• In and Out of History

    Date posted: December 5, 2008 Author: jolanta
    My work derives from propaganda and other ideological sources. Since the late 1980s, I have made paintings and drawings based on images archived from advertisements, posters, “fine art” photographs, and tourist ephemera published under political movements ranging from the mid-1930s Nazi, WPA, and Stalinist “Five-Year Plan” tracts to current military recruiting and corporate Web-based “motivational” materials. In my last show, One Picture and the Next Three, I re-represented four photographs from the late 1940s as oil paintings, continuing a strategy of severing historical images from their original contexts. The paintings were sourced from a compilation by photojournalist David Douglas Duncan called Yankee Nomad. Image

    Lawrence Gipe

    Image
    Lawrence Gipe, U.S.S.R.,1930 (Factory), 2007. Oil on canvas, 72 x 56 feet. Courtesy of the artist.

    My work derives from propaganda and other ideological sources. Since the late 1980s, I have made paintings and drawings based on images archived from advertisements, posters, “fine art” photographs, and tourist ephemera published under political movements ranging from the mid-1930s Nazi, WPA, and Stalinist “Five-Year Plan” tracts to current military recruiting and corporate Web-based “motivational” materials.

    In my last show, One Picture and the Next Three, I re-represented four photographs from the late 1940s as oil paintings, continuing a strategy of severing historical images from their original contexts. The paintings were sourced from a compilation by photojournalist David Douglas Duncan called Yankee Nomad. Duncan is famous for his association with Picasso in the 50s. His lesser-known journalistic corpus for Life Magazine from 1945 to 1949 was a sweeping document of Europe, the Middle East, and Indonesia in transition just after World War II. In the narrative sections of Yankee Nomad, Duncan cast himself as a jaunty American witnessing the final gasps of the old British and French colonial powers dissolving while the United States simultaneously prepared to step into the role of dominant world power.

    In the context of the gallery or museum, I eschew personal statements and lengthy explanations of the work, preferring to use simple titles that clue in the viewer to the origin and date of the original source photo, for example, U.S.S.R., 1930. This strategy cultivates “what art historian Ernst Gombrich once called ‘the beholder’s share,’” writes Ann Compton, in her Art in America review of One Picture and the Next Three in May 2007. “This is intended…to highlight the malleability or, in Gipe’s words, ‘the amorality” of art.’” At first glance, the paintings rarely belie their often-sinister backgrounds. “Gipe’s method of appropriation emphasizes the distance between the ‘objective’ lens of the photographer and the ‘subjective’ act of painting,” Compton continues. “By reworking small black-and-white photographs on canvas, brushstroke by brushstroke, he invests the image with a new grandeur, craftsmanship, and chromatic appeal.”

    In the end, I’m interested in exploring the “wonderful/horrible” dichotomy that authoritarian images can create. For the past 20 years, every picture I’ve used to make a painting was culled from an archive of over 6,000 images—what I call the “irredeemable pool.” These photographs, tainted and compromised by their contexts, become the stuff of paintings intended to be seductive and provocative.

     

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