I thought it would be intriguing to ask painters this simple yet complex question. This query comes with no ground rules—it’s up to each individual artist to find their own approach and direction.
This project will be an ongoing exploration … let’s see where it takes us.
What is Painting?
Featuring Brian Ritchard
For the most part, painting is very much what it has always been; an individual mission, loosely mapped.
Painting is famously non-collaborative, even solitary. Thankfully, the assignment comes with road-tested field notes, thoughtfully assembled over the centuries by other painters. We have journals, sketchbooks, and all kinds of other primary documents to guide us as we scramble along. Looking back along the arc of art history, it is not hard to conclude that painting really is more collaborative than generally assumed.
Like most painters today, I was thoroughly doused in modern and contemporary art theory as part of my training. In art school, we learn that painting has “baggage” (Scandal! Naked body parts! Misogyny! Forgery! et. al.) and that this baggage is perhaps too heavy and weird to haul around. (Painting is dead! Long live painting!). In art school, we are told that painting is an archaic mode of expression, especially representational painting. And yet painting continues to be a primary engine of the annual multi-billion dollar global art industry. (More baggage! And aren’t painters supposed to be impoverished? Painting is so complicated!)
This inventory of baggage grows with each passing decade, and to be a painter, you have to be a draft horse, willing to haul the load. Personally, I have learned to embrace the task, and I hope that it shows in my work. When I have a problem with a painting that I am working on, I look around to see what other painters have done. I consult the field notes, as it were. Rather than looking at art history as something to overcome, I study it like a manual.
So while painting remains a very individualistic pursuit, it is comforting to know that there are others, and that there have always been others, and that there will always be others. Painting is much too primal and humanistically essential to ever be extinguished. Without doubt, painting will continue to evolve and assume all manner of strange format and content. But the basics will remain constant: pigment slipping across surface, marks being made to commemorate a single moment along the painter’s trail.
Brian Ritchard, Wind Farm #34 , oil on panel, 24″ x 48″, 2011
Brian Ritchard has been exhibiting his work in galleries and museums for twenty-five years. He earned his MFA in painting in 1990 from the University of Chicago
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