Our Ambassadors to the Future
It is easy to look back into the past though the eyes of painters and see their everyday world as beautiful. Moments of normal life, as seen in Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”, are transformed from mundane to sublime through the act of painting.
It’s an artist’s role to show us beauty in our own age. Artists take our world of cities and offices, morning traffic jams and nightlife – our familiar grind – and show us how to see it as beautiful and worthy.
My Los Angeles studio backs onto Elysian Park. On occasion, ‘painters block’ affords me long walks up its back trails. High above the busy Interstate 5 Freeway are a million commuting SUVs and heavy goods vehicles. I stare out at the flowing freeway, the boxed-in and tamed river, the sinewy lines of the railway, and tiny far away houses which look like plastic monopoly pieces.
I love the lines of freeway bridges and high-rise buildings. Unlike the decorative sensibilities of the past – the Baroque adornment of buildings and its decorative appliqué – our age is pragmatic, simple and austere. “The Bridges of Glendale” is my love song to the city. It is my poem to the pragmatism of municipality. Its muted pallet and concentration on line and shape are aimed at pointing out the beauty of functional design.
Here in Bruce Docker’s cityscape, he shows us the industrial and forgotten part of the city. Juxtaposing the cold blue distance of the high-rises and office buildings with the Art Deco bridges over the warehouses of the city’s industrial east. He reminds us that even the typically unaesthetic parts of everyday life can be beautiful.
Imagine a great and grand painting of a broken down tractor-trailer at a truck stop. Not exactly the subject that first comes to mind when you think of famous landscape paintings of the 19th Century. But that would be the 21st century equivalent of The Hay Wain by John Constable.
Steven Boksenbaum’s work takes snippets of everyday life from just outside his studio and turns them into reflections of how we live our lives now. It is memories of paintings of our modern world which remind us how to find beauty in a fleeting taxi, a passing gesture, or indeed a broken down truck on the interstate.
My work as an artist is to become stealth like a wildlife photographer crouching in the reeds of a watering hole in Africa catching the twitches of nervous gazelle. I watch the bar goers flirt and rebuff, I sketch the innuendo and bravado of our nightlife. I translate to line the great unsaid, the mating habits of the young and trendy.
Contemporary artists live among us, they eat in our restaurants, walk our streets, soak up the same sun on their vacation, but they see our lives as worthy of art. They teach us how to see our world as the amazing place it is. Contemporary artists are our ambassadors to the future.
Amy Bernays is a guest blogger on WallSpin, and an artist on Zatista.