STONEBREAKERS: IN CONVERSATION (PT I)

In concurrence with LAUNCH F18’s online viewing room, Stonebreakers, Marissa Graziano prompted the group of seventeen artists who are featured within the exhibition to answer one of four questions in dialogue with Gustave Courbet. Their responses offer a thoughtful insight into each of their studio practices and highlight the differing aspects of their work in relation to contemporary realism.

Gustave Courbet challenged historical paintings' depiction of grandiose narratives against his mundane portrayals of unidealized peasants and workers set on a monumental scale typically reserved for the former. How do you use scale as an intentional tool within your practice? 

Emily Eveleth: You can accuse Gustav Courbet of being many things, but conventional is not one of them. One could look at Stone Breakers from 1849 and note how the painting is executed much in the same way as his contemporaries. Except, of course, the subject. His brilliant move here is an inversion.

Instead of showing us militarily, politically, and socially important people he gives us peasants on the same scale as the former therefore raising them to the same status. The inversion is in choosing the subject. 

Similarly, in the doughnut series I think about subverting the expected with subject and scale. This can happen in two ways. The first by taking an object ordinarily associated with still life and presenting it on a monumental canvas. This shifts it to a different genre. And second, as with Courbet, there is attention to how the subject is framed within the painting. With the doughnut paintings the placement, the cropping, and the size of the objects within the space are all chosen with an eye towards grandness and heroic depiction as they are in formal portraiture. In Stone Breakers Courbet makes the scale of the figures the focus. They are huge, right up front, not off in a field somewhere, subsumed by a bucolic landscape. They, as in the doughnut paintings, are the largest forms, the closest, and cannot be ignored. 

Using scale in these ways becomes an ambition to make a painting so complex it’s not easy to explain and so simple you cannot forget it.

Claudia Keep: Similarly to the example of Courbet, in my two paintings included in Stonebreakers of a moth in a bush and a spider weaving a web, I use a slightly larger than life scale to create emphasis and lend gravity to a subject often overlooked. Scale also functions in my work to describe the viewer’s position in the world of the painting. In my two paintings, I use scale to create a sense of intimacy—the viewer is positioned just inches away from the subject. Though the two paintings both depict out-door scenes, the scale is perhaps more similar to that of portraiture than to the vistas and deep perspective common of traditional landscape painting. The level of detail allowed by the larger than life scale invites close examination of the subject.

Claudia Keep. Evening Shift, 2021. Oil on panel. 8 x 10 in (20.32 x 25.4 cm)

When the Realism movement first began in the mid-19th century, artists used color as a way to further criticize Romanticism. Somber earth toned palettes were used to combat the beauty and idealization of life commonly portrayed. How do you view the temporal components of color as an ever shifting way to reflect modern life?

​​Andrej Dubravsky: At the moment, I am totally obsessed with a red paint that I bought, almost accidentally, at the village in August. It's a big can of bright, kind of silly, basic acrylic red paint. I think it totally changed my current work. I'm trying to choose very simple compositions, get rid of as many details as possible, and just let the red color shine and scream to the viewer. I think the colors we (painters) choose reflect modern life subconsciously.

Andy Mister: I think about color a lot in relation to trends in design and marketing; the way that some colors or tones come in and out of style. I rely on a lot of those associations of certain colors with a specific mood or feeling -- much in the same way that advertising does. A lot of the inspiration for my work aesthetically comes from book cover and album designs especially from the '70s and '80s. In my own work I try to blur the line between design and fine art.

Committed to painting only what he could see, Courbet’s paintings capture the faithful representation of people and situations with truth and accuracy. I’m curious how the history of Realism unfolds in the rendering of your subjects.

Chason Matthams: I tend to be drawn to work that shifts in meaning each time you approach it, like returning to a favorite book years later to experience it in a new light. It is interesting to me that within realism an artist might render an utterly banal subject, but with the passing of time and context it edges up to the surreal.

Cindy Rizza: My work centers on everyday domestic objects we use to create a sense of security- their utilitarian and decorative functions acting to create a sanctuary. Like Courbet, I use realism to honestly render these objects as a way to relish in the articles themselves-rendering their form in detail- showing the wear and tear as one intimately connected would understand. However, contrary to genre paintings, my still lives are formally composed and become something more than just what they are- becoming items for worship and obsession. Presenting my subjects in a truthful and isolated way may lead to conflicting feelings- it may summon a warm memory and a sense of foreboding at the same time. It may lead to questions about whether we are ever secure or in control. My painting process of examining and skillfully rendering also echoes this attachment to things and borders on neurosis.

 

 

Emily Eveleth. The Castle at the End of Love. 2021. Oil on panel, 26 x 18 in (66 x 45.7 cm)

The depiction of nature remains a fervent subject among artists throughout centuries. While Realists insisted on the steadfast approach of observation, perceptual painting has emerged in contemporary art as an alternative interpretation of what we see. Within your practice, how do you construct your visual response to landscape?


Aaron Skolnick: My interest in depicting nature and my attraction to the everyday/immediate moments from my life comes from me being a caregiver to my late partner, Louis. Capturing Louis on his deathbed in drawings made me realize the power of the everyday, how we communicate an immediate response to our surroundings and the emotional/ psychological aspects of that. Being from a rural area, nature has always been a part of my life and investigating it as a subject matter was natural progression. Nature always wins in capturing/creating beauty. I am very interested in providing the tender moments I find on my walks and time spent in nature, where I plein air paint.

 

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For more information and to view Stonebreakers please visit launchf18.com/stonebreakers