Cristofano Allori once again. Plus it is always nice when someone else explains the artwork to me …
Pieter Schoolwerth’s latest exhibition, ‘Portraits of Paintings’, represented an engagement with historical paintings that took the artist away from his Pop-Surrealist works … towards a more cerebral, deconstructive style that explores the technical and rhetorical aspects of the medium. The works shown at Miguel Abreu Gallery comprised reworkings and studies of European masterpieces from the 17th to 19th centuries by figures such as Jacob van Ruisdael, Gaspari Traversi and Eugène Delacroix. In each, Schoolwerth highlighted issues of materiality, gesture and figure/ground relationships in distinct ways. (1)
Things begin by selecting primarily Dutch and Italian pictures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Schoolwerth at first rigorously traces, and then overlaps the figures from the source image to form a new, single hybridized body. In what could be described as a reverse Cubist effect, in lieu of the articulation of one figure from multiple points of view, what emerges is one chimera-like mass from the superimposition and compression of several. The resulting imaginary ‘figure’ stands in as a depicted ‘portrait of’ the original group … What transpires is a kind of double movement: abstraction followed by re-presentation, or rather extraction and re-incarnation.
In more general terms, all of the ‘Portraits of Paintings’ to date address the subject of making figurative paintings at a time when the physical body has become increasingly unstable in the world. Today’s image of one’s self exists as an amalgam of multiple, contiguous and competing images circulating instantaneously on the various screens of the digital realm. If our current experience of time and space is one of compression, superimposition, extrapolation and multiplication – all four characteristics owing to a certain order of abstraction – then the contemporary body might be considered a direct product of these forces.
In a way, the pictorial operations in the ‘Portraits of Paintings’ methodically reflect, and even refract this pulverized state of things. What distinguishes Schoolwerth’s project, however, what constitutes its element of resistance, lies in the final stages of the painting process, at the precise point when something akin to a new body appears, like a memorial to the flesh and blood body in flux. The delicate question then becomes that of the living Dead. (2)
And here we have a reworking of Cristofano Allori‘s Judith – twice in fact. The trans-gendered version on the left. The geometric version on the right. And in the middle, I’m not sure … but something akin to a new body with one attached and two severed heads. And someone is definitely dead.