. a normalisation has already begun which quickly strips it of its original and initial requirements.

Finally, I say that I have wondered at length about the inclusion of some artists, but some of them, although presenting aesthetic similarities, seem to be moving more in a direction of reflection on art rather than on society and therefore towards that process of abstraction already described (https://www.danilosantinelli.it/danilos-blog/3-the-process-of-dematerialization-of-art/).

Igor Kamyanov’s (1954) research is marked by evanescences and absences obtained through very delicate and sober chromatic mixtures, which give the paintings an almost monochromatic and blurred aspect, as if to express a difficulty in the representation of landscape subjects that become elusive, or as if, instead of the physical object, its memory is represented, making us feel its transience. In the figure paintings, mainly nude subjects, this chromatic delicacy and transience is added to a hasty sign typical of the studio, multiplying the sensation of the impossibility of stopping the subject, of which only a few elements remain to manifest the absence of identity. Those nudes are not, therefore, the dates of the people portrayed, they are instead whoever of us is observing them, they turn to us, they are dealing with us.

Bernard de Wolff (1955) was a pupil of Eugène Leroy – of whom I dealt in the previous intervention – whose painting deeply marked him and his pictorial mixtures bear a clear trace. He also prefers landscape and figure subjects and, even in his case, nude paintings constitute a large part of his research. Although everything in his paintings tends to disappear into the material-chromatic magma, he does not present the dramatic tones of other artists in the same area, and certainly his impasto is not as cruel as that of Leroy. This is due to the richness of his palette, which gives his paintings, particularly his natural landscapes, an almost impressionistic appearance. In the works of figures he seems to be pushing more in a direction of crudeness, where the material magma makes the figures explode, depriving them, again, of a physiognomic identity.

The painting of the New Zealander Euan Macleod (1956) is of an expressionist brutality that tends to be particularly fierce on the figures subjected to almost epic events. Water is a recurring theme, men cross it in small, fragile rowing boats, at the mercy of the elements, close to defeat. Continuously struggling with forces superior to them, which make them helpless. It is those forces that consume and decompose them and that often bend them, as if they were lost in effort or about to give in and fall.

In the painting of Donald Teskey (1956) water is also of particular importance, in his sea views the waves break continuously against the landscape, eroding it, consuming it with the aggressive matterl used by the American artist. A material that prefers dark and cold colours to embody the iciness of a living condition. His landscapes become a metaphor for the spirit of the times, ceasing to be mere marine or rural presences.

The urban landscapes of Alessandro Papetti (1958) are always portrayed in race, as if crossed at high speed. An aspect that gives them fragility and evanescence. These street views become a metaphor for a broader frenzy, which concerns man, his technologies, his history, his transience. Everything seems to get lost and disappear. His figure paintings, on the other hand, appear to be more firm, blocked by the formal protagonism that struggles to lose their academic character.

Catherine Woskow (1958) focuses on the figure and in particular on the faces, which are liquefied by a dripping pictorial material, to emphasize once again the disappearance of identity, which for her is not individual but collective. More recently, the painter has embarked on a journey that returns to the positions of an informal spatial matrix.

In the nineties Vladimir Migachev (1959), following previous painting experiences, came to a landscape painting that records the historical condition that we are going through. Even in Migachev the powerful pictorial mixture is furrowed by drips that dramatize it, characterized by a leaden chromaticity rich in browns, an expression of desolation and decadence. Metaphor of a spirit that pervades the world today.

Fabien Claude’s (1960) is a painting of darkness, where skulls or busts stand out against black backgrounds like ghostly emersions of death. The faces are reduced to skulls and the busts, when they appear, are shapeless and liquefied, they are intuitable but not concretely present. The aggressive material deforms the pale face-tones, melting them too. The crucified figures are a recurring theme, surmounted by stormy skies just mentioned, everything becomes momentary presence of a tortured material that has more the character of human tragedy rather than religious.

Only a part of the works of Fulvio Leoncini (1960) can be traced back to the area of our interest. The Tuscan painter moves along different production lines, even though he has a lowest common denominator in the suffering material he uses and certainly heir to informal experiences, rich in signs that scratch and attack the surfaces. When he portrays the human figure he is also scarred, intervening also on photographic materials, which he then denies with brutal interventions, transforming them into wounded bodies and faces, decomposed and moldy by corrosive agents.

Christophe Hohler (1961) paints bodies with frenetic and violent material movements. The figures are placed in front of us, they show themselves without fear or shame, sometimes erect, in other cases reclined under the weight of suffering, often screaming, seem to be opposed to forces that are not shown. The pictorial material reveals this struggle through the signs that appear on the bodies, like wounds in this incessant clash with life and the existing. His figures desperately try to regain a presence and an identity, strenuously rebelling against the forces that want to deny them.

In Henry Jackson’s painting (1961) the figures are made up of a set of chromatic stains, tending to blend in with the others scattered on the pictorial surface. The difficulty of identification is amplified by the presence of violent and schizophrenic signs, which instead of drawing tend to erase them. The chromatic richness of the palette further exalts the violent aspect of his paintings, which attack the observer, disorienting him.

Ibrahim Brimo’s (1962) painting is thick and dark, rich in blacks with light, white or coloured spots, which suddenly explode on the surface, giving shape to rough and ungrammed figures, made dramatic by a dirty and polluted material, spread on the surface in an uneven way, also apparently incorrect, but actually consistent in the pictorial narration of human drama. In other cases, on the other hand, there is the use of white alone, which outlines faces with more “realistic” physiognomic appearances that emerge from the black surfaces, but whose eye sockets and mouths are given by the same black of the background, so that that darkness penetrates them making them spectral.

Daniel Bodner (1963) is best known for his city views of anonymous passers-by, faceless and always shown at a distance, often from above. People who do not communicate with each other, suddenly illuminated by glimpses of light or who, on the contrary, are excluded from it. Anonymity and the absence of dialogue highlight an extended and resigned solitude.

The subjects of Alex Kanevsky’s painting (1963) are realistic figures and environments decomposed and denied, rendered with a wide use of cold tones, where from time to time violent reds, greens or blues explode, highlighting the pink glacial of the nudes. The bodies and environments are fragmented by discontinuous backgrounds of color that give shape to places in rubble, representations and metaphors of a reality in ruins. The figures are often in motion, women washing or bgnants, traditional themes of art, but caught in a fleeting temporality. In terms of representation and subject, Kanevsky’s painting is certainly an academic style of painting that has met with the most favor from the market.

Andy Denzler (1965) paints works with a realistic imprint which he then makes evanescent by means of their partial deletions. Horizontal blurred streaks appear on the canvas, alternating with others in focus, giving the impression of a lack of television or visual tuning. This lack of focus, or partial cancellation, thus becomes a metaphor for the absences generated by this historical period, even though his painting is too repetitive, more aimed at the easy formula that the market needs than at vital needs and research.

Søren Tougaard (1965) paints landscapes full of mists that muffle noises and temporality, everything slows down, forcing us to stop and look at the presences that become sporadic. The observer is also forced to reflect slowly, everything appears distant and distant, difficult to see and understand if not partially. Between us and the landscape, Tougaard places a foggy filter that seems to conceal it, distancing us from that reality and making it impalpable and indistinguishable.

Lars Elling (1966) uses a traditional representation on themes of family memories, where the identities of the characters are hidden or denied: by masks, by substitutions, by the absence of physiognomic traits or by real material fury on the faces. In this way, everyday family life acquires the alienating and surreal aspects of a nightmare, paintings that become metaphors for a difficult childhood, studded with tragic events.

Theresa Handy’s landscapes (1966) are inhabited by human presences that the painter places far from our point of observation. The images are also criss-crossed by faint drips and stains that cause visual disturbance and amplify the sensation of distance. We are again led to a slow vision, but in her case has the taste of memory, we do not know if we are observing some real memories of the painter, or if she wants to tell us that the world has now taken on the substance of memories. Her pictorial work on a digital photographic basis seems to lead us in the second direction.

Here only a part of the production of Tor-Arne Moen (1966) interests us and it is the one that goes in the direction of the negation of identity. The works in this series reproduce vintage photographs of family groups, children and girls. The absence put in place by the Norwegian painter seems therefore to go more in a historical direction, where that past, realistically represented, is only partially returned, since some areas of the painting are erased by rapid dynamic horizontal brushstrokes or drips of color, with a particular relentlessness on the faces.

Lesley Oldaker (1966) paints urban views crowded with people represented as black silhouettes, dripping and devoid of the last stretch of the lower limbs, their going becomes so uncertain and vain. In this multitude there is no kind of communication. A homogeneously dark crowd that smells of anonymous mass in its unidirectional gait, in some cases figures seem to be heading elsewhere or detaching themselves from the main group. His paintings are monochrome or played on only two tones, where groups of people are always assigned black, making them even more distressing in their identical absence of identity. Reflection of a society without direction, purpose, interaction or identity.

The works of Akihito Takuma (1966) are continuously crossed by vertical streaks that make urban or rural landscapes, and the rarest figures, evanescent and liquefied, in a continuous balance between figurativeness and its disappearance, but also between the presence and absence of the subjects, and, by inevitable association, between the existence of real objects that the artist portrays and their extinction. Existences that in some cases give way to paintings that become abstract, where the Japanese artist explores the limits of this boundary and union.

The paintings of Kenneth Blom (1967) present cold and acid colors that portray human figures in relation to indoor or outdoor environments. The regular and geometric shapes dominate the presence of the fragile figures, an aspect that becomes even more evident in the interiors or in the city views with the repetitive and modular shapes of the buildings and windows. The large city spaces, then, seem to swallow up the human presence that becomes tiny and is lost in space. In some cases the characters are reduced to silhouettes, in others their appearance is attacked by a corrosive material, but it can also happen that there is coexistence of silhouettes and corroded figure and in that case the silhouette enters the game of geometry as opposed to other evanescent and fragile figures.

Cecily Brown’s painting (1969) is chaotic, figures do not always emerge immediately from the tangle of the pictorial mixture characterized by excessive chromaticity, so as to multiply the dismay of the viewer and at the same time assigning to the work decorative aspects that have decreed its success. Sexuality, a recurring theme in Brown’s works, is concealed by the chromatic and material excess that, at the same time, embodies its nature, but which must be denied out of decency in society.

The absences in Edwige Fouvry’s painting (1970) are made evident by the large empty areas, both in the works of the figure and in those of the landscape. His painting is filamentous, rich in superimposed pictorial signs and gestures, which there, where the empty area of the painting begins, thin out like the cracked fibres of a fabric. His work therefore seems to be aimed at attempting to reconnect those threads, like memories from the partial nature of which we want to reconstitute the memory. This partial nature also concerns the works of figures, which are often not clear or even absent, the faces are not complete, not totally remembered, his paintings thus acquire a nature of uncertainties with disturbing tones.

Alberto Zamboni (1971) draws inspiration for his works from literary suggestions. A painting, therefore, imaginative, that apparently has no hold on reality, but that instead the matter aspect and the subjects represented – city views with figures that cross them – lead back to reality, that the Bolognese painter shows us evanescent and subjected to fog, where the characters have a small size compared to the pictorial surface. Even in his work everything seems to fade or be remembered, the presences appear distant or seem to fade away.

The painting of Tina Sgrò (1972) essentially follows two production lines: urban views of streets and suburbs; interiors of living rooms with heavy retro furnishings. Both, in any case, are characterized by a dynamic painting, rich in rapid brushstrokes that seem to move the pictorial material and the subjects represented. The urban views are full of cold, dirty colours that amplify their squalor and desolation, while the interiors are mainly painted in warm colours, making the living rooms welcoming and intimate. One gets the impression that on the one hand there is a confrontation between the artist and a cold outside world that is not reassuring and, on the other, the security of environments where one can retreat into one’s memories. An ambivalence that can also be read in the direction of a concrete world made up of icy absences and interiors full of a past that is disappearing.

Ronan Barrot’s painting (1973) is heavy and violent, its dense and dirty material giving shape to rough figures and landscapes of a pushed expressionism full of malaise. The subjects are attacked and raped, in a physical and energetic confrontation with the painting that makes his scenes of struggle even more brutal and his omens of death – with the presence of skulls – even more disturbing. The skulls, the figures, the natural presences seem to be compressed and crushed under the weight of that material, which instead of giving them shape seems to hit and strike them, disfigured by the strokes of colour inflicted by the painter.

Ayman Halabi (1973) is Syrian, an aspect that cannot be ignored and from which he himself cannot ignore. He understands painting as a social act, a reading of his own time. His subjects are unfinished and corroded figures, painted in shades of grey, black and brown to highlight their decomposition. Even in the most recent and lively paintings, the colours remain dirty, corroded or contaminated by overlapping signs or colours. The identity becomes ghostly, an evanescent shadow of a time made up of brutal and dramatic events.

Kim Dorland’s (1974) subjects are the expression of a generational imaginary, made up of skateboarding children, hockey games or walks in the woods, but burdened by a matterl and chromatic exuberance with psychedelic tones. In some cases the hallucinated formal and chromatic presences seem to take on almost Munchian aspects, in particular in the paintings where moons or suns and aquatic reflections appear, in these cases the materic-chromatic sinuosity presents the same degree of distortion.

Here we refer only to the series of paintings entitled Waiting by Brett Amory (1975), in which the painter portrays daily scenes of his neighborhood, especially night views of people in front of shops. The lights make the architectural boxes emerge from the darkness that surrounds them, making them similar to apparitions, and even the figures that stand in front of them acquire a transitory and phantasmagorical nature. The planes of the imagined and the real merge, leaving room for sudden apparitions.

Tim Kent (1975) paints fragments of architectural structures that tend to interpenetrate with the surrounding environment, but often overwhelm it with violent and strident colors. The more modest colours of the rooms are thus dominated, and almost violated, by sudden structural lines of psychedelic colours in the exterior, while in the interior sudden chromatic explosions seem to erase the environment and the characters who live there, confusing the visual planes in a continuous contrast between matter and rigid forms, between rational and irrational, between natural and unnatural. A reality made of chaotic co-presences, corroded by the pictorial mixture, which seems to allude to the stunting multiplicity of human and social planes poised between real and virtual.

Antony Micallef’s canvases (1975) portray faces disfigured by a heavy matter mixture, revealing the intention of an investigation into identity that does not stop at individuality but instead refers to the social, to a human and historical condition.

George Androutsos (1976) is also dedicated to portraiture, but his drawings, drawn with a rapid and schizophrenic sign, bring powerful erasures that devastate the physiognomy of the subjects. Denied identities that become metaphors of a social and historical community that the Greek artist strives to denounce.

Due to its pictorial characteristics, the now established market star Adrian Ghenie (1977) also belongs to this area. In his paintings there appears a heavy, undone material that mutilates environments and figures, where everything becomes violent and shouted with anger. Ghenie often portrays historical figures and in that case the pictorial act becomes an instrument of judgment.

Daniel Pitin’s (1977) world is made up of theatrical or cinematographic scenes, of realities that conceal other realities, where the hidden identities are not only those of the characters, but concern the entire universe he represents. In his painting, too, one can feel the powerful decadence of an era that has become illegible, codifiable only in fragments. His is a traditional and realistic painting, with which he wants to reveal the secrets of the intricate events that he paints and where the world itself appears as a dark story crushed by the weight of his intrigue.

Maya Bloch (1978) paints many group scenes, people around a table having dinner or drinking, apparently convivial scenes. In his case, the characters do not lack physiognomic traits, which are, instead, distorted and changed, assuming an damaged appearance that emanates a stench of mold. One has the impression of observing disintegrating social masks, which, looking at us, count us among the group. Rarely do they converse or look at each other, but they always observe us, making us participants in that social fiction, made up of sham masks decaying.

Alexander Kabin (1978) represents peripheral places, railway or city views rendered with a rough and dripping painting, dominated by light and cold tones, where the white evokes an absolute silence and an exhausting slowness made of glacial desolations. When he paints armchairs or sofas they too are empty and abandoned, while in the representations of war scenes the material seems even more grainy and undone; in the case of the paintings with figures, finally, they tend to penetrate the surrounding, making themselves visible in fragments or transparencies.

Helen Shulkin (1978), on the other hand, is interested in the post-urban, in the mutations of city spaces in relation to the new architectural structures. Her paintings are dominated by voids – where structural lines of airports, stations, industrial sites suddenly explode – and by variations of glacial blues that multiply the coldness of steel and glass structures. In the case of the drawings, he often intervenes on light blue cards, whose chromatic coldness of the background becomes the environment on which architectural stumps emerge. Visions, those of Shulkin, that add up emptiness, coldness and fragmentariness, restoring the idea of a decomposed and desolate space that can become a social and existential metaphor.

Aurora Del Rio (1982) investigates the body through a painting made of fluid and evanescent presences that put its identity in crisis. Figures that show wider crises that do not concern only individuals. His palette is mainly made up of strident reds and blues, but which can turn into shades of purple by mixing these two main shades. This chromatic acidity makes the figures even more violent, like sudden northern lights or disturbing fatuous fires. This chromatic aspect seems to accelerate temporality, manifesting those bodies as sudden and momentary apparitions.

As already mentioned, this list is not to be considered complete, therefore in future interventions I intend to introduce both those painters who, born in the eighties of the twentieth century, have continued along this path, and all those artists that I have not reported here for lack of data. For the time being, I shall limit myself to a list of names of those I shall deal with later on, but even in this case this list is not to be considered complete: Adam James Riches, Alex Merritt, Chelsea James, Chiha Gregory, Gabriela Bodin, Gale Antokal, Janice Nowinski, Jennifer Pochinski, Julien Spianti, Linda Christensen, Lorenzo Ermini, Michel Martinez Vela, Olivier Rouault, Timothy Wilson, Tonia Erbino, Ulrika Lindblom, Ursula O’farrell.

Many may have noticed the absence of a well-known Italian painter, Nicola Samorì (1977), whom I did not include, considering his pictorial research more oriented towards a reflection on art, which can certainly become a broader metaphor, but which, as I already wrote, is not the subject of my investigation.

Finally, I say that my research, for pictorial and thematic characteristics, is to be traced back to this area.




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