There are many a reason why cameras and photography took off like box paints and pleine air painting never could.
The death of painting is a fashion to herald. It’s obsolete - had its day, all that. At this stage it is ridiculous to even entertain such statements as we see people paint, continually, consistently, in new ways, in old ways, brilliantly and disastrously. That is not to deny that the pluralist, everything goes nature of contemporary art has not caused painting to be toppled from its former pedestal. But, with the likes of Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter and Takahashi Murakami still developing the medium and exploring its possibilities to our delight and intrigue, it can not be said that painting is irrelevant. That said it is quite rare to find impressive and interesting painting here in London. The current fashion is pastiche plagiarism and gothic game play. So when I was given a small taste of Liz Barile-Page, a photography graduate, a member of the East London Printmakers group and first and foremost a painter, I was interested to see more.
On moving to the UK from the US in 2007 to study photography and fine art further, Barile-Page was awakened to the significance of red in this new cultural setting when a lecturer remarked of her shoes - that he never wore red, he thought it so ‘vulgar’. The comment, and slight in the young Amercian student's direction, incited a series of paintings focusing on single object, close-up studies, exploiting red; charging it and the paintings with the artist’s own personal mythology. Crack Donkey, pictured below, is Barile-Page’s favourite of this series and it is a good example of her mischievous and wry humour combined with skillful technique. Red is not just the descriptive colour, it is the subject too. It is used as a little ‘fuck you’. The paintings say ‘red is mine’, ‘look how rich and sumptuous it is’ and ‘if that’s vulgar to you - fine’.
Barile-Page painted her first ‘proper painting’ in 2004 while studying photography in Florida. The result is astonishingly accomplished; a self portrait of the artist applying red lipstick in a bare bathroom with a striking blue towel draped over its rail (pictured above). Looking at a reproduction of the painting on screen, the subtle and classic techniques employed to make the painting work are explained to me. Regardless of these techniques of compostion, paint application or verisimilitude, it is the intense gaze, concentration and the painfully honest depiction of the deliberated and self conscious act of a young woman transforming her mundane identity into a potential object of sexual attention, into potentially a more confident being, and undoubtedly into a more noticeable figure - simply by applying the colour red to her lips. She paints herself as she literally paints herself.
describes her art as ‘a documentary of visions and working out of technical
ideas or problems.’ The working out of technical ideas is clearly evident,
whether it’s in her painting, photography or print making and there is a
playfulness and will to experiment that may lead Barile-Page onto a more
defined trajectory in her own good time. There is also an element of ‘visions’
in the works I have seen, particularly ‘Skeleton boy’; again a single object -
a young boy in a skeleton costume, awkward and vulnerable in his innocent attempt to
appear frightening, immersed in the deep red background of the painting. For
the most part however, the works appear to be a means to document her own world
through an honest and quirky mind’s eye. Currently working on not-a-portrait
but a painting of her husband James (see detail below), she is concerned this time with the
overall blue hue and the autumn evening melancholy as the slouched subject is
hypnotised by his browsing and eerily lit up from below by the screen light
from the laptop on his prostrate body. (The detail and reproduction does not allow us to see the blue unfortunately).