In the contest to determine which medium best depicts the world, photography seems to have won out over painting from the start. It was only a few decades after the invention of the camera that painting withdrew into pursuing l’art pour l’art.
But early attempts to elevate photography to fine art borrowed heavily from Old Master pictorial conventions, using soft focus to ape the delicacy of sfumato; decades later, Photorealism revitalized representational painting by copying snapshots. Painting and photography have always engaged in a back-and-forth, more so than ever in this age of Photoshop.
German artist Florian Maier-Aichen might agree. Over the past decade, he’s digitally applied paintinglike effects to photos, even to the point of transforming them into pure abstractions.
His latest show includes several examples of the latter, though interestingly, they aren’t created with a computer. Instead, the artist uses old-fashioned cel animation, photographing image-containing transparencies layered on an opaque background. The results are colorful, featuring black-and-white spatters against rainbow fields, but what makes them compelling is their uncanny, if barely perceptible, sense of depth.
Conversely, a pair of aerial landscapes—one of Los Angeles, the other of an alpine town—exhibit otherwise impossible depths of field, thanks to computer compositing. Offering different takes on the malleability of perspective, Maier-Aichen plumbs the relationship not only between painting and photography but also between digital and analog.—Howard Halle