Jill Greenberg, 2015-2018
These are photographs of actual paintings which I make by hand. There is no CGI or Photoshop.
The ”Paintings” series was motivated by a turning-of-the-tables on painters who use found photography as their source material, those who find the need to re-render appropriated photography.
So I set out to make a body of work that commented on this cliche of paintings of photographs. Yet ultimately, as with all of my work, I aim for the work itself to not only have meaning, but also be luscious and compelling, vivid and emotional. I combine acrylic, tempera, oils, and water, usually on a glass painter’s palette. By manipulating the paint with brushes and palette knives, allowing it to dry, adding water back, and rotating the glass to change the reflections, as I capture images remotely from my laptop, each sequential capture is slightly different as the water flows and the pigment dissolves, the surface of the paint reflecting light differently- creating suites of images.
Then, to modulate the lighting, I employ both natural light from my studio skylights as well as studio strobes with soft boxes and hand cut stencils which then cast shapes or words visible in the paint's reflections.
There is very little retouching—primarily cleaning up dust caught in the wet paint. The image data is quite processed via the image capture program : adjusting contrast, hue, sharpness, and utilizing almost every slider for maximal effect. Lately, I have allowed myself more freedom with the post, since it was an arbitrary constraint.
This is a simulacrum of impasto. Lens-based, 100 megapixel paintings. Hand-made and high res.
Process is everything, and do not look like much of anything in real life; the majority of the effect is lighting, reflection, and image processing. Many have been upset that I toss the painting used to make these images, that I wash away the original, but this painting, once dry and without all the punched up contrast, looks nothing like the final works. The value of the destroyed paintings still haunts the confused audience who feels that painting is the fairest form of art in the land. But one would not save a moldy bowl of fruit or rotting flowers that were painted as a still life. Here, the photograph is the culmination of the work, the new medium made with mastery of both light and paint, time and the hand, not a mere painting.
The handmade mark was something I truly missed and had been trying to bring back into my work for many many years, I had experimented in all sorts of ways with painting on prints, photographing paint in daylight when I lived in LA, but it was the latticed almost fractal-looking reflections in the wet paint from my Chelsea skylights that allowed for this breakthrough. I work for hours straight, the changing light and clouds affects the image and I adjust my camera exposure to the painting, I love it so much. The best part is that I can add a mark and not be afraid to ruin the painting, since I have already captured it as a photograph.
Featured Exhibition in Scotiabank Contact Photo Festival 2016
Essay by Erin Saunders for Bau-Xi Photo Gallery, 2015
Bau‐Xi Photo is pleased to present “Paintings,” a bold new series by acclaimed photographer Jill Greenberg. Known internationally for her playful portraits, signature lighting and post‐production techniques, Greenberg now experiments with painting as her photographic subject, a venture that radically challenges ideas about medium, process, and originality. These “Paintings” are single‐edition archival ink prints that study the interaction of light and painted surface: high gloss, still‐wet smears of gouache ooze; brushstrokes are blown up to reveal multi‐dimensional colours mixing over the palette. The final photograph—made unique by Greenberg’s destruction of the initial painting—flattens the surface, crops its organic spread, and magnifies its properties. Greenberg’s images are intense visual stimuli that seem to push paint to its absolute limit as it begins to verge on the surreal—all that is missing in the finished product is the paint itself. “Paintings” are engrossing images that at once indulge and deny our senses, provocative surfaces in which paint and photography are each other’s muse.
Jill Greenberg’s recent series “Paintings” has regularly been described as the artist’s return to the medium with which she began her studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1980s. But “return” may be too simple a term. Indeed, “Paintings” might be seen as an extension—even a culmination—of the acclaimed artist’s experimental photographic practice, one that profoundly unsettles expectations about medium, process, and authenticity.
Whereas art history once grappled with the questions of what painting could offer photography beyond the promise of imitation, Greenberg’s images insist on a kind of reversal: what does photography offer painting? Even more, in what way does each medium extend the other’s limits? Greenberg’s career has certainly explored these boundaries in her accomplished commercial career, in which post‐production techniques—now celebrated and widely emulated—feature heavily.
For “Paintings,” Greenberg begins her process by applying a range of paint types to a glass palette, manipulating both dry and wet pigments to create dynamic surfaces of pure colour and texture. She then photographs these painted experiments under both natural and artificial light sources, sometimes using stencils that reflect words and shapes onto the surface. The process is a paring down of both media to their essential elements: mixing and blending on the artist’s palette meets the process of filtering and directing light. Once her image is captured, Greenberg discards the painting, effectively eliminating—but also complicating—the notions of subject and source.
The result is a large format art object—an archival inkjet print, sometimes on printed on and stretched on canvas—that reveals stunning chromatic dimensions and dramatic range of consistency in Greenberg’s initial painting, while also depending fully on the almost fetishized finish that the camera provides. The artist’s lighting techniques capture the high gloss of a still wet smear of gouache in provocative displays of texture and tactility; at the same time, the photographic layer flattens the painted surface, cleanly crops its organic spread, and magnifies its properties to hyper‐realistic effect.
Greenberg’s “Paintings” lend the reproducibility of photography to the perceived uniqueness of painting, while also denying this same reproducibility by creating unique, single‐edition art objects. The process is a sophisticated comment on how the myth of authenticity struggles to coexist with the essential construct of commercial copyright. “Paintings” are not paintings, nor are they photographs: they are moments of painting—studies of visual material under highly controlled of conditions; they are vehicles for photography—surfaces for experiments of light. In many ways, this collapsing of media is not a return to painting so much as it is a departure from art historical terminology altogether. Greenberg’s images radically call into question the hierarchy of media that has described artist practice since the mid‐1800s, and incite new questions about the ways we consume and interpret visual information: has Greenberg rendered all painting site‐specific; has she re‐inscribed photography with aura? The anxiety that comes with such questions are aptly represented by the scare quotes on either side of the series title; “Paintings” is a placeholder for something else, something new, something we cannot yet put words to.