MOMENTS IN TIME
American Art Collector|January 2021
COLLECTOR'S FOCUS STILL LIFES
JOHN O’HERN

The Egyptians depicted funerary paintings of food in the 15 th century BCE. The tradition of still life painting reached a height in the Dutch Golden Age between 1575 and 1675, with extraordinarily realistic, dramatic and heavily symbolic paintings of abundance. Among them, vanitas paintings contained a skull alluding to the ephemeral nature of it all.

The tradition of still lifes continues today unburdened of universally accepted symbolism and open to the visceral inspiration of artists that resonates on a more personal level with the viewer.

Frank Oriti first came to fame painting portraits of his peers who had left their native Cleveland and “returned to places we attempted to escape.” He has moved “beyond portraits and figure paintings in the last five years, painting denim, leather jackets and sneakers that have all made me realize how I look and how I study things when I go about painting them. Making sure they are centrally placed, being able to control soft and hard edges, and the overall form that these objects take are all worthy of close inspection during the painting process.”

Banned features one red and black, iconic Air Jordan, front and center with no context and no modulating shadows. He paints the materials themselves, commenting, “I wanted full attention on the object so that the viewer has to confront the material and all of the rips and tears and faded details. Painting sneakers has opened things up in regards to painting with a wider range of color as well as teaching myself to paint new and interesting materials.” He reaches a high level of verisimilitude in ways that Golden Age painters would be comfortable with and others they never thought of. Oriti explains, “Depending on what specific material I am painting—sometimes I build the form with thick paint and scratch into it. Sometimes I work in very thin layers of glaze. Other times I put paint down, partially wipe it away, and then paint back into it—whatever it takes to bring these objects to life.”

Jon Doran brings traditional still life into a world in which we see differently. We became accustomed to depth of field through photography and now experience the digital breaking up of images into pixels. Doran paints lush, painterly, representational still lifes that challenge our perception.

“Hopefully,” he explains, “viewers find themselves bouncing between engaging with the subject, the cup or floral arrangement, for example, and the actual substance of paint, the streaks, dashes and marks. Almost like breaking the fourth wall, I hope to coax the eye into believing the play of light on form, but then call it out and show that it’s just paint on a surface.’

Roses and Shade delights with its soft petals and glossy leaves. Doran interrupts the calmness of the composition with a streak extending vertically from beneath the vase up through the stems and shadows of the roses and off into the background. It becomes part of the composition but exists on the surface not within his illusion of depth.

Clive Smith won the prestigious BP Portrait Award at London’s National Portrait Gallery in 1999. At the time, I acquired one of his portraits for the collection of the Arnot Art Museum. Since that time, he has reinvented himself several times, commenting more often on species extinction, consumer culture and, at one point, imagining himself “a biotech florist.” He comments on the unreality of the Golden Age still lifes in which plants appeared to be in bloom at the same time although they never were in nature. In The Von Humboldt, sweet peas, orchids and chrysanthemums bloom off the same stem. The setting at first appears to be a shelf against a wall but the shadows fall off into a nebulous space that echoes the mysterious and threatening shadows of the earlier Dutch still lifes.

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