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Old 12-17-2015, 11:52 AM
olive.oyl olive.oyl is offline
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 1,288
Re: The photo-realist as craftsman

This thread reminds me of the doc I just finished watching about Wolfgang Beltracchi. I'm not sure I can be coherent about what the link is here so I babble and try to get there.

Now I don't use the word "genius" that often but I think he really WAS some kind of crazy genius. He didn't have formal art training and yet somehow, he knew how to get "beneath the skin" of the artists he was copying and the paint "flowed" as if he was channeling their spirit or something. He knew where the gaps in their catalog were and targeted the work that might have fallen in those "missing" periods. He knew enough about them personally, and knew what was happening in their lives at the time to tap into believable subject matter. He also knew what was happening in the world (their world) at that time and what materials were being used or not used, and how. He knew how to not only copy their work, and well enough to fool the experts, but knew how to actually expand upon their work with his own "touches" so that in the end, they were often labeled as a "masterpiece." That was all the crazy genius part I think, but equally fascinating was the "craft" part - his craftiness? He collected dust and would sprinkle and pack it down along the inside frame because he said you can "feel" the dirt beneath the surface of an old canvas right there. If he was doing a canvas from 1920, he would search for an old frame from that same period. He'd remove the old paint but if there were splotches or bits he couldn't remove, he'd incorporate them into the work so they'd disappear. He mixed his own paints and used colors that were of the "proper" period. He'd bake (heat) the paintings to speed the drying process, iron the backside, and make sure they had no smell (important, apparently). And then on top of all that, he'd create some believable story of provenance, using props and backdrops and the actual artwork, from photos he would take (and age) himself. All this attention to meticulous detail was pretty impressive.

But then...he eventually gets caught and goes to prison. The actual crime was: if the real artist as well as their real life was not really connected to the work, then it was stripped of any real meaning. It was suddenly no longer considered a real masterpiece but a simple piece of fake decoration. A major downgrade. Today, there might be a market for a Beltracchi (as himself) or as a "Beltracchi-Ernst" (the forgery) but maybe more as a curiosity. It seems his own work is going to forever pale in comparison. And it does I think because he's totally detached from the creative process in terms of digging down to get to something deep and meaningful. There might not be anything there. He admits to this and to his own "pragmatic" nature. It seems he considers his work nothing but a bunch of cynically selected and carefully placed marks that he hopes will appeal to the highest bidder. He won't sell for less than $25K and considereing the tens of millions he made as a forger, and the fact he lost all his assets, he'll have to "settle" for that. And that's about as deep as it goes with him.

So I think I'm saying something about what sits on the surface and what's hidden beneath and the meaning of both. But I have to go on Pinterest now so I can't think any deeper!