I do not even recall how I came across this photographer, but it was only recently, and definitely by accident.
David Maisel, Terminal Mirage 4, 2003
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography, so I have so much to say on the topic of this medium. My first thought is that everyone thinks they are a good photographer, but most people are not. It is easy to pick up a camera, learn the technical aspects of how to take a photograph (either digitally or manually, or both), and create a balanced image of some sort. Anyone can do that, which is why there has been—and perhaps always will be—an ongoing debate about the medium of photography and whether or not it should be considered “fine art.” At first glance, this art form seems a bit too “easy” and is very accessible. I think this is a tricky debate, and it first begs the question, “What is fine art?”
In my opinion, art is a visual medium, and therefore, beauty and aesthetics must be an integral part of any work of fine art. I feel very strongly about this and I know not everyone will agree. Photographers can use this medium to perpetuate political agendas, bring truth into the light, document their own reality, and/or express their personal opinions. But when the subject matter overtakes the aesthetic value of a work of art, I start to question its validity as a bonafide form of artistic expression. Just because someone expresses their feelings and viewpoints through a visual medium, as opposed to the written word, music, etc., does not automatically mean that their expression is artistic. I actually get rather frustrated and upset when I am in a gallery or a museum and I see “works of art” that are not beautiful, but instead express strong content through the subject matter—I know beauty can be subjective, but actually, to an extent, it also cannot be. I do not want to view any work of art unless the way it LOOKS has been taken strongly and principally into consideration. There are aesthetic principles that an artist must abide by when constructing any work of art—even the most “rebellious” of artists still follow these fundamental principles. If these constructs are neglected, I believe artists are either acting lazy, or they do not actually possess the skill, talent, and/or know-how to create something aesthetically sound.
[When I talk about aesthetic principles, I am not advocating for artists to “stay within the lines” or follow some kind of strict standards of beauty. I think the most genius works of art are those that teeter on the line between conservative aesthetic principles and the rejection of all conformed standards of beauty. But the work of art must be on that line. Too far in the aesthetic direction, and the work of art becomes pretty, empty, dull, and un-inspired. Too far in the non-aesthetic direction, and the product becomes unartistic, and more of a statement reflecting an artist’s personal agenda.]
The painting below by Cy Twombly is a good example of a loose-looking, yet deceptively tight composition. Twombly walks the line between sloppy, chaotic, and arbitrary; and mastered arrangement of color, line, and form.
[It is okay if you hate this painting and/or have a strong, negative reaction to it. Many people do, but I love this artist and all of his work.]
Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1961, Oil, oil-based paint, wax crayon and pencil on canvas, 97 4/5 × 119 7/10 in, Daros Collection, Switzerland © Cy Twombly Foundation
Now, to get into David Maisel, I believe he possesses the skill, talent, knowledge (or whatever you want to call it) of any great artist, and he just happens to be using photography as his medium. When an artist understands basic aesthetic concepts and then can find a way to play and express using his or her own unique flavor of artistic communication, that is when great art happens. The medium becomes almost arbitrary when an artist knows what he or she is doing.
David Maisel, The Lake Project 16, 2002
David Maisel, The Fall (Borox 2), 2013
David Maisel, Terminal Mirage 22, 2005
I am drawn to David Maisel’s work because his style of expression is similar to mine, in that he plays within the formats of both paint and photograph. All of his images are photographic, yet most, if not all of them, depict landscapes that have been abstracted, flattened, and cropped; elevating these images out of the mundane and into heightened poetic expressions of beauty, nature, form, and color—just like a painting.
Before photography, paintings were a vehicle for accurately documenting reality, and successful artists were capable of depicting portions of real life in a way that looked virtually photographic. Now—since the invention of photography, painting is no longer needed for documentation—painting has come full circle; and, with the exception of realists, this medium has become an expressive means of altering reality, with the aim to illustrate a transcendental, and often unrecognizable, alternate form of reality. Paintings have become more like visual poetry, less concerned with graphic accurateness and more with cognitive, emotional, and spiritual exploration and interpretation of a particular subject matter.
Photography as well, started out attempting to capture the reality of a subject matter as accurately as possible—read my previous post about THE INCREDIBLE DAGUERREOTYPE. Yet now, as the world of art progresses and cycles through its own repeated forms of birth and death, we find the medium of photography naturally aligning and often divinely coalescing with the medium of paint. Where these two mediums collide is where I feel most inspired.
[I cannot mention this divine photographic-paint relationship without exhibiting the fine art of Gerhard Richter—the father of this heavenly amalgamation.]
Gerhard Richter, 22.1.2000 [Firenze (Florence)], 2000, Oil on color photograph, 12 cm x 12 cm
Gerhard Richter, Haus (House), 1992, Oil on canvas, 82 cm x 62 cm, Catalogue Raisonné: 772-7
David Maisel’s images, in addition to representing a masterful aesthetic blend of both photograph and paint, are also quite transformative and rather alchemistic. He has chosen rather fundamentally sad and loaded subject matter and has turned these toxified landscapes into gemstones of photographic exquisiteness. My art has always been about diving in deep to the dark caverns of my problems, tearing them wide open, and re-beautifying them to create a new definition of my own reality. Through this method, I am healed, and have an eternal visual artifact to mark this remedy. Maisel, in his own way, is alchemizing these rough patches of industrial fallout, and re-writing reality by way of visual splendor. These images may not be solving the problem, as art never claims to do, but is taking something rather unfortunate and unchangeable, and showing us a new way to see it.
David Maisel, The Lake Project 74, 2015
David Maisel, The Lake Project 1, 2001
David Maisel, The Mining Project (Clifton, Arizona 1), 1989
You can read more about David Maisel and his body of work on his website at: http://davidmaisel.com/works/
I leave you with some photographic paintings of my own. All of these were shot using a manual camera, color film, and were hand-printed by me in a darkroom lab.
Hill 1, color photograph, 2000, © Libby Saylor
Interior 7, color photograph, 2001, © Libby Saylor
Blue 7, color photograph, 2002, © Libby Saylor
Painting 20, color photograph, 2003, © Libby Saylor
Painting 12, color photograph, 2003, © Libby Saylor
Painting 1, color photograph, 2003, © Libby Saylor