Reading the Medium
Expert connoisseurship in the arts involves developing a discerning eye for variables such as condition, content, style and technique. An important aspect of this practice is learning how to read artistic mediums which are often an excellent access point to learning and understanding the content, visual language and narrative within a movement, body of work or just a particular piece.
The ways in which artists use their medium of choice provides notable insight into the historical significance and contemporary resonance of their work. Below, we look at instances where the medium makes a significant impact to the appreciation and understanding of the finished piece.
At first glance the comic-strip inspired, action packed, Under the Wire by John “CRASH” Matos and the geometric, minimalist Into the Abyss by Matt Devine are worlds apart. However, both artists work with materials appropriated from a traditionally industrial use, placing them into the same historical timeline.
It was in the early mid century when synthetic paints began replacing traditional, household ones in the UK, that artists first began looking at industrial materials as applicable to the arts - a move advocated by the Independent Group and the British artist Richard Hamilton. The controlled chaos of Into the Abyss, is emphasized by Devine’s use of a striking cerulean blue powdercoat - a type of automotive coating applied as a dry powder. CRASH, one of the first artists to begin using spray paint on canvas in the 80s, applies the medium in his signature, iconic style, capitalizing in the dexterity of movement afforded by the material. Both artists push the limits of their chosen mediums, redefining the possibilities of each in the process.
Coincidentally, it was the same Richard Hamilton, the British painter that advocated for the use of modern media to create modern art, who then popularized collage as a Pop medium. In Revives Heart Blondie Robert Mars capitalizes on the pop culture content of the source material to considerable visual impact in the final image, playing with various symbols and visual cues in a seamless collage. Maxwell, on the other hand approaches the material in an almost painterly manner - building up the surface with a sampling of found advertisements, then stripping away the layers to reveal the silhouetted figures within. Both artists address the rich history of paper collage while building nuanced, layered narratives in their work.
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