Many artists throughout history have attempted to capture motion in figurative narratives, especially in the Baroque era. The tumultuous hunting scenes of Peter Paul Rubens come to mind. In later centuries, painters were more interested in the movement of paint rather than men or animals, and if you want bodies in motion today, that’s what cinema is for. But even filmmakers need to portray a movement that no actor can perform, and so we have computer-generated graphics and motion-capture animation. Electronic sensors are attached to the bodies of actors so that movements can be digitally recorded and then used to present what are essentially animated cartoon characters that appear more natural.
That process is the subject of paintings created over the last decade by Andrew Conklin, who has mastered the mimetic techniques of seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Brush strokes disappear behind a cool, mirror finish, yet his work could hardly be called photorealistic. There’s way too much isolation of selected objects, as well as thoughtful control of line, tone and color. He creates a slow, solemn dance of bodies, fabrics and furnishings across the canvas. It’s an ironic contrast to the fast-moving superhero or science-fiction adventure stories for which motion capture is mostly used. However juvenile these popular, big-budget movies may be, the production of each is a careful, deliberate and highly technological operation. Conklin consistently represents computer technology with an affectionate rendering of the iMac G3, the teardrop outer shell of which marked a high point in desktop product design. It was discontinued more than a decade before these paintings were made—offering its outdated modernism, like its outdated Dutch realism, as yet another irony in Conkin’s project.
“Apollo and Artemis” depicts a young man sitting beside the young woman he is painting. The man with the paintbrush in hand is sharply dressed; the woman wears no clothes at all. The depiction of this artist-model relationship, glorified in the twentieth century by Picasso, dates back at least to Durer’s depiction of an artist using a camera obscura to draw a busty, reclining woman. Conklin was likely thinking about Vermeer’s “Allegory of Painting,” and he does not appear to be challenging its patriarchal implications, where men provide the brains and women provide the bodies. Such a non-critical stance might be forgivable in outsider art, but Conklin has an MFA, and his elegant style establishes him as thoughtful. Apparently, he has chosen to ignore political correctness, and boldly follow his own preferences. One might also note that the nude he painted posing for the painter is fleshy and voluptuous, while the women in tights who work for the animation technicians are more like wooden mannequins.
Another painting included in the exhibition, “Interior with iMac and Venetian Chandelier” makes no reference to artists or technicians at all. It’s a charming, peaceful, comfortable, middle-class interior—much as Vermeer might have painted it, but with furnishings that are, as the title suggests, both contemporary and historic. The architectural space and glowing light in the room seem to be as important to the theme as the clever juxtaposition of a young woman at her iMac, in front of a wall where an absinthe poster depicts a cat reaching into a deep glass bowl. I do wish Conklin would do more such views. His work is so much better when it’s more about aesthetics than technology. (Chris Miller)
“Techno Art” is on view at Gallery Victor Armendariz, 300 West Superior, by appointment only through April 24.