When at the MFA in Boston I wanted to observe a challenge within the convention of traditional painting by finding work that incorporates various mediums while integrating a two dimensional plane with three dimensional objects. This concept is interesting—it introduces a sculptural component, interrupting the traditionally flat presentation associated with paintings. While the subject matter of both pieces is seemingly different, the use of object is quite similar.
The two things that originally drew me to the painting, “Productivismo,” created through collaboration between Cuban artists Rene Fransisco and Eduardo Ponjaun is the use of medium and the incorporation of object. This piece is large scale; the palette consists of yellow ochre, rusty orange, brown, grey and black. The sheen of the paint is flat. The application is thick like impasto and shows a sculptural use of paint. The main frame of the composition depicts a man; his face shown at a three-quarter profile, wearing a hat with goggles propped upon his forehead. The goggles have orange painted on the lenses; the same illuminating color is carried through the figure as highlight. Amidst the earthier colors, the brightness and placement of the orange immediately conveys that the subject is working with some type of hot substance. The expression on his face is concentrated, but not stern. His masculine body fills the majority of the frame and he is wearing industrial clothing. The hands of the man are both covered in mitts, clasped around what appears to be the handle of a work tool. The shaft of the tool juts out of the physical frame. A sculptural element is introduced via the three dimensional tip of a paintbrush in the lower right hand corner of the piece. It is long and seemingly made of some type of black filament; a tarnished silver ferrule joins the brush tip to the wooden handle, attaching to the edge of the painting as though it is a continuation of the handle the man is holding.
This piece signals artists like Rauschenberg in that it is reminiscent of his combine works. Jim Dine is another artist whose work signals Rauschenberg, but has tight roots within the POP Art movement. Both of these pieces are similar in their use of industry as subject matter. “Productivismo,” upon initial viewing, appears industrious and somewhat political; however, once the paintbrush is introduced into the equation, it changes the initial assumption. The paintbrush adds an element of abstraction within the representation of object through the use of the painting as its context. This changes the way the work is read. In addition, the perceived visual commentary regarding art, object, and the industrious man in the context of his own culture is interesting because it is not the culture of the artists who created the work. The representation of reflective heat within the work illuminates the question of object, art, culture and industry, and creating a cycle of ideology revolving within the work.
“Hammer Study,” by Jim Dine is a large scale piece, where the majority of the composition is filled with blank white space. At the top of the painting are objects, drawings, and outlines. A metal hammer head and a fragment of a hammer’s wooden handle are the three dimensional objects depicted in the work. The objects are shown in nine representations of varying stages running across the top of the piece. The first representation begins at the top left of the piece with a hammer head attached to the canvas and the bottom portion of the handle represented through outline. The next two images portray the hammer outline in addition to pencil smudges on the canvas surface. It should be noted that the second image within the series is the only one with wood grain represented within the outline of the hammer. The third image of the hammer is missing a sliver of the head. The outlines of the handle get shorter and shorter as they near the far right of the painting, almost as if the lines are disappearing through the top of the canvas. This abstraction of the object increases with each progressive depiction. This is achieved ultimately by removing the hammer head and showing just the outline of the handle. The fragment of the handle and an outline of it are where the object concludes its sequence. Now the painting has assisted the hammer in fully realizing itself as an abstracted object and no longer a hammer. The hammer head is the only information given that this object is a hammer. The fragmented handle alone in this piece would leave speculation as to what the object is; knowing it’s a Jim Dine painting, one could deduce the object is relative to tools. Without that information, the full abstraction of the object would only be an abstraction.
This work like “Productivismo,” is similar to Rauschenberg’s combines, as it highlights the issue of object, art, and abstraction through representation. The man represented in the work is Jim Dine. Through the use of the tool as object, he directly associates himself with the piece. In some of his other works, the three dimensional objects become homogenous with the surface through the application of color, lending itself to abstraction through strategies of concealment. Whereas, “Hammer Study,” supplements abstraction through the progression of the object in the context of image. Both of these works are successful in challenging the conventional parameters established within painting as a traditionally two dimensional practice.
Rene Fransisco and Eduardo Ponjuan, “Productivismo (Productivism).” From the series Los Rusos (The Russians), (1992) Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, “Permission to be Global.”
Jim Dine, “Hammer Study,” (1962), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Corridor between Islamic Gallery and Huntington Lobby