Painting has had a standing tradition beginning with cave paintings and developing through the ages. Probably one of the most radical developments in painting took place during the Modernist period when artists began to reject the notion of realism in favour of abstraction. Towards the end of the Modernist period, artists and intellects began to debate whether or not the medium of painting had been exhausted – in more layman terms, is painting dead? This debate still continues.
Gerhard Richter, a master in his own right has wrestled with this question. Richter explores how images appear to capture “truth” in both abstraction and realism, which usually is less objective than it may appear. By bringing the technological advancements of photography to painting, not only did he open a dialogue between the two discourses but also created a new mode of painting.
Andrew Hemingway whose pastel paintings are currently on view at Mira Godard Gallery (Nov. 25 to Dec. 16), follows in Richter’s tradition of contributing to this painterly debate – whether aware of it or not. Where Richter takes a more philosophical, sceptical view on the notion of images, Hemingway takes a more literal interpretation.
“very, very special ordinary things” are a body of realist “pastel paintings”. Traditionally pastel (which is just pigment and binder) have been used to draft sketches and preliminary drawings for paintings. Here, Hemingway elevates the status of pastel by using it to create his “still lifes”. The realist paintings are so heavily technical that they appear to be photographs, blurring the viewer’s perception – and as Richter, blurring the conceptions of depiction and truth. Hemingway has skewed the perception of reality and painting - creating paintings that look like photographs but are not “traditionally paintings”. Mind games!
The show hints at the artist’s fascination with mundane objects. Through painting the artist extracts beauty from most banal objects (whether that be toilet rolls, bread, paint brushes, cups or empty cans). These objects take precedence in the painting as a religious figure may in a Flemish portrait or Still Life. His technical skills lay a hand in making these objects elegant and elevated.Like Mat Collishaw and his “Death Row Meals” , Hemingway focuses the viewer to look at the beauty in something insignificant. Beauty can be found everywhere.
Still Life: Bread and Bread Rolls depicts three quite ordinary bread rolls. In everyday life, one might not think twice about them. The bread looks airy and light, the paper perfectly crinkled, the background simplistic. Much of his practice has been influenced by Dutch Still Life and Baroque, which relays throughout this body of work.
Still Life: Church Candle Spent and Still Life: Extinguished Candle eerily reflect Richter’s Zwei Kerzen (Two Candles). Both have a timeless appeal to them. There is an ephemeral quality to Hemingway’s candles that one cannot exactly describe in words. They evoke “religious” undertones, which might speak to the artist’s religious beliefs. What could be more fascinating interpretation (especially for us in this secular, postmodern society we live in today) is the fragility of life. A candle burns but it can so easily be put out, there is fragility to this fire, as a small gust of wind or a blow can quickly and unexpectedly put it out. This can be seen as a metaphor of life, something that is here and tangible one day can easily be extinguished the next...