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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vision To Visuals: A Moveable Feast

Painter Nicole Etienne experiments with photography and printing


This Article Features Photo Zoom

"I was hooked like a magpie to shiny things," says Nicole Etienne, the dynamic young painter known for her "luscious" paintings, of her first encounter with print materials at Duggal. Etienne had lived close to the Duggal headquarters in the Flatiron District for almost a decade before she moved to London. Remembering her walks past our frequently changing window displays, Etienne approached us to help her with an enigmatic experiment. Painters not being among our most frequent clients, Etienne's excitement about the print possibilities at Duggal got our creative team eager to assist her in producing A Moveable Feast, Etienne's first solo exhibition in New York, which would feature her mixed-media works combining photography and paintings.

Nicole Etienne employed photography in the creative process. The final paintings show the whimsy and transcendence for which she is famous.
Mesmerizing, whimsical, exotic, transcendent, magnificent are adjectives that are commonly associated with Etienne's work. In A Moveable Feast, Etienne introduces photography in her compositions to re-create 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 Etienne's new series celebrates photorealism and abstract painting in a powerful way.

The exhibit features 13 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 Etienne's spectacular settings and mysterious pasts that she painstakingly creates with her brushes and paints. In "Lift," one of her pieces in the exhibit, Etienne paints a woman floating midair above her bed, which has been 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 of Art, Etienne paints fowl and wildlife, creating a surreal interior that's oddly familiar and enchanting.

Says Etienne of 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, re-creating 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 his-tory 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 various 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 firsthand."

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 dimensions to paint photorealistic 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 preprinted canvas and fabric, materials to which they're most accustomed. Painters have had to contend with occasional criticism for choosing photography for their works and the stigma of merely "copying" or enhancing what already has been "captured." Etienne's Cubist style challenges our normal expectations of perspective and renders photography in the painting invisible, resulting in dreamy artworks that blur the line between photorealism and the abstract.

 

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