Painting is, by its nature, a slow technology. Ever since images began to be reproduced by mechanical means, painting has faced a challenge in how to keep pace with an accelerating visual culture. But such limitations are perhaps pertinent to its efficacy; restricting oneself to adding slow, meticulous pictures to a culture of much higher speed images can breach a gap where formal considerations and external reference combine to produce images of pertinent specificity and rigour.
This exhibition takes its title, and some of its imagery, from two near-identical oil on panel paintings attributed to the early Netherlandish master Robert Campin. The two versions of Portrait of a Fat Man both date to c.1425 and are found in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. I was attracted to working from these paintings by the enigmatic expression of the sitter Robert de Masmines, a face that in its blankness still holds mystery nearly 600 hundred years later. That, and the joy of the literal and metaphorical meanings of its title, make it a subject still pliable enough to work with today.
Painting can be an image and also a surface. The interaction between these two facts plays a role in distinguishing it from other forms of image making, where doubt and disruption can be erased from the surface. The larger 'white' paintings in this exhibition take as their material very subtle changes in tone of acrylic paint, thinly applied in grids or stripes and sanded to a point where the abrasions on the surface produce noise in the picture plane. Like after-image or a burned-in screen, an image there if you want to see it.
Still life painting, or something similar, is represented by the plant paintings. This subject, which I return to regularly, offers possibility in its malleability. The paintings suggest new compositions, ideas migrate from painting to painting and with time they have become a way to audit or explore my approach to painting. This relationship between the slow work we do with our hands and the shifts that occur in our thinking begin to coalesce, and the paintings become an index of a very subtle progression.
By showing these three kinds of work together I hope to present a proposal for painting that reflects a current reality in which genre is dissolved and the flow of information to our screens disrupts certainties of time or place.
Oliver Osborne, March 2021
Press release courtesy Galería Pelaires.