Fiona Greenhill
Distant Lights – Art Month

14 March – 1 April 2012

Tim Olsen Gallery Annex

 Why the Baroque, now?

It has been said that the late twentieth / early twenty-first centuries have witnessed the re-surfacing of the Baroque.  As such, these recent works respond to the uncertainties and anxieties particular to painting in the digital age through the adoption of an increasingly Baroque aesthetic.  Writing in 1987, the Italian Semiologist, Omar Calabrese, identified the defining feature of the aesthetic of mass culture in an epoch ‘so confused, fragmented and indecipherable’, with a prevailing taste he termed ‘Neo-Baroque’.  Since his work numerous scholars have increasingly drawn parallels between the historic Baroque of the seventeenth century and the Neo-Baroque of the present.  The Neo-Baroque is not a return to the historic Baroque, nor is it strictly speaking an homogenous or identifiable ‘style’.  It is more a sensibility characterised by a propensity for instability, kitsch, dazzling colour, ornamentation, virtuosity and pop-culture theatrics. 

In the late 1990s, I first started painting small scale pictures from photos, mostly using a macro lens, that I took whilst driving through the city.  This strategy helped curtail my ability to consciously compose, in order to produce images that were less ‘planned’, and that had an element of surprise.  It has always been important to devise a plan and to follow it through rather than subscribe to the heroic ideals of waiting for inspiration in front of a blank canvas.  Whilst the recent work is a natural progression from these earlier paintings, the work is more ambitious in scale and encompasses a more diverse range of subjects. 

The major theme throughout my work has always been the perennial problem of representation: where to draw the line between ‘real life’ and ‘art’, illusion and abstraction, transcription and composition.  Although we tend to view this question as a peculiarly modern one, the problematic relationship between illusion and reality originates from ancient debates and was one that dominated the art of the seventeenth century as much as it pre-occupies the art of our own time.  As such, I am interested in a wide range of painters whose works have incorporated aspects of the pictorial mode evident in lens-based images, be it Vermeer and his lesser known contemporary, Willem Kalf in the seventeenth century, seminal artists from the sixties to the present, such as Gerhard Richter, Ed Ruscha, Johannes Kahrs and Judith Eisler, to name only a few.  Though these artists represent a diverse stylistic range, it could be suggested that they universally adopt what might broadly be seen as a more ‘impersonal’ style of painting in response to a universal dilemma: where does art situate itself between the world and our perception of it?

Using photographs as the starting point, the process always starts with a detailed line drawing that somewhat perversely turns a fuzzy, indistinct image into a crisply focussed geometric pattern.  This is further developed and elaborated by a tonal underpainting (grisaille) that is then finally built up in layers through applications of colour by a mixture of glazing, scumbling and direct painting. 

I strive to paint in a style more suggestive than descriptive, paying attention to the broad mass of forms against the circumscribing illustrative nature of line.  Concentrating attention on the envelope of forms rather than a descriptive linear representation, markedly flattens some areas and creates a patterned effect of strangely disembodied shapes of light, shade and colour.  Through the work I intend to ‘unmake’ the image so that elements blend together visually when seen at a distance, but disperse into an unintelligible abstract mosaic upon closer scrutiny. This process dismembers the three-dimensional illusion of pictorial space and creates an inbuilt tension between order and chaos in which the image continually oscillates between illusion and the abstract surface arrangement of light and shade.

Fiona Greenhill Distant Lights – Art Month