Galerie Eva Presenhuber announces the gallery’s third solo exhibition with Los Angeles-based artist Michael Williams.
In his exhibition, Williams shows several new paintings that further develop his oeuvre. Half of the works are large-scale inkjet paintings depicting portraits derived from photographs. To make these works, Williams first produces a small or medium-scale oil painting on canvas, which he considers a kind of study or, more aptly, something equivalent to a film photographer’s celluloid negative. These are then photographed and used as source material for the inkjet-printed paintings on view. Williams’ new works are preoccupied with the dialectic relationship between painting and photography, yet they seek to dishonor this very dialogue by stealing for themselves photography’s quality of cool detachment.
Williams is jealous of the photographer’s ability to indicate meaning in a subject without first having to work through the manifold and historically charged layers, as the painter does. This feeling of envy, however, is not simply an emotional state the artist is in; it is evidence of the complex relationship between the two media. Working in this new mode, Williams has found a strategy to mediate this jealousy.
Painting as the “original,” and often higher valued, medium carries with it the baggage of art history and thus delivers meaning only through the aforementioned layers. Taking photos of “real” oil on canvas portraits, Williams appropriates the advantages of photography: a clean indication of the subject matter detached from the struggle of its creation, free of physical traces of his craftsmanship, and the physicality of a corpus made of pigment and canvas.
In Williams’ photographed paintings all of this—the materiality, the artist’s decisions, the perceptual openness required of the viewer—is only a prerequisite, a negative of what is afterward photographed and printed. As a result, the smooth surface of the canvas, its industrial perfection frees this “negative” from its qualities as a painting—and at the same time from the historical baggage that seems to be required of a great painting. Rather than asking the viewer to parse through the medium, time, physicality, emotion, etc., the portraits are offered up fresh and clean: to be consumed, perhaps in a single bite.