by Jason Huff
Nature Morte (Nature Vive) explores theories of simulacra, specifically the reality of objects in paintings. Utilizing the master works of Paul Cézanne and the modern production techniques of vacuum forming, real objects are given the chance to fulfill their representations.
Paul Cézanne is considered the bridge between late 19th century Impressionism and Cubism, his work in still life and in portraiture dealt with the complexity of human perception. He struggled to use techniques of impressionism with more exactitude and reveal more about the space of the objects and their primitive shape, keeping a fine line between abstraction and work styles similar to Albrecht Dürer.
Cézanne's intense concern with the perception of objects and his reputation as the "father of us all" stated by Matisse and Picasso(1), make his paintings the perfect subject for Nature Morte (Nature Vive). The title for this piece is meant to be a contradiction presented in the typical mode of Cézanne's own titling habits. Translated the title simply reads Still Life (Nature Lives) referring to the relationship between the painted and previously disconnected objects of a still life.
I feel this project acts as a definition of his first order of pre-modern simulacra where the "image is clearly an artificial placemarker for the real item."(1) The idea of real objects trying to usurp their representations fascinates me and I think the nuances of the real fruit text pressed into Cézanne's somewhat flatly rendered fruits visual expresses the dilemma a simulated object faces when attacked by the real. Ironiclly there is no real object left in the vacuum formed painting, only a void where the fruit tried to remerge as the owner of it's own place in the piece. The plate dominates it's represented self the most because there is a completely different plane of perspective on the vacuum bed. Although the painted plate is trying to act like it exists in a 3D space it is trumped by the real plate laying flat in reality and only matching the painted plates curve less than halfway. Does this experiment reinforce the power symbols and signs have over real objects? Does the new composition fail or succeed? Is this still a painting?
Once I found the Cézanne painting I wanted I scanned the reproduction at a very high resolution. Next I ran a prototype of fruit (a pear, an apple, and some oranges) on the vacuum former and was pleased with the resulting details captured in the plastic. I hand drew representations of the fruit on this first prototype to understand how the plastic would warp and wrap the drawing around the shapes of the fruit. After the successful vacuum form I needed to find a way to print large format inkjet images onto vacuum formable styrene. Styrene is essentially like PVC in sheet form and I used a .03" thickness to gain maximum detail from the process. I tested the styrene first without any ground on the material. It felt slightly porous so I thought it would take the ink. It didn't and even after multiple days of drying the ink was still very sticky and wet. I did more research and found this product: Golden Digital Ground. Spreading an even coat of this miracle chemical product allowed the ink to stick and dry within 2 days. In order to hedge my experimental process I printed two images on the sheet in case one failed during vacuum forming. As a final step I constructed a frame that matched similar frames around Cézanne paintings in museums with heavy metallic paint and ornate detail.
Oranges, Lemon, and Avacado on Plate c. 1879-80 (120 Kb); Oil on canvas, 19.2 x 23 cm
Below are images showing a basic understanding of the vacuum forming process and machinery.
Step 1: The styrene sheet with images is attached to the frame so that it can be raised to the heating coils hidden in the wooden panels above the prints.
Step 2: The print is raised above the vacuum bed and is ready to be heated. Before heating I laid out the compositions in the paintings with as much accuracy as possible. The images were scaled using some basic algebra to make sure the fruits in the image were the same size as fruits from the grocery store. In the pile of fruit on the left (the unused image) there are seven peaches on a plate with lettuce and some fabric.
Step 3: Before this image the plastic was heated for approximately 4 minutes until it started to sag. As you bring the sheet of styrene down onto the objects you turn on the vacuum with your free hand and control the suction which in turn dictates how much detail you get from the objects. The imperfections in this part of the process were exciting to me because the process inherently deforms or moves the objects on the vacuum bed, which works as a parallel to the deformative process of painting objects from observation.
Final Installation at MCM office:
Detail of installation in MCM office: