I have always had a fondness for academic painting. In this series I explore mythology and allegory, drawing attention to them as they have been represented both in painting and society at large by placing elements of historical tradition in unfamiliar contemporary contexts. This is the first work from a series that I am now developing.
A lie is an untruth you tell others; a myth is an untruth you tell yourself. Paintings are lies we accept as truth.
I often reference historical painting themes and styles in order to throw into relief western tropes in figurative art. Certain conventions reoccur with such regularity throughout history that they can be seen as cultural memes that cut across religious, mythical, and secular themes. Other conventions are closely linked to a particular time and place. Mythology and allegory are artistic contrivances that act as mirrors, reflecting ideals and social mores throughout history. It’s still going on. Google any god or goddess and along with historical art up pops contemporary illustrations reflecting the cultural tropes of today.
In Myths and Lies I’m adopting a kind of “non-idealized idealism.” Mythology and allegory are the launching pads for these paintings, but a variety of topics, including notions of beauty and gender, are the actual content. My mythical figures are real people, friends and acquaintances who volunteer as subjects. The process is a collaborative one in which the models bring props and “costumes” they select to my studio and then help invent poses. In dressing, undressing, and posing, the subjects express veiled aspects of themselves and their personalities. I usually have no idea at this point what I’m aiming for. I take hundreds of pictures and later retrofit selected images, which are manipulated in Photoshop, to contemporized allegorical or mythical themes, which are then painted. I aim for disjointed narratives that exist somewhere between the sacred and profane, the mystical and the comical, the historical and the new. My painting technique reflects my appreciation for faithful representation—I particularly like odd shadowing—but there are spatial and stylistic contradictions that belie any truth of the painted image.
I’ve always had a soft spot for academic painting, its clichéd idealism, formulaic standards, use of mythology and allegory to justify the nude, basically all the things the realists and impressionists rebelled against. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus is a favorite that I’ve previously “quoted” in my work precisely because of its in-your-face eroticism and cheerful inanity. It’s exactly the sort of art Manet was challenging when he painted his then-radical Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, a breathtaking accomplishment for sure, but the death knell of academic art.