Pieter Schoolwerth has long been immersed in a process of painting that deconstructs and manipulates Old Master works, reducing them, to a large extent, into series of chalklike delineations and abstract brushstrokes. For his latest “studies,” he draws on Simon Vouet’s Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy, from 1635, and Aeneas and Anchises by Lionello Spada, c. 1615. Both are depictions of Aeneas’ flight from Troy, after its sacking, in which Aeneas, the son of Aphrodite, carries his father, Anchises, over his shoulder. Four paintings are based on a computer print of Vouet’s work and one, titled After Troy 10—the show stealer—on a scanned illustration of Spada’s. Figuration, digitalization and abstraction meld in unusually splendid and evocative ways, gently inciting ruminations on the contemporary possibilities of representation.
Pixelated body parts on a starkly slick black background—heads, feet and hands, not connected to their original figures—provide a glimpse of the full composition. Schoolwerth compresses all the action into the middle, overlaying one figure atop another and filling the heart of the painting with a series of straight and swooshy, thin and impasto brushstrokes, rendered in a lush palette of fire red, blue, green, yellow and fleshy pink. The calculated orientation of the expressive faces—with father and son sometimes joined in a sweet, generationally portentous kiss—injects the works with a self-reflective narrative poignancy that transcends the dry didacticism of the artist’s endeavors, reinforcing, all the while, Schoolwerth’s position that expression is now valid only as a series of signs, there for artists to analyze, organize and technicize, but not to render themselves.—Nana Asfour