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surpassing reality…with contemporary classical painting

painters Tubes magazine

The theoretical musings of a whole battalion of academics, art critics and curators over the last five decades or so, have successfully weaned young artists off the concept of developing ‘skill’ or ‘talent’ as the prime tools for art creation. They argued (at one time) that, emotionally content and abstract application, was the essential thing to hold dear. After that dogma of the early 20th century it became usurped by the intellect or rather that it was the ‘idea’ of the art, that was even more important. And whoever created the ‘Art’ itself was irrelevant or unimportant. Which is pretty much what was presented by and in the shape of the ‘stars’ of the then contemporary Art world in the latter half of the 20th century. We call this Art – Post Modernism.

However, there has been a seismic change in Art viewpoints of late. The www has, in a relative short period of time, democratised visual art and freed it to a large extent. We now witness, on a daily basis (on social media), what is probably the widest array of visual art that has been seen for generations.

However,  intellectual visual art hangs on in the inner circles of the many of the Art institutions. They still insist to go blindly around ignoring or in some cases, dismissing many visual artists as, non-progressives, or backward-thinking or worse still, non-contributory artists for a new millennium. Of course these same band of culture experts admire anyone who takes Art from the past and reproduces it, or more accurately, copies it, as this is seen as advanced Post-Post Modernism and in keeping with that old adage they have promoted for so long,

“everything in painting has been done already, so why bother to paint at all.”

It is probably the ‘realist’ paintings of today that attract the most venomous critic. After all they’d say, what is the point of copying something in front of you, when we now have the digital camera? – And to a large extent I totally agree with that statement. What I think they missed is the point of the process of painting, one that changes the reality and why that entails a complex relationship that a painter has to develop along with the work. And not only from spending a great deal of time working with it and helping to create something that didn’t exist before, but to understand that process fully one has to actually paint, not talk about, not write about, and certainly not curate, to gain that total understanding of why painters still paint, by hand.

“we want it all, and we want it now”

…was the Brit Art mantra, “talent is not enough” was another banner held high by the supporting tribe of culture writers at the time. They all succeeded, they all became rich beyond their dreams. They had titles and honours poured over them. They have since then, been elected into positions that were once held by Artists who, perhaps unlike them, actually deserved the accolades bestowed upon them.

painters TUBES feature on the Heart 2 Art Exhibition - Denis Taylor and Mona Shalin
Heart 2 Art Opening day 11th January 2002 with lead artist Denis Taylor and Swedish Government Estonia Trust Fund Leader Mona Shalin. Steninge Palace Culture House Stockholm.

And so, these first paragraphs illustrate my mind set when as a 43 year old painter I was given the task of seeking out other artists to participate in a special exhibition called Heart 2 Art – It was a project commission from the International Support Group in Sweden and the Swedish Government Estonian Trust Fund. The show was in benefit for the survivors and the families of them that perished in the Estonia Ferry disaster of 1994.

It was a massive task and fortunately I was joined, by way of my invitation, by the late professor of Art and Author Nigel Whiteley (1953-2010). A person who I had long admired and read avidly in the UK Art Review magazine for several years. Together, through many meetings and discussions, we managed to formulate a philosophical criteria to help find the artists who had the right ‘stuff’ for the job in hand. The philosophy was realised in over 5000 words by Nigel and was written and published exclusively for the exhibition catalogue as:

” Affirmative Art in a Dis-affirmative Climate”

Affirmative Art Essay published by painters TUBES magazine

It was at this time and in this frame of mind that I discovered a painter in Argentina, namely Gabriel Grunn. He became one of 27 Artists selected from nine countries that was finally exhibited in the Heart 2 Art exhibition in 2002 in Stockholm (after the 4 years the project took to complete). The show was an eclectic mix of visual art that was to demonstrate the altered realities of humankind. And Gabriel’s work was a part of the show that visualised

a link with the past and a new-vision how that link can be interpreted for the future.

I still keep in touch with many of the artists from that exhibition, some more closely than others, but Gabriel was one I always kept my eye keenly on, to see how he progressed with his work.

“Over the years Gabriel has been recognised as one of Argentina’s finest ‘fine artists”

His dedication to filling the gaps that he feels have been left by the renaissance artists has, to my mind, been an impressive voyage. Yet, beyond that he has also ‘tuned’ himself from the stubborn art student who walked away from a modern art establishments curriculum in Buenos Aires, to a husband and father and a more mature artist.

He has now settled and is painting in Florence, Italy. A city and a country where he can get closer to the artists that he continues to not only admire, but can physically feel the presence of, whilst examining their originals as much as he couldn’t in Argentina.

“the idea behind my work is to pick the thread of the long line of visual narrative
I love and cherish and give body to certain paintings I perceive somehow to be missing, to constitute gaps that are to be filled, that Rafael or Van Der Weyden just did not have time to do.”

He is not alone in his pursuit of a classical perfection in a modern idiom. Many artists have gone before him. Dali is perhaps a good example, as is Odd Nedrum (Norway) and there are more, as no doubt readers of this magazine has discovered themselves.

Gabriel Grunn is however unique in the way he not only distorts reality, but also in the manner in which he does it. He has described this way of working as an alphabet, one that he has had to learn and continues to learn, but he then transcribes his own visions by reforming and inventing [visual] words using that alphabet and creating new narratives.

He attempts (and succeeds in my opinion) of making an image that ‘sticks’ to your eye and your mind. An image that has a tendency for the viewer to take the image (and sometimes the disturbing) narrative away you when you have left the painting.

Critics will point to the word ‘Kitsch’ or perhaps the modern tag of ‘Goth’ for this style of painting, but there again they are generally not painters, but the casual viewer. And to be fair to those critical voices, one has to remember that all Art is subjective. And there is always the danger of making subjective judgements, especially where paintings are concerned. As Gabriel says himself, some sort of anachronistic story telling is not his target for dynamic art creation.

What is KITCH?

His art has a more direct desire, one of landing a punch packed with power. Some of his earlier works have a definite erotic tone, which could be simply the exuberance of youth and which, as he said recently to me, that in his current life he is not in sympathy with, nor feels that he needs to call upon to give his work the emotional power or punch that he sought, when he was painting in Buenos Aires.

Beauty and the Beast?

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when painters talk of a beautiful painting, it is not always in the sense of this or that work is beautiful per sé – We could mean beautifully painted, for example. Gabriel makes beauty a point when discussing the whole concept of it in general. Beauty can be found in unconventional ways.

Monsters or hybrids, painted in some classical works are none the less beautiful, he says. He frequently contorts the human figure, adding a limb here or there, or painting hair in the unlikeness of places, in many of his works. Perhaps this is to demonstrate and encourage alternate mixed feeling of beauty or what the viewer would normally find to be a horrible form or human, Gabriel forces you to see as beautiful.

Greek myths

I guess this makes the viewer re-examine preconceived ideas of ‘the beautiful’ with a reluctance yet an unavoidable attraction when looking at one of his paintings. His works are not small in stature either, when you are stood in front of one of his paintings ‘size’ really does matter, as all large paintings tend to carry a greater psychological weight with the viewer of them. He also is greatly interested in Greek myths, but does not try to simulate them in his work, rather it is the ‘stories’ that give him a conceptual view of life.

‘What it’s meaning is and how alternate views of ‘what life is for’ are formed. Gabriel freely admits that at times he over-thinks (intellectualises) his subject matter, but that is not uncommon for artists, especially painters. It’s all part of the process of ‘washing away’ the conscious mind before one begins to paint with an unrestricted, non-bigoted, sublime creative subconscious.

He tells me that he now works more diligently than he has in the past to ensure the work he creates is as perfect as his eye can see it. He will continue working on a painting for several weeks correcting imperfections as he views them. This can be best summed up in his own words which he said to me only a few weeks ago…

…to continue the long line of figurative painting with meaning, to be another ring in the chain. I only have so much time, you know, there is a set amount of possible paintings I can complete in my given lifetime, so it’s appalling.”

The sense of urgency and concern in his tone could trouble some people, however as a fellow painter (and a much older one) I understand the games the mind can play, especially when you feel that you have so much to do and so little time to do it in.

the truth

The truth, as far as I can see it, is that an artist will do exactly the amount of work that the universe requires of him, no more and no less. Although, recently his intentions are to be more joyous, reflected by an approach of playfulness, a freer standpoint and pointedly contemporary (obviously in a classical manner).

Which is good to hear and which, I believe will project him to be highly valued as a painter in the not to distant future, who not only surpasses reality, but does it with pure magical realism.

Denis Taylor Artist and editor of painters TUBES magazine. At Dean Clough Crossley Gallery nest to his paintings Life Begins in Water and Cellular Abstraction #1
The Artist Denis Taylor at the Defining the Elemental Exhibition Dean Clough Yorkshire

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Denis Taylor Artist and Editor of painters TUBES magazine

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