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Artists Blurring the Lines Between Painting and Photography

Posted by Jacob Hawthorne on

Painting and photography are two of the most popular mediums in art. They have long been viewed as two separate mediums within the art community. When it comes to creating a gallery wall or choosing art for the home or office, many people spend significant time on deciding whether to go with photographs or paintings. Today it’s becoming more common for artists to work between the two worlds. Artists are taking their love for both mediums and merging paintings with photographs.

The Tumultuous Relationship Between the Brush and the Camera

Photography has a long history that dates back to the first camera from the camera obscura in 1457 to the first photograph in 1826.

When French artist Louis Daguerre discovered a way to make the image produced by a lens permanent, the photographic process was born. And it looked as if photography might have had painting hanging up an ‘out of business’ sign. It certainly gave painting a run for its money. Miniature painted photographs lost their seat to the photograph. The battle went further as it was discovered landscape photographs could be created more cheaply than paintings. A writer was quoted as saying “"the artist cannot compete with the minute accuracy of the Daguerreotype." Things looked dire for painters and writer Charles Baudelaire claimed photography to be the “mortal enemy” of art.

At the time photography was not recognized as an art. Baudelaire went on to rant "If photography is allowed to stand in for art in some of its functions," Baudelaire fumed, "it will soon supplant or corrupt it completely." A few short years later another writer by the name of Hippolyte Fandrin mourned the art of painting crying out “"I greatly fear that photography has dealt a death blow to art." Over the next century, photography would have to continue to battle the world of painting, fighting for validity. Even still, painters slowly began to realize they were fighting a battle they could not win. The medium of photography shone a light on a truthfulness painting could not capture. In an effort to protect the prestige of their art, painters left realism to the photographers.

Things between the world of photography and the world of painting began to merge as photographers began experimenting with the medium they had at first disdained. Painters began to create works that consciously imitated photography. Before color photography would come to fruition, painted photography was a way to bring life to black and white images during the 19th century.  

Bringing Painting and Photography Together as One Medium

Contemporary artists are mastering the two mediums to bring them together as one. Some artists camouflage paintings while other artists are painting directly on photographs. Then there are the artists who have mastered the art of digitally altering composites using software such as Photoshop.

Artist Stev’nn Hall’s landscapes are a stunning testament of what is possible when the lines between painting and photography are blurred. Hall’s landscapes melt not only the lines between the two mediums but between reality and fantasy. As an art student, Hall studied both mediums. His tireless studies and practice helped him master the clear-cut view of the camera lens as he combines it with unrestrained dashes of his brush. Hall’s works are impressionistic in style with rich color and texture. His works in this mixed media include scenes of tranquil lakes and farmlands. Hall’s work also includes Monet inspired ponds replete with the memorable lily pads flush with a spectrum of colors. Skillfully bringing painting and photography together, Hall’s work can be seen in galleries in his hometown of Toronto, Canada, as well as in cities like Boston, Palm Beach, and Washington D.C.

Hungarian artist Flora Borsi is a fine art photographer. Borsi has a talent for meticulously manipulating photographs to create surreal images. A running theme in Borsi’s work is identity, emotions, and dreams. Her ability to present concepts subtly with her immaculate technique helps her create lovely conjurings of human emotions. Borsi captures the opposing strength and fragility of the human psyche. The female body is a frequent subject in her work. One technique seen in Borsi’s work is the hiding and revealing of the female subject’s eyes, leaving only the body it explores the link between the body and self. While Borsi paints on photographs, she has also worked with digital mediums. Adobe extended an invitation to Borsi along with over a dozen other artists to come to New York to create posters with quotes of famous creatives. During the project Borsi used iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and the Creative Cloud mobile apps. Her work became the face of Adobe Photoshop in 2014. Borsi’s work is exhibited internationally. Her American solo exhibitions took part in the Continental Shift, a group exhibition at Saatchi Gallery. She has also exhibited at the Louvre in Paris, France.

Valeria Trasatti’s FOX series features photographs that have been directly painted on. The series of two photographs feature Miss and Mr. Fox. The profiles of the man and woman were painted on, reimagining both subjects with the face of a red fox. The photographs almost appear as if done haphazardly, the bright orange, yellow, and white paints running down the subjects’ necks and shoulders. The twenty-six-year old’s FOX series is just one example of artists wielding both brushes and cameras to show how painting and photography can become one.

While artists like Trasatti are blending the two mediums by painting directly on photographs, many artists are turning to digital means to blur the lines between the two mediums. Photoshop is the choice of programs for many photographers and Portuguese photographer Gabriel Nardelli Araujo brilliantly utilizes the program to bring famous figures from the past into today’s modern world.

Araujo used photoshop to create The Canvas Project. What originally began as a creative outlet for the artist became meaningful to him over time. The idea for the series came to him while studying in London for a semester. The artist was capturing his brief time in the city by creating pictures of contemporary life spliced with historic clothing and customs. His photographs are jarring with famous images from centuries before dropped into today’s modern settings. Infamous characters straight from museum paintings are dropped into his photographs of public spaces from around the world. To see them is to almost think they are bumping elbows with twenty-first century tourists. Diverse settings run from the streets of New York to the gardens of So Paulo. Regardless, they are all works of his imagination, a play on history and contemporary life. Araujo hopes viewers will interact with his works and think about the eternal connection between past and present cultures.

With contemporary artists wielding both brush and camera, the lines between painting and photography will continue to blur. As many artists choose both mediums to create works that bring them together, the art world no longer questions the value of one medium over the other. As more artists pop up in the world of art, it’s apparent that the lines between painting and photography will bring forth exciting new works of art.

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