What is a “Painter’s Painter”?: The Aesthetical

Robin Dluzen

On the one hand, as Adrienne pointed out to me during our dual musing session, “painter’s painter” could mean one who paints for Painting (with a capital “P”): the “genius” in love with the tradition. This is the person who wears the badge of Painting like a medal of honor, one who is the hero in the long line of successive heroes, leading his/her audience to the truth. And that “truth” is Painting…whatever “Painting” practically means in this case, I don’t believe I have a clear explanation for as of yet.

Jim Lutes Painting

“But this ‘painting hero’ really sounds like the Modernist, romantic notion of what a painter is,” you might say. This is true; I do believe that nostalgia plays a large role here. Yet one cannot deny that people still behave as and regard this stereotype, of the lone painter who changes the aesthetic face of art as we know it, as totally present. But what are these painters making? In the past, civilization needed painted pictures for record of historical events, for the guarantee that important or wealthy visages would be everlasting, for storytelling purposes aiding the illiterate, and for the record of our Modern lives and experiences. Then, in America, paintings became dedicated to the gesture and inner motivations of the maker more than ever before, without needing a purpose to paint other than for self-expression. But all of these types of paintings buy into the notion of the progression of painting as it is linked to the aesthetic novelty of style, the notion that painting moves forward in terms of “new” ways in which to represent things, like representation giving way to abstraction, or of classical techniques yielding to the “deskilled.”

Jeni Spota Painting

So now, since art is reactionary, painters both cannot make the functional paintings of antiquity, nor the complete dismissal of anything and everything but the maker him/herself. As contemporary painters, we want it all; we want the magnitude and prestige that comes with the painting of olden times, while also wanting to maintain the fabulous freedom that comes with thinking of nothing but ourselves. It is here where this type of “painter’s painter” wants to completely self-indulge (without admitting to it), hiding the diaristic under the guise of “universal truths” or quests for the sublime, or whatever.

José Lerma Painting

Or on the other hand, he/she is unapologetically invested in the stylistic, aesthetic progression, diving right into the game of agonizing over whether it is still possible to make a mark that no one else has already made, or use the paint in a way that hasn’t already been done. And above all, this is about the material: the paint on canvas. With this, our aesthetical “painter’s painter’ wields the pasty pigments, creating miraculous illusions and sumptuous surfaces. But whether the aura comes from the paint, or the aura adds importance to the paint, it’s hard to tell. We can think of this love for the material as manifesting itself in gloppy, tactile paintings like Jeni Spota’s, or José Lerma’s meaty” surfaces, or with the super-flat, though lovingly applied transparent layers of a Jim Lutes painting. And whether you buy into the notion of this “hero painter,” or whether you place value in the Modernist endgame of aesthetics, how we judge these sorts of painters is still based upon their expertness of paint-handling; their value is contingent upon their mastery of the paint as material.

Comments (3)

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  1. Two things that may also define the painter’s painter. #1. The personal necessity of painting. The painter’s painter has to paint, they can’t escape it. Agnes Martin stopped for seven years, returning to an even more prolific practice until her death at age 92. #2. They don’t want to do anything except paint. They may dip their toes into other media, but these forays are often transient and indeterminate, laking the allure of the materail you so well describe.

  2. kaletts says:

    Tom Nozkowski is a good example of a painter’s painter. Throughout the thirty some years I have known him, he has continued to paint modestly scaled abstract canvases that in some mysterious way are “sticky” (they remain in your head over time)In a way, he is heroic simply because he has continued down his painterly path in spite of changing fashions…I am delighted that he is finally enjoying some success (integrity is in fashion this year)

  3. A painter’s painter…………all painters who entice the actively growing and practicing painter to a sense of awe, respect, curiosity. I frequently encourage my artist friends to leave a bit of “history” throughout their paintings, meaning to leave a sense of a ledger; what came before, what was eliminated, what was too competitive. Anyone who has enjoyed watching a painter at their craft, seeing the stages of development from a feeling or idea from one’s imagination to a quick sketch, perhaps many sketches, know when seeing a painting that inspires. Upon more exploration in viewing, I and perhaps you, the painters who have studied the history of painting and drawing from early man to contemporary times, love the dance of the paintbrush, the process, the apply and removing and changing, and critiquing…..showing the audience, the world a personal history of the road from rumblings of the mind to the exhilaration of a freshly completed a 2-d story of mummurings of my self………..how did they get from here to there???

    Where did they start……..??? I love seeing remants of the dance done by the painter’s brush………..the imagery sliding own the artist’s sleeve and dancing upon the canvas in flashes of energetic strokes, calming regions………a ledger of the artist in their own artist’s writings.

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