When the art world learned of the invention of photography in the mid 19th century many statements were made which prophesied the doomed fate of painting, none more memorable than Paul Delaroche’s aphorism “from today painting is dead”. With the luxury of hindsight we can reflect on the prematurity of such alarmist claims, yet to this day it remains curious to see the results when artists employ both painting and photography in their work. Swiss born Liliane Tomasko is one such artist. Advancing the possibilities of still life painting into a new domain, Tomasko constructs still life arrangements from various materials such as paper bags and fragments of windows photographing them with a Polaroid camera and then creating paintings based on the images.
This process has been adopted for each of the six large canvases, five graphite pieces and ten smaller watercolour works which constitute the current display at the Kerlin Gallery in Dublin. Although the works lack any discernible form from life, by virtue of the fact they are based on photographs, they do not ascribe to the purposeful eschewal of reference to reality which typifies abstract art. The macro focus of the initial shot decontextualises the still life allowing it to take on a new expression and meaning. This hyper close viewpoint distinct from that permitted by the human eye transforms the once tangible object into a larger metamorphosis of form. We see the undefined and hazy quality of the photographic blur transposed onto the canvas; this is especially evident in the larger works where the merging colours create a kind of optical illusion, the indistinct elements seeming to move before our eyes.
It is said that the camera never lies, that it captures detail with unequivocal accuracy. However photography is really no exception to the subjectivity which is inherent in other mediums. By mere choice of composition the photograph becomes a subjective construct of the artist and Tomasko’s tightly cropped examinations underscore this very fact. We could expand upon the artist’s process and suggest that the exhibition itself addresses wider issues such as the changing nature of meaning and the slippery lines between factuality and fallacy, yet it seems that more theoretical interpretations should come secondary to the make up of the works themselves. Indeed to give undue emphasis to an overarching “meaning” would be to undervalue the more pronounced success of the works, that being, their painterly prowess.
Tomako’s work seems to reaffirm those elements which give painting its uniqueness among other mediums – its material reality. The paint modulations, sometimes smooth and luscious sometimes thickly applied and textured remind the viewer of the innate qualities of paint itself, qualities which are easily forgotten amidst the ever-increasing variety of mediums adopted by artists today. Subtle gradations of colour reveal Tomasko’s mastery of mixing and general fluidity with oils. The works reveal a rich palette in which deep purples feature heavily, velvety colours seeming to emerge from a deeper darker background and in this way echo the exhibition title itself. This darkened backdrop imbues some works with a penetrating depth, the viewer becoming lost in the changing hues and intriguing recesses of colour.
In a time when so much critical theory surrounds the continuing relevance of painting to contemporary art practice it’s truly refreshing to encounter an artist who unabashedly embraces the medium. Her paintings are indifferent to the alleged historically embedded status of painting, they are sincere and exude a love for painting in all its supposed simplicity and sheer potential.
The public can often dismiss abstract art as inaccessible, indeed Tomasko’s husband, the renowned Irish painter Sean Scully is no stranger to such criticisms. Incidentally Scully’s Wall of Light Orange Yellow has been nominated on a television program currently running in Ireland which allows people to vote for their favourite painting. In general, the public response to his inclusion has been at best resigned bemusement and at worst downright hostility. However if Scully’s paintings are sometimes criticised for being cold and obsessively repetitive the same cannot be said of Tomasko’s. Her works are intimate and boast a level of engagement frequently absent in abstract art. If Scully mastered the inorganic shape of the rectangle, Tomasko masters the organic shapes of magnified life and if Scully’s oeuvre in its imposing scale and rigorous uniformity is almost masculine, it finds its feminine counterpart in Tomasko’s pieces which are lyrical and mystic seducing the viewer into a world of visual reveries.
Liliane Tomasko: Deeper Dark, 20-04-2012 until 26-05-2012, Kerlin Gallery, Anne’s Lane, South Anne Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. www.kerlin.ie
1. Installation views, Deeper Dark, at Kerlin Gallery, Dublin, April/May 2012
2. Liliane Tomasko The Melting (2012)
3. Liliane Tomasko Blue Rising (2012)
4. Liliane Tomasko Deep in Shade (2011)
Text: Sarah Allen