Van Pelt above as she works on her Chuck Close painting
Above my desk hangs a photo I ripped out of a design magazine; a modern dining room with three large paintings on the wall. There was something about this photo that I kept going back to and it wasn’t the furniture; although the designer showed brilliant restraint in his selection, knowing that the artwork- angelic, yet eery portraits of three Native Americans where the statement pieces of the room. I finally started doing some research on the artist and wasn’t surprised her work closely resonates with one of my favorite painters; Chuck Close who is noted for his highly inventive techniques used to paint the human face. He rose to fame in the late 1960s for his large-scale, photo-realist portraits.
So who is this artist that I’ve been staring at for the last month?
Alison Van Pelt is a Los Angeles based painter who combines demonstrates a breezing and blurring technique in her paintings that combines the meaning of motion painting and photo-realism. She bases her work around found images, such as popular celebrities, historical figures and animals, referencing a photograph or other exiting image from which she draws a realistic portrait entirely by hand. She builds upon her drawing through layers of oil paints that creates a blurring effect or obscuring of the image. Her portraits have a soft yet haunting feeling to them but when you get close the vertical and horizontal lines of her work can be seen. Take Van Pelt’s portrait of William Burroughs (below) the Beat Generation’s hero, which has been described as a ghost-like image.
Van Pelt has said, “It’s my way of merging the tradition of portraiture with contemporary abstraction. I’m interested in ambiguity.” A sublime tension is created in the contradiction between the crisp photorealism with which she first delineates her subject and the purposeful act of obscuring this subject, which ensues. Viewed up close, a grid of ambiguous color meets the eye, but with distance the viewer gains the necessary objectivity to discern the subject.
Below are some paintings depicting the horizontal and vertical technique Alison Van Pelt is known for.
Van Pelt’s work can be found here