Damien Kurth’s paintings explore modes of visual perception and interpretation, drawing on traditional painting practices to defy accepted conventions of the still life. Rejecting the stereotypical subject matter, images and iconography of the European still life, Kurth takes a counter-historical approach to the social and cultural parameters of still life painting.
By challenging or corrupting historical ways of seeing, Kurth creates an immediate sense of alienation and newness in his work. This is achieved not by distorting the objects, nor by painting them in a less realistic style; instead, the compositional and formal properties of Kurth’s work create a disjunction between the expected and the actual. The sharp realism of his paintings offers viewers a window into the work, the familiarity of this mode of interpretation acting as a conduit between the tradition of the still life and Kurth's formally subversive concerns.
For Kurth, the still life is full of possibilities for the reinterpretation of the familiar and is the most suitable form for his questioning of accepted modes of representation. While the objects depicted within his paintings are recognisable, Kurth’s compositions encourage the viewer to engage with the subject from an unusual vantage point. Perspective is flattened by the consistently low viewing angle and the presence of a wall or barrier close behind the objects. By truncating the depth of the image in this way, the artist denies any objective pictorial depth. In contrast to this, Kurth’s trompe l’oeil techniques create a tension between realism and the seemingly distorted picture space: paper seems to lift off the wall; paintbrushes protrude into the viewer’s space. These elements are rendered in a deceptive illusionistic manner; initially drawing attention to themselves due to their realistic appearance, they actually become the places where reality is distorted.
Kurth also produces portraiture in a similarly realistic style. The full extent of his technical skill is apparent in these classically balanced compositions, with his treatment of light and colour producing a lifelike effect. In this way, he demonstrates a command over the techniques used to produce traditional realism, techniques he ultimately uses to undermine these historical conventions.
In a similarly disruptive manner, Kurth joins the ranks of contemporary artists interested in the social ramifications of historical forms. Kurth selects objects that reflect predominantly masculine interests—male-oriented icons and images. He also paints scenes from his studio, drawing attention to the mechanics of painting. These images, with their “grungy” aesthetic, challenge traditional bourgeois conceptions of the still life and offer it a new place in contemporary art, liberating it from its stifling historical position. In this way, Kurth transforms the still life not only from a technical standpoint but from a conceptual one too.
What initially appears to be a straightforward image, taking a comfortable place amongst established methods of representation, becomes the very place where cracks appear in the old and the new reveals itself. As the surface of the painted object in Kurth’s work becomes the surface of the work, the classical and contemporary exist at a single point.
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