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Contemporary Artists - Still Life Studies

Updated on February 22, 2018
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Lynsey is a qualified Graphic Designer, who has a keen interest in art and design. She also enjoys DIY, crafting, photography and blogging.

I have recently come across some old exam preparation essays that I have written, and have decided to publish them as a helping hand to any other students out there. This is part of a comparison of expressive artists- this part looking at contemporary artists, and the other part looking at more traditional artists.

Contemporary artists are those who are alive today, and who continue to create, and make a living from their work. This hub looks briefly at 2 very different contemporary artists: Dion Archibald and Jeffrey Hayes- whom I chose because of their very different approach to painting the same subject matter. Both artists paint every day objects while transforming them into something that isn't quite an every day outlook.

In terms of exam preparation, I felt that in choosing artists who displayed such a varied approach to a similar topic, it would be easy to compare and contrast them under exam conditions. I also felt that, personally, it was easier for me to talk about artists and paintings that I liked, and had a genuine interest in, because then I was less likely to forget anything!

Oil on Board (1999) Bottles & Books - Dion Archibald.
Oil on Board (1999) Bottles & Books - Dion Archibald.

Dion Archibald

Dion Archibald was born in 1976 in Maitland, Australia. As a child, he drew and built things, using whatever materials were at hand. He was more comfortable with drawing, and familiarised himself with a pencil and paper from a young age. He has been quoted as saying: "Rather than playing sports or getting up to no good as a child, I drew, coloured in and discovered ways to express myself." He discovered oils at the age of 15 and has since enjoyed the many effects they can give.

He studied Fine Art at the TAFE College in Newcastle, Australia, and progressed on to study Visual Arts at the University of Newcastle. His influences include Brett Whitely, Picasso and Van Gough. He has travelled throughout the world displaying his own works, and has a particular fondness for Turkey, which has also influenced many of his creations.

One such example of his works is “Bottles and Books,” from the “Around the Home” series. It consists of 6 various sized bottles, from a pill bottle to a wine bottle, stacked on top of two books. It looks as though all but one of these bottles still have the tops on, although there doesn’t seem to be any suggestion of liquids within these sealed bottles. The colours are mainly natural, making use of earthy browns and oceanic blues, which I feel may be deliberate to show the contrast between man-made objects and nature.

The objects themselves look very bold in comparison with the soft background, although there is a suggestion of transparency, in the form of directional white lines to represent light reflection. Proportionally, I think the painting is fairly accurate, and I believe the early years of practice have definitely paid off. Archibald’s painting technique is more suggestive, with use of block shading on the objects, and suggestions of light, also with use of thick brushstrokes, rather than fine detail. I have also noticed that there seems to be very minimal shading on the books themselves, which is irregular when we look at the suggested light direction.

Despite this, I think the painting is reflective of real life. The subject matter is that of which most people do indeed have laying around their homes, hence the name of the series. I like the overall style of the painting, although I would have preferred it to have had more colours, as it feels a bit sombre to me. I’m sure Archibald will continue to create varied pieces of art, and it will be interesting to follow his success. When asked of the future, the artist says: “I’m aiming for the emotional honesty of Van Gough and the promotional skills of Coca- Cola!”

Oil on Linen (2009) Double Lemon- Jeffrey Hayes
Oil on Linen (2009) Double Lemon- Jeffrey Hayes

Jeffrey Hayes

Jeffrey Hayes was born in 1967 in Michigan USA. Unlike most artists, his primary love was actually music, and he graduated with an MA in 1995 from Brandeis University, having previously achieved an MI at the University of Michigan. However, soon after, he decided that the life of an academic wasn’t for him. He then went on to become a software engineer, and didn’t actually start painting until the age of 30. He now sells paintings privately, with his work being featured in over 100 private collections and considers himself to be a contemporary realist.

In “Double Lemon” it is easy to see why. The almost photographic quality of the image makes me question the idea that it is in fact a painting. The subject matter is quite simply an airtight jar with 2 lemons inside, on top of a surface covered with a patterned tablecloth. Fairly simple in terms of composition, however, in my opinion is awe inspiring at the sheer accomplishment of almost 3D objects on a flat surface.

The lemons themselves almost jump out at you, and are built up of many shades of yellow to achieve the polished, rounded look, and the jar has been subtly touched with primarily blue and white shades to give the glass a very realistic transparency effect, as well as reflections of the other surfaces and colours. While the pattern on the table isn’t particularly clear and the background is simply plain black, which is unrealistic, this is of no importance in my mind as it does allow us to focus more on the focal point than the surroundings. I also think the jar and lemons speak for themselves and don’t necessarily need anything further to create a successful painting.

In conclusion, “Double Lemon,” in my opinion, is an amazing painting. The attention to detail, from the suggestion of bumps in the lemon rind to the lettering on the jar shows that true effort has been put into this, which I feel, gives it all the more value. As with many of Hayes’ creations, it is a still life that I would actually hang in my own home.

Which is your favourite painting?

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The most obvious comparison that could be made about the two paintings is that one is super realistic, while the other is flatter and more suggestive of shape and dimension. This is what makes the choice of artists ideal- many marks could be given on the intensity and depth of discussion given to this within the exam.

Valid points would be made on the fact that Hayes uses a much more extensive and vibrant palette, while Archibald sticks with subdued, earthy tones. Or, the fact that Archibald seems to give the objects outlines, whereas Hayes looks transparent, despite being a defined object- this is very difficult to achieve!

There are many other points that could be mentioned about colour, composition, brush strokes- most of which mentioned above- and these essays would stand well on their own, or combined to give a comparison essay.

Overall, remember that personal opinion goes a long way in an art exam. My preference is the Jeffrey Hayes painting, simply because I am completely awe- stricken at the talent taken to achieve such realistic results. That is not to say that Dion Archibald is any less of an artist. I like his paintings for a much different reason- the expression and deliberation of mood and colour that seems so apparent in his work.

I also think that both of these paintings would look nice in an average home, which definitely has an appeal for me. Double Lemon would look lovely in a kitchen, and Bottles & Books would look nice in a reading nook under subtle lamp light. I already have their placement in my mind!

© 2013 Lynsey Harte


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