Friday, November 21, 2014

Contemporary Art (pt. 5)

Photorealism is similar to Hard-Edge Painting.  In these artworks, the image looks so real that the viewer may very well mistake it for a photograph (hence the name "Photo-realism").  Of the Photorealist painters of the last few decades, Audrey Flack is among the most prolific.  She is known for her photographic-looking still life paintings, and here is one of her more famous ones.  It's titled Marilyn.
This painting appears to be structured and themed similarly to the style of the old Dutch Baroque still lifes which we looked at so long ago.  We are looking at a display, created by the artist, set lavishly with an abundance of objects which all carry the common theme of futility and the transience of glamour—remember the Latin term for that, vanitas?  This is a table surface or some other bench top covered with elaborate linen fabric and decked out with all sorts of items.  There are some traditional objects which we can associate to Dutch vanitas paintings, such as the tipped glass and rotting fruit.  The burning candle and hourglass also indicate the passage of time akin to the usual symbolism of still life artwork, but the artist has also added new objects for a more modern-day context.  Photographs of Marilyn Monroe show the actress as she has aged from childhood to adulthood, and a small stopwatch on the far right reminds us that time is passing quickly.  The calendar at the very top of the painting seems to suggest that the fruit in the painting will go bad; and that the rose, representative of the actress's own beauty, will wilt away in time.  The picture of Monroe faces us, and yet the artist has included an ironic image of her in a mirror to the left, which reveals her with what looks to be curled hair (an optical trick) and a lipstick roller pressed up against her bottom lip.  It's as if even the picture of Marilyn Monroe is looking into the mirror to see a picture of herself.  This is a statement on the vanity and futility of riches and glamour, which Flack paints in vivid and bright colors and startling realism to convey its realistic existence in modern life.  The painting's vanitas theme poignantly comments on the subject, of a Hollywood icon and American sex symbol who tragically died young.  It still bears today, in as much vibrant intensity, the same relevance, considering our contemporary age of movie stars and rock stars and pop culture idols: all "chasing after the wind," as a wise man once wrote.

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