In creating a jaw-dropping, hyper-plastic universe that lures viewers into a territory where conventional painting merges with modern technology and tools, Cesar Piette nurtures and maintains respect for classical art traditions. As he completely removes brush marks from the surface of his paintings, insists on smiling sitters, and offers his sketches, actual digital files, as NFT originals, Piette pushes the established medium and its hierarchies into new heights, or as the more conservative among us might argue, way down to some clever new lows.
Sasa Bogojev: When we spoke the first time a few years back, you mentioned trying to make “the worst painting” that you could, and this resulted in your current style. Please elaborate on what that painting included or excluded.
Cesar Piette: I do believe that my works tackle the idea of what an acceptable painting should be. If I had to describe them, I would say that they are color-saturated, illusionistic, without marks or textures, flat, cartoony, non-narrative, and self-referential. Presented like this it sounds a bit scary, and it’s not the archetype of paintings we expect. I can’t develop each point, but to me, the two most disturbing points are the absence of marks on one hand, and the cute imagery on another.
The effect I get with an airbrush is really sleek, cold, clean, and illusory, so it can be difficult to get into. You can paint with an airbrush and feel the material of the paint much more, but in my work, you’ve got almost nothing. The diverse attempts made by previous painters are highly associated with traces of authorship as if their activity has been recorded on the surface.
And, on the other hand, the cute imagery is way too much for true lovers and connoisseurs of painting. Cuteness telescoped with such traditional concerns can be hard to handle. Even if a lot has been done since the last century to diversify imagery, this is unbearable for a lot of people.
The smiles really emphasize your point. Of course, smiles increase this high and low effect. Smiles are pretty rare in the history of painting. And we can easily understand why—they don’t make things appear serious. If you want to reach a high moral value impact, it’s difficult to make the characters smile. A painting by Jacques-Louis David with smiling characters would be quite weird.
Also, I found it interesting to learn that one possible reason why smiles are pretty rare in the tradition of portraits was that dental health was so bad in past centuries that a lot of people had bad teeth. So a smile would allow for brownish teeth or missing teeth to appear, which would be pretty unaesthetic. And that’s why I usually do only a few teeth.
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