Many artists, and especially painters, will at some stage in their career explore the challenge of creating a still life. Historically used as an exercise to accurately represent light, different textures and perspective, still lifes proved an easy way to gauge a painter’s level of expertise. With the arrival of less figurative or skill based art movements, still lifes increasingly became artworks in their own right.
Depicting the inanimate has appealed to the greats of the last century, from the cubists to the conceptualists to the YBA’s and the, sadly, late Lucien Freud. The beauty of this extensive range of still lifes is the diversity; so many different interpretations of reality, made visible through experiments with mediums beyond the traditional oil paint.
There is something brilliant about the wild adaptations of still lifes, see for extremes Sam Taylor-Wood’s videos and installations and Mat Collishaw’s fantastic Last Meal on Death Row series. Somehow I found it however intriguing to find these perfectly executed versions of old-fashioned oil paintings, picturing lifeless objects as if they had not moved or changed for the last three hundred years.
The talented Roman Reisinger (b. Amsterdam, 1970) decided seven years ago to dedicate himself to painting and goes in his artistic practice back to the glory days of the still life, adopting a style used in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Low Countries. Especially stunning are his darker works, with his objects of choice set off against a dense, black background.
Using subjects popular in the olden days, like a lemon, an hourglass or a skull, (Still Life with Hour Glass, 2011 and Vanitas, 2010) Reisinger’s work does lack the documentary nature of the 16th century still life. His work does not say anything about contemporary culture; only once or twice does he throw in something, like a little Dumbo-like elephant in Still Life with Bread and Chocolate Chips, 2010, that vaguely relates to this day in age.
It could make his work potentially more interesting to contemporary art collectors if he did decide to document the now, although I can see why he would be more fascinated by these classical compositions as they, with their allegorical meanings and their pots and pans with cracks and dents, fit the medium of realist oil painting like a glove. They also correlate with a, in my opinion, quite common yearning for real, authentic, aesthetic beauty that one finds in simple things like a few garlic bulbs on an old wooden table.
It’s a nice contrast, if nothing else.