Damian Loeb: Primary Scenes


Exerpt from: Archetypes and Historicity Painting and Other Radical Forms 1995-2007, Pages 186-190

Quoting reality in order to establish an experiential ground on which to build viewers' empathy and, through a narrative that first is a discourse of Art, of symbolic information enhancing visual emotions, and second is the telling of a fabulous story, was a fundamental strategy of Renaissance painting. And it conveyed in part the physical response of artmaking to the decline of the meta- physical as an intellectual explanation of the world, in part the self-affirmation of a new Society investing itself with quasi-religious significance. This existential move of the pictorial invention found it distinctive voice in perspective and in the figural repositioning of man and woman as functions of a totally human space. Perspective's language made possible, at the beginning of the mechanical age, the seamless inscription of a history, sized present into the unhistorical past, a past predicated on myths whose foundational role was (still is) theoretically required by all religious assumptions. Interestingly, this grafting of contemporaneity onto myths of the Beginning was usually exercised in the representation of Christian stories or legends relevant to the metahistory of European cities, more rarely in the depiction of Biblical and Pagan events, or invents, lifted from classical texts. The pursuit of flatness in the first decades of the twentieth century, from Malevich and Mondrian to Newman and Marden, as a means for the presentation of an interiorized sublime, and the subsequent erasure of pictorial space altogether by Conceptual art, brought to a closure the constantly moving—over five centuries—target of transcribing both the social and the spiritual into mythographic icons structured by the orderly (or disorderly) conduit of the geometric perspective. It has been only with the transfer onto the canvas without any mediations of history of the ready-made space of photography that social narratives have re-entered the field of painting. This means that now the artist has to reach the depth (rather than the death) of an archetype through pre-constructed images, making the found yet intentional, ideological representations of the visible world overlap and coincide with the metaphorical, symbolical, invisible constructs produced by the subconscious.

Since photography doesn't convey per se geometric relationships and inscribes reality as a mere sequence of forms, spaces, volumes, and colors unshaped by sentimentality and subjectivism (which inevitably induces the fabrication of a Scene), the photo-constructed image, when translated into painting, plays as much intentionally as it can a game of hide-and-seek with conceptuality and materiality, with abstraction and figuration, with virtuality and factuality, with literality and metaphor. In Damian Loeb's work, nothing gets lost and everything is gained in the translation of an image from the photograph to the picture in oil on canvas-and by "everything" I mean the art of painting and the painting of art. Through its digital manipulation (artists' new high-tech preparatory stage), Loeb's snapshots undergo a process of reduction and enhanciation, both in its iconicity and in its chromatic subtlety, that assigns to photoshop the role once had by sketching or the preparatory drawing. The working image thus obtained (a kind of digitally produced sinopia) will function as a visual guide to its (re-)production on canvas, where its spatial and color relations are maintained but where the painter also performs the old magical trick of giving flesh to an idea. The glazing undergone by the painted picture, finally, translates the photograph's gloss into a light that maximizes the intentionality of the brushwork while sealing the image in its own unreachable phantasm. A baroque glossiness, which gives a quasi-metallic shine to his canvases, already marked Loeb's early work, where paradoxical narratives resulted from the montage of distant illustrations lifted from disparate sources and amalgamated into a hyperrealistic fiction.

This interest in constructing hyper-narratives presented in a photographic mode but alluding pointedly to a cinematic event (significantly, the titles of Loeb's pictures are mostly derived from movies) has shaped his subsequent painting, based on the digital rearrangement in a single image of different frames from the same movie so that a newly invented, auratic scene would generate a future meaning deposited in memory. In an interview with Adrian Dannatt, published in the June 2003 issue of The Art Newspaper, the artist described his digital/pictorial laboratorium as: “First, a Sony DLP projector. Then, a very fast Macintosh, several illicit software programs for deciphering digital video code, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator. Then, Old Holland oil paints, and Isabey Kolinsky sable and badger brushes on a thick Belgian linen which has been sized with rabbit-skin glue and lead primed.”

Loeb's most recent work, Metropolitan, transposes the fleeting moment of a cocktail-party event captured by his assisted camera into a self-made pageant of style and heightened sociality, into a modern sacra conversazione: a mystery play of bodies, dresses, and wine glasses packed in one frozen image from a sequence of urban life. Having set aside, at least temporarily, the dissecting and collaging of the found imagery of films, the artist now creates his own cinematic scenes photographing daily situations in cities that may have been backdrops in movies. In order to achieve a ready-made filmic look in his new pictures, he has incised on the lens of his professional SLR camera (a Canon 1DS) two parallel black lines that instantly configure his snapshots in a wide-screen format. This cinemascoping of reality is translated into four by eight feet canvases, a 1 to 2 ratio which is halfway between the 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Metropolitan (the title appropriates that of a 1990 Whit Stillman movie) presents a waist view of a group of guests at a party in a clothing store. Five figures, cropped at the neck and knee, crowd a space where fashionable dresses—a full rack of them, actually—are hanging at the far left of the picture, faintly distinguishable since the lens had mostly in focus the four people (two women and two men) at the center and right of the scene. The fifth, a girl by herself at left, next to a white sweater and red garment on the rack, appears blurred by a swift movement of the camera, her head disappearing in the process. A marked stylishness connotes the dresses fashioning the people in the room, whereas the blurred young woman wears a casual, bluish miniskirt and creamy sweater, the (top of her round thighs nicely visible; the two ladies at right, one facing the viewer the other seen from the back, are instead clothed, respectively, in a pink and golden evening gown that generously half bares their breast. The right-hand side view of the room is partly obstructed by the back of one of the two men, seated, in a dark suit; the picture's center is instead dominated, in the extreme foreground, by the full back view of the second man who appears presiding over this assembly of fashion gods, his poised body in a blue suit (almost an armor) parallel to the picture plane.

The sharpness of this reverse frontality recalls the way in which Carpaccio, in the panel The Ambassadors Return to the English Court—one of the "Stories from the Life of St. Ursula", in the Accademia in Venice—embodies the style and the gaze of an entire society in the figure isolated at center, in the canvas' foreground, with his back fully turned to the viewer. This herald, in a sumptuous red hat and a lavishly decorated golden dress, and holding with the left hand behind his back a proclamation's scroll, fully takes in the scene in front of him: the bank of a canal filled with a crowd of dignitaries and a background of phenomenal Quattrocento architectures. The light anchoring the partying crowd in Metropolitan comes from the half-naked breast that we glimpse—and from the sparkling glass of wine in her hand—of the woman standing frontally, her embroidered pink skirt heightening the gold of the plain, long dress worn by the lady across from her. The three women in this image all hold a glass of white wine, either full or empty, as probably also do the men since their arms appear raised, giving to the scene the meaning of an intimate, Dionysiac rite in the digital age of painting.

-Mario Diacono, April 2, 2004 


48x96in Oil on Linen



Deliverance 48x96in Oil on Linen

–Diacono, Mario
April 01, 2012