“ I was hooked like a Magpie to shiny things,” said Nicole Etienne the young painter acclaimed for her oil paintings on canvas, of her first encounter with print materials at Duggal. Painters are not among our most frequent clients, so when a painter is excited about what we offer, we are both intrigued and thrilled to assist. Nicole had lived close to Duggal for almost a decade before she moved to London. Remembering the window displays at our headquarters on twenty-third street, Nicole finally contacted us for a unique experiment she was beginning for Moveable Feast, her first solo exhibition in New York that would feature her photography and paintings in mixed media, for the first time.
Mesmerizing, Whimsical, Exotic, Transcendent, Magnificent are adjectives that are commonly associated with Nicole’s work. In Moveable Feast, Nicole introduces photography in her compositions to recreate visual narratives that invite viewers to take a deep dive through myth and imagination. Described as an artist who presents “objects as how she sees them, not how perspective tells us they should,” the unique interplay between reality and illusion in Nicole’s new series, celebrate photorealism and abstract painting in a powerful way.
The exhibit features thirteen canvases that Duggal printed on silver metallic canvas to complement the magical tone of her compositions. Each digitally printed canvas serves as the photographic base for Nicole’s spectacular settings and mysterious pasts that she painstakingly creates with her brushes and paints. In “Lift,” one of her pieces in the exhibit, Nicole paints a woman flying into her bed, which she has photographed. Evocative of Botticelli and Sam Taylor Wood at the same time, the subjects of her compositions seem literally to fly out of the canvas. In another one, a photograph of what appears to be a corridor in the Metropolitan Museum, Nicole paints fowl and wildlife, creating a surreal landscape that is instantly familiar and enchanting.
Says Nicole of the this new series, “In his memoir, Ernest Hemingway considers ‘A Moveable Feast’ to be the memory of a splendid place, one that lives on with the traveler, long after the experience is over and for the rest of his or her life. In these mixed media works on canvas, I conjure memories, recreating the experience of “A Moveable Feast” decades, even centuries, later. The process begins with photographing magnificent antique rooms and historic museums, delicious settings that are ripe with history and alive with splendor. I strive to connect with the essence and importance of what once transpired there and then manipulate the images to support the mystery and mood of these perceived experiences. Finally, I layer on my impressions, incorporating living organisms and fetishized objects, rendered with traditional techniques in oil and varnish, until each reconstruction is complete. Through this process I resurrect the dreams, emotions and ghosts of past happenings by sharing their stories with those who were unable to experience them first hand.”
The application of photography in painting has been well documented—artists from Vermeer to Picasso have chosen to flatten the three-dimensional world into photography’s two dimensional one to help them paint photo realistic moments. However, mixing painting and photography so they become part of the same substrate is a new phenomenon made possible only by the advancement of digital printing techniques that allow painters to work on pre-printed canvas and fabric, materials that they are most accustomed to. There remains a slight stigma for painters who use photography and are therefore blamed for merely “copying” or enhancing what has been already been “captured”. Nicole’s cubist style, which challenges our normal notions of perspective, renders the photography in the painting invisible, resulting in dreamy artworks that blur the line between photorealism and the abstract. Karen Irvine, a curator with the Museum of Contemporary Photography, says “The moment of recognition that there is something else going on—that both attention and inattention are required to fully experience a piece—is often what gives artwork its impact…. Painting, typically best suited for still scenes, and photography, typically better at freezing movement, temporarily occupy each other’s domain. The presence of both mediums, in fact, forbids either from being transparent—having to shift between the two codes, the viewer becomes acutely aware of the process of looking, of the reconciliation required between sensory and cognitive understanding. Painting and photography accomplish this union in different ways.” Nicole is first and foremost a storyteller who is genre-agnostic when it comes to expressing her imagination. For her, the photography is “the first step of the story, a hazy memory or space for an event to occur.”
The silver metallic canvas that each of Nicole Etienne’s photographs are printed on, magnifies the “illusion” of her paintings. The photographs were printed on our six-color printer with special UV inks that make a molecular bond with the canvas material leaving no traces of pigment or emulsion that a painter would need to be concerned about. Nicole worked with the Duggal team, while based in her studio in London, trusting us with the saturation and color matching of the process. She then painted over these “photo canvases” and stretched them onto traditional wooden frames at size 36” x 60.”
I have been in the visual graphics industry long enough to have seen artists push the boundaries of photography beyond realism into the illusionary— from manual airbrushing to Photoshop, artists have found inventive ways of expressing themselves with pictures by going beyond the mechanical reproduction of photography. It is exciting to work with painters like Nicole who are now turning to photography to invent new genres of mixed media art—a move that will hopefully put to bed the historic debate between photography and painting.
As Rod Slemmons of the Museum of Contemporary Photography says, “what these artists (who combine photography with painting) also accomplish is to cause us to become self conscious when looking at both photographs and paintings, and to understand that what we see in both is a flat field of elaborately but narrowly represented information that combined may lead us to truths not present in either individually.”
Written by Baldev Duggal
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