Jill Greenberg, 2016
The ”Paintings” series is, in some part, motivated by a turning-of-the-tables on painters who use photography as their source material, those who find the need to re-render “found” photography. This casual and institutionalized disrespect of the original author, the photographer, has become so entrenched that even photographers themselves are buying into image appropriation as a way of making art. This is important and personal to me since my photography has been stolen or copied with an absurd frequency. The work which people are asking to "transform" are not merely snapshots but have been set up and lit painstakingly, then hand painted digitally. I am pinged almost daily with these requests- for my work to be used as source material, for someone else's work. As if due the fact that they are merely photographs deems them fair game to be turned into that highest of art forms: painting.
So I set out to make a body of work that commented on this trope of paintings of photographs but ultimately, as with all of my work, have combined it with my deep engagement with making luscious and compelling, vivid images. I combine acrylic, tempera, oils, and water on various surfaces like linen and paper, but primarily a glass painter’s palette. I manipulate the paint using brushes and palette knives, allowing it to dry, adding water back, and rotating the glass to change the reflections. To create the lighting, I use both natural light from my studio skylight as well as strobes with soft boxes and hand cut stencils which cast shapes or words visible in the paint's reflections. While there is almost no retouching—except for cleaning up dust caught in the wet paint—the image data is quite processed in the image capture program. I adjust contrast, hue, sharpness, and utilize almost every slider for maximal effect.
A simulacra of impasto. Lens-based, 80 or 100 megapixel paintings. Hand-made and high res.
They are time-based paintings and do not look like much of anything in “real life;” the majority of the effect is lighting and reflection, and image processing. Many have been upset that I toss the raw materials used to make these images, that I wash away the original “painting,” but the 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. One would not save a moldy bowl of fruit or rotting flowers that were painted as a still life. The photograph is the culmination of the work here, the new medium made with mastery of both light and paint, time and the hand, not a mere painting.
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 inkjet 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.