Pictures of Pigment by Vik Muniz
Pictures of Pigment is a series where the artist reproduces emblematic paintings by Monet, Klimt, Matisse, Malevitch, Gauguin, Munch, Klein and Rothko. As the title indicates, Vik Muniz has this time used pigment powder. The very quality of the material necessitates a particular handling, first of all owing to the toxicity of certain colours, and secondly because the dispersing powder must be protected from draft. With the help of brushes and little spoons, the artist succeeds in precisely dropping the powder onto the surface. Once in contact with the surface, the powder can no longer be retouched. Finishing each work can take several weeks, and then every drawing, its size about 30 to 40 centimetres, is immediately photographed. The pictures are then enlarged to very big formats enabling us to perceive their voluptuous and tactile colours.
During the process of creation, Vik Muniz playfully and ironically takes up different roles, those of painter, sculptor, photographer and theoretician. Even by reinforcing our feeling of familiarity, Vik Muniz deceives us. While his work at first sight leaves us with an impression of sensuality and ambiguity, it questions the very process of visual perception. He wants us to be doubtful, critical and analytical: “Vision is first of all a form of intelligence, and recognition or identification a sort of comfort.” Although his pictures appear familiar, they indeed unsettle the process of identification.
A few of the pieces do resonate visually – Handmade: Primal forms (green) 2, features gum-like blobs of colored clay (shades of Hannah Wilke?) affixed to a photograph of the same, and the monochromatic Handmade: Bound (3), white cotton rope wrapped around an inkjet print (early Christo packages?). Ultimately, the works feel like water-treading exercises, which hopefully will lead to a more satisfying mix of ingredients.
sticks, crumbs and traces of pastels. With these he recreates masterpieces ranging from those of Turner and the Impressionists who were pushing the limits of the brilliant new hues available to them (A Disaster at Sea aka The Wreck of the Amphitrite, after William Turner, Flowers, after Vincent van Gogh, Still Life with Begonias, after Paul Cézanne and Flowers, after Odilon Redon II, all 2016) to the immense oil and acrylic expanses of Abstract Expressionist painters (Double Scramble, after Frank Stella and No. 3/No. 13, after Mark Rothko, both 2016) where the use and choice of colour in paint was paramount. While colour was a key preoccupation for these artists, Muniz refocuses attention on the painting’s materials, compelling the viewer to consider the basis of its making and colouring.
Photographer and mixed-media artist Vik Muniz is best known for repurposing everyday materials for intricate and heavily layered recreations of canonical artworks. Muniz works in a range of media, from trash to peanut butter and jelly, the latter used to recreate Andy Warhol’s famous Double Mona Lisa (1963) that was in turn an appropriation of Da Vinci’s original. Layered appropriation is a consistent theme in Muniz’s work: in 2008, he undertook a large-scale project in Brazil, photographing trash-pickers as figures from emblematic paintings, such as Jacques-Louis David’s NeoclassicalDeath of Marat, and then recreating the photographs in large-scale arrangements of trash. The project was documented in the 2010 film Waste Land in an attempt to raise awareness for urban poverty. Muniz explained the work as a “step away from the realm of fine art,” wanting instead to “change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day.”
Muniz is best known for recreating famous imagery from art history and pop culture with unexpected, everyday objects, and photographing them. For example, Muniz’s Action Photo, After Hans Namuth (From Pictures of Chocolate), a Cibachrome print, is a Bosco Chocolate Syrup recreation of one of Hans Namuth‘s photographs of Jackson Pollock in his studio. The monumental series Pictures of Cars (after Ruscha) is his social commentary of the car culture of Los Angeles utilizing Ed Ruscha’s 60’s Pop masterpieces rendered from car ephemera. Muniz often works on a large scale and then he destroys the originals of his work and only the photo of his work remains.
Muniz has spoken of wanting to make “color pictures that talked about color and also talked about the practical simplification of such impossible concepts”. He has spoken of an interest in making pictures that “reveal their process and material structure”, and describes himself as having been “a willing bystander in the middle of the shootout between structuralist and post-structuralist critique”. He cites the mosaics in a church in Ravenna as one of his influences.
Muniz says that when he takes photographs, he intuitively searches for “a vantage point that would make the picture identical to the ones in my head before I’d made the works”, so that his photographs match those mental images. He sees photography as having “freed painting from its responsibility to depict the world as fact”.