Monday, 12 January 2009

Judith Eisler
Hayward Gallery
14 October 2007

Smoker (Cruel Story of Youth) 2003
Oil on Canvas 147 x 178 cm

Four of her works were exhibited as part of the excellent “The Painting of Modern Life” show at the Hayward Gallery. This was my first opportunity to see her work first hand. She works from film stills taken from the paused video or DVD of a film using this as the starting point for her paintings.

I am particularly interested in this type of appropriation (it is something I use myself) and welcomed the chance to compare her work with the paintings of Johannes Kahrs, who also works with film stills, which were conveniently hung in the same room. In the event I don’t think the location worked in her favour as the very strong Kahrs paintings dominated the space.

Unlike Kahrs she crops the original image down to a section or fragment to pick out a detail and generate a new emotion through her painting.

The painting I have chosen is taken from the Japanese film from 1960, Cruel Story of Youth and although I don’t have the precise film still she has worked from, it gives an idea of her working process.

In fact, the painting is so far removed from the original that unless you know the film and the narrative that it brings, you are able to project your own meaning onto the image. I found this painting the most melancholic of her work on show, an aura associated soley with the image as I wasn’t familiar with the filmic reference. The feeling I had was of isolation and solitude, which had everything to do with the title, the tight crop and the differential focus between the protagonist and the background. I did think of teenage withdrawal from society, but mistakenly thought it was a clip from a James Dean film.

The appearance of her paintings owes a lot to Gerhard Richter but I doubt if they are done in the same way. Her style is much more deliberate and although it appears abstract when viewed close up, it lacks the serendipity that I associate with Richter at his best. The paint is thin and the canvas weave shows, but the surface is too uniform for my taste. I suspect the unusual colour combinations and the strong contrast are connected with the process of photographing the television screen with a digital camera. The scale and aspect of the paintings bears no relation to either the projected cinematic image or a television screen. Nor does her painted surface (in this instance) allude to the flickering of a screen image in the way that Kahrs paintings do.

In conclusion it is not a style of painting that I will try and emulate, as I prefer to try and reference the projected film by keeping my paint very luminous, but the tightness of the crop and the differential focus is interesting and perhaps worth exploring further.

©blackdog 2009

Blackdog Black & White Photography

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