Michael Herbert Dorn

Born 1961, St. George's, Bermuda
Lives in: Kraainem, Belgium
Describe your art in 3 words: Post-contemporary art

David's Oath of the Horatii (David's Le Serment des Horaces) - Oil on oil primed linen 140 x 110 cm

"The painting series entitled, SYLLOGY, combines "traditional European painting techniques" and intermedia elements including the use of digital mobile devices to view the exhibited paintings as "color-inverted" digital images. This new painting series appropriates "canonical" European paintings in order to create and vitalize a new context for art historical and contemporary representation."

What themes does your work involve?
One of several thematics involved in my work is a question regarding the fundamental truth value of the received historical records that are used to validate modern concepts of reality. A leading concept within my work is the singular idea that a metaphysical inversion has imprisoned all possible conceptions of reality. I use canonical representations of European history and mythology as a visual jumping-off point to set up conditions for a pictorial argument about the racialization of historical representation. But, the thematic of race is really just a primer.
Describe your creative process.
My process begins with a search for a suitable classical or canonical painting. Whenever possible, I do try to study the painting directly from life, making my own sketches and photographs during that session. However, COVID restrictions have made this nearly impossible. So, now I either purchase or locate free high-resolution images online. The images need to be high resolution. Using Photoshop, I'll make adjustments to the saturation, color temperature, and other image aspects. After this, I create the inverted image of the subject painting. I usually make one or two poster studies with the added figure. From the very begining of the process I am thinking about the placement of the additional figure. I use the "story" of the painting to help guide me.
What is good art? What makes a piece of art great?
Today, the artist's ability to actually engage their sensitivities with the events happening in the world are the primary measure of good, great, and worthless art. True art goes beyond self-expression or any financial interest.
About my current work, and what is the Post-contemporary?
I call myself a “post-contemporary” oil painter. What I mean by post-contemporary will become more apparent as I briefly describe my working processes. My current painting project takes a look back in art history. It appropriates (or expropriates—depending on one’s viewpoint) the view of a particular foundational oil painting of the early renaissance, northern renaissance, mannerism, baroque, or the neoclassical periods of art history, respectively. I use both religious and secular themed paintings. Using digital images of these paintings, I essentially recreate these “classical” works of art as color-inverted images—they appear as what used to be called a (film) “negative” in the commercial heyday of photographic films like Kodak, Fuji, and Ilford. But that’s not all. I have painted an additional figure within the negative field of these images—a so-called “racially-black” figure. I usually place this “interloper” figure within a pictorial space that appears to me to be inactive in the original paintings. This creates a new, two-way visual context.

My process begins with the search for a suitable “classical” painting. Whenever possible, I try to directly study and take high-resolution digital photographs of the actual painting. Museum visits have become nearly impossible with the manifestation of COVID-19. So, now I either purchase or locate free images online. Within Photoshop, I then make color adjustments to the image, including its color inversion. In addition to color inversion, I will sometimes alter the images overall color temperature, and in selected areas, the color saturation. After that, I will usually make one or more small freehand color “poster-studies” in oil paints to explore the color relationships and the composition. I carefully study the color relationships between the reconfigured and color-inverted oil painting and the virtual image captured on the mobile device’s screen. In these sketches, I include all aspects of the inverted “classical” painting and the added “non-color inverted” (color-positive) figure. Once I am satisfied, I will then make an underdrawing on my canvas using blue Staedtler Lumichrome drafting leads. I’ll then apply a very thin layer of semi-transparent titanium white and marble dust paint to the entire canvas. This scumble layer is referred to as a “half-paste.” This half- paste becomes what in the early Italian method is termed the campitura layer. Over the dry half-paste layer, I begin to apply my color upon the now faintly visible blue lines of the underpainting, modeling the forms as I go along. I work each section very close to the final finish, except the central background, which I’ll generally lay in during the final stages. Of course, this is a very fluid process, and it never follows—one-two-three—like I’ve just written.

Both my creative process and the ideological foundation of my project depends upon digital media. Of critical importance in this painting series is the spectator’s use of their digital mobile device to provide an active digitally color-inverted view of each of the paintings displayed within the actual exhibition space. Viewing an analog painting with the aid of a mobile digital-media device is explicitly a new way of encountering and extending a painting’s semantic potential by challenging the conventional notion of how we (traditionally) experience or view a “painting.”

This project came about as I began to explore and question the development of European and Eurocentric racial ideologies (namely, white-supremacy) that were concurrent with the development of many of the aforementioned art historical periods and many confluent Eurocentric philosophical systems. My current project also resonates with my questioning of how contemporary political, social, and cultural ideas interact with the plastic arts from the European past.

Some artists/writers might classify the post-contemporary as an aesthetic or a critical construct. But I am doubtful of the limiting framework of those terms. Other writers have called the post-contemporary a movement akin to the Baroque redux or Neoclassical redux. Not me. By post-contemporary, I do not mean the widely held consensus that post- contemporary artworks merely or mainly exhibit the traits of skillful execution, creativity, and expresses some degree of “empathy.” I would say that there are many works done by some of the most well trained and technically skilled artists in the world that are not post- contemporary. I’m afraid I also have to disagree that what is being called post-contemporary art is some newfangled way of positing traditional, global, or universal values—as opposed to contemporary art, which they claim pertain to transient (or spurious), topical, or local values.

For me, the post-contemporary artist holds a generous view upon all the myriad forms of what we call art history. By generous I mean two things. First, the totality of art history is taken as a barometer of both the global and national social, political, and cultural environment. Second, this generous view is taken as through a holographic lens. It is a view enabling a capacity towards moral imagination, that distinct quality of understanding (a work of art) within the general and specific context of its creation. Above all things, beyond this said specific context, the post-contemporary implementation proceeds as a form of inquiry into how historical (Eurocentric) visual culture has been used and is being used to inculcate, delineate, underscore, and establish the political, social, and cultural artifacts of our age. The post-contemporary artist is not at all interested in the so-called art historical tradition for the sake of hegemonic notions of tradition and the idea that “it was better back then.” The post contemporary artist understands that art history is foremost an ideological political field. For me, post-contemporary artists must make an in-depth inquiry into how the visually received narratives function within our contemporary milieux to create injustice, lies, and outright (psycho-cultural) deceptions. Within this post-contemporary sphere, my primary interest is in exploring and challenging the ideas fomented by the representation (or lack thereof) of non- white peoples in classical European art.

 


This interview was published by Circle Foundation of the Arts. © CFA Press ∙ Images are courtesy of the artist