"The Big Picture" According to Casey Read (MFA 2014)

In New York City, I have discovered an overwhelming wealth of information regarding sensory overload. Touching, smelling, tasting, hearing, and seeing everything, like a trip to the grocery store. Touching subway poles, smelling the car exhaust, tasting the worldly cuisines, and watching the masses pass and shove their way through to the next event of the day. But I have not experienced, in my short time here, anything like the opening of The Big Picture.

Mark Tansey, Coastline Measure 1987
Mark Tansey, Duet, 2004

On the night of the opening, I hardly looked at the art. The floor was filled with people stretching to look at the works and chat amongst themselves. A slight social anxiety crept over a few of the current students at the New York Academy of Art, me included. There are only seven pieces in The Big Picture, which made the gallery appear smaller than usual and with all the people inside the hallway, there was no way to fully experience each piece. This isn’t to say that the night was made worse, the crowd filled the air with an excitement I had never seen at the school and I felt pleased to know that each time someone passed through our doors, another face lit up with a sense of awe. After painting class yesterday, I ventured downstairs to realize the privilege of viewing the artwork one-on-one. Once I experienced the show on my own, there was no comparison to seeing it with human heads blocking the view. It sounds silly, but I felt a near spiritual involvement with the work, as though I had meditated and had a conversation with each at the same time. I had been painting from life the entire day, moving at a range of distances from my 36 inches x 42 inches canvas to gain a better understanding of how it looked from up close and far away. I especially noticed this with the work by Mark Tansey. I approached his work until I was sitting an arm’s length away and realized that the entire illusion of space and depth in his painting, Coastline Measure, were created by nothing more than scribbles. My interest increased as I got up and walked backwards from the scribbles. I felt like a child again - a smile grew on my face, “It’s like magic”!  Not only did I feel childlike as a result of Tansey’s "magic trick" with mark-making, but also due to the fact that I was physically about a third of the size of his 87 inches x 122 inches piece. 

Jenny Saville, Bleach, 2008

Though I had not been particularly interested in the work of Jenny Saville, I certainly am now. The digital images of her work flatten and simplify the massive brushstrokes that add a voluminous appearance to the paint itself.  Each layer added to the face in the painting made me recall my interest in anatomy; Saville allows the viewer to see through skin, bruises, blood, all the way down to the deepest parts of the person depicted. For the first time, I saw and understood that the eyes were smooth and glassy and are windows inside rather than meshing with the rest of the flesh.
Eric Fischl, Krefeld Project: Living Room, Scene 1, 2002
Eric Fishl, Corrida In Ronda # 4, 2008

Eric Fischl is actually one of the reasons I came to study at the Academy- I had never heard of the school until I e-mailed him for a project interview in undergraduate school and he replied.  He even told me about the Academy after he asked me to send him pictures of my work.  Eric changed the way I think about painting. As a drawing concentration in undergrad, painting meant I had dabbled in abstract acrylic painting since high school and then took two classes in college. It was intimidating- it meant color and wet stuff and, basically, making a lot of terrible art. I did and still do make terrible paintings, but the difference is that researching artists, their work, and how they make it helped me make some good ones too. Fischl was one of the first painters I really looked into and I was surprised to discover that his process involved photography and even mismatching figures from separate photos and shoving them in together. Not only that, but he also based much of his early work on unnerving suburban unrest which I completely related to growing up in Southern California. Seeing his work for the first time in the flesh is something personal and special to me.

Now we get to Vincent Desiderio: Father, husband, and considered (by me) to be one of the most prolific painters in these contemporary times. Of all the paintings in The Big Picture, his is the largest, entitled Quixote. Comprised of three parts (that I initially did not come close to understanding), it tortures the viewer with a heart-shaped object (perhaps a piano) falling amongst the clouds, a silhouette of a bicycle, and a slaughtered animal (a pig, I believe). To me, it almost seems like he is trying to play a game with me like "hey, make a word out of these three images" or "what do these things have in common" or even "I have seen these images on a daily basis, have you?"  I find myself struggling to make an answer for these metaphoric images, but maybe that is the point. There are obscurities in life that we, as people, were never meant to find an answer to.  The novel A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy comes to mind in which the smartest computer in the universe is asked "the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything" and comes up with the answer "42". Either that, or I need to do more research on this brilliant guy.
Vincent Desiderio, Quixote, 2008

Neo Rauch Hausmeister, 2002
Neo Rauch is a weirdo. I mean this in the most loving way. Hausmeister appears like an old billboard from the 1950’s on homeschooling. His voyeuristic approach to the home setting offers the viewer a strange look at a family in an unbalanced situation. Plates are stacked off to the right of the scene, held together by colorful goo that is repeated in the geology poster that the woman in the painting gestures towards, her gaze down at the boy (who has his back turned to the viewer). It seems as though everything in the scene is failing; the woman appears to be teaching, but the boy is busy taking a bottle of something out of a mini fridge. Only, it might not be a refrigerator at all and an odd, deformed statue of a unicorn type creature stands atop the "refrigerator." The man in the room looks grim, yet indifferent to the situation. Neo Rauch composes places that, at first glance, seem ordinary or even dull. But looking further, the scene can create a realm for the viewer in which there is no sense and only a dark humor to drown in. In order to enter into the world of this piece, you will have to see it for yourself.

I encourage anyone who has   To me, the collection is a surprising commentary on the digital age, the negatives and positives of the iconic power of the photograph handed to human kind on a massive scale, like fire given to man. The exploration of paint expressed in The Big Picture creates a face of hope, dismay, and unpredictability for the traditional artists in this age of the powerful pictures.


The Big Picture is currently on view at the Wilkinson Gallery at the New York Academy of Art located at 111 Franklin Street between West Broadway & Church through March 2nd.  Be sure to visit the exhibition during the gallery hours of 2:00-8:00pm daily except Wednesdays and holidays.  Admission is free.  For more information on The Big Picture please visit its exhibitions page on the Academy's website.

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