My name is Ronosaurus Rex, and I am an Instrgramaddict. “Interested in painterly photographs,” read my profile previously. By “painterly,” I mostly mean modern art, from the Impressionists onward.
In comments, viewers sometimes name the artist whose paintings my photos resemble (“Picasso!”). I realized I should have acknowledged the inspirations myself. This post gives credit to some of the modern artists who have influenced my photos. Here I will cover figurative art, paintings with recognizable images. I will look at non-figurative, abstract paintings in a companion post: Abstract Art Reinterpreted in Photography.
But first, a bit of art history. The camera, critics have argued, freed the artist from the responsibility of representing the world realistically in art. If a person wanted an accurate portrait or landscape, he could hire a photographer. Consequently, since the 1860s, painters have tried to represent things that the camera could not easily capture, such as an impression, an experience, a feeling, a movement, light, even the passage of time. Ironically, some photographers, like me, trespass into the painter’s realm to capture these elements that seem exclusive to painting.
Modern art arose in part as a reaction against romanticism (end of the 18th century to approximately 1850), an artistic movement whose dark passions are represented here by Caspar David Friedrich’s Abbey Under Oak Trees. I definitely had Friedrich’s painting in mind when I took my photo of the ruined Werner Chapel from Bacharach Germany on the Rhine.
The first modernist art movement, Impressionism (1860s – 1890s), attempted to capture an artist’s impression of a scene, its mood, and its changing light. The art critic Louis Leroy gave the movement its name in a satirical critique, after a painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926) called Impression, Sunrise (1872). To the left you can see Monet’s painting Cliff Near Pourville (1882). I achieve similar effects to the Impressionists by taking pictures through warped or misted glass, as in my photo Sutro Baths through Foggy Glass. Lines are softened and colors are blurred, creating a moody impression of the scene, rather than a realistic depiction.
Post-Impressionism (1886-1905), championed by such artists as Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh, took the innovations of the Impressionists further, exaggerating color and line. Cézanne (1839-1906) broke up images into patches of color, into shapes. My Selfie through Shower Door owes a great deal to Cézanne.
The Fauvists (1904-1909) were called “wild beasts” by another disgruntled critic for their outrageous use of color, as they began to move beyond what the eye could see to create images that were not limited to the reality before them. Compare the famous The Green Stripe (1905) by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), which is a portrait of his wife, with my portrait of my husband Omar at the Maker’s Fair.
Expressionism (1905-1930) broke ties with objective reality to present subjective experience, warping the image dramatically to achieve powerful emotional effects. Compare Self Portrait with a Raised Bare Shoulder (1912) by Egon-Schiele (1890-1918) with my Expressionist Selfies in a Beer. Visual effects are similar, but the mood is different. After all, I am more of a post-modernist than a modernist, borrowing from previous art movements, but overlaying it all with humor.
Cubists (1907-1914) went further yet, building upon the innovations of their predecessors, especially Cézanne. Splotches of color became shards of images. A major innovation was the simultaneous presentation of multiple perspectives, as in the painting by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Portrait of Ambrose Vollard (1910). Vollard was a famous art dealer. I fragmented my self-portrait and included multiple perspectives by taking a Selfie in a Mirror Mosaic.
Futurism (1910-193), which orginated in Italy with artists like Umberto Boccioni and Carlo Carrà, captured movement in painting. Michel Duchamp (1887-1968) was generally associated with Dadaism and conceptual art; his famous painting Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) was not exactly a Futurist painting, but the the painting was influenced by Futurism. He not only captured his subject from different perspectives, he also showed the figure moving through space and time. My photo Momi Toby’s through Ridged Glass does not show passage through time, but it does fragment and blend space in a vertical rhythm similar to Duchamp’s painting. The framed picture, for example, appears to the right as only a slice of a picture with the righthand frame. The next piece has the frame and the full picture, but not the lefthand frame. The next slice includes the full picture, and so on.
Paul Klee (1879-1940) continued the modernist trend toward abstraction. Klee is harder to categorize, but was influenced by the Expressionists, Cubists, Surrealists, and Orientalists. In his painting Bust of a Child (1922), we can see the child-like simplification of the human form. Compare his painting to my photo Pilgrim Woman. As I was walking one day, I recognized a naive portrait of a pilgrim, which was akin to Klee’s paintings. In other words, Klee taught me how to recognize and appreciate this simple portrait.
Abstract Expressionism (1940s), the first American art movement to achieve international acclaim, putting New York at the center of the art world, continued to push art away from accurate representation. Most Abstract Expressionist paintings were truly abstract art, in the sense that they are non-representative, having no figure or form. Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), however, did represent figures in his art but in a even more distorted form to capture mood. Compare his painting Woman (1950) to my photo Apparition, a face I saw in the remnants of a torn sticker. My photo has similar approach to form, mood and color.
Jasper Johns, Jr. (1930- ) is often called a Neo-Dadaist rather than a pop-artists. Although he incorporated figures from pop culture, including flags, numbers, letters, and targets, his canvases were more painterly than those of the pop artist, who prefer more flat colors. Compare his Figure 8 (1959) with my Number 6, which was a number on the side of buoy at the San Pablo Yacht Club. You can see barnacles in the number. Johns taught me to appreciate the shape of numbers and the joyous play of colors.
As you can see, modern art has had an impact on my photographs. These painters have taught me to see the world more richly, and I have tried to translate some of their vision into photography. What about you? Which painters have influenced your photography?
(Follow Ronosaurus Rex on Instagram. See and read more about his photos in Photo versus Metaphoto: Ronosaurus and Omarrr on Instagram and Reading the City as Text: San Francisco’s Urban Landscape. Check out his abstract photos in the book #abstract.)