Thursday, August 22, 2019


I've always prided myself on my ability to judge an artwork's aesthetic qualities separately from its narrative or ideological content. I can look at Triumph of the Will and admire the camera angles. I can look at Potemkin and groove on the editing.

When it comes to painting, my mantra is "Subject matter doesn't matter." I don't care about what you've painted or why you painted it; to me, all painting is abstract painting. Nothing matters but line, color, composition, chiaroscuro, brushwork, glazing. Nothing matters but the application of paint.

In a previous post, I wrote these words about David's famous portrait of Napoleon (hanging in DC's National Gallery):
If you are not an artist, your first thought will probably be: "Ah. Napoleon!"

My first thought (back in 1986, during my first trip to DC) was quite different: "Ah. David!"

I see the artist. You see the emperor. I wish to hell I could make you see through my eyes, but you never will.
For this reason, I have been alone -- at least among liberal commenters -- in offering qualified praise for Jon McNaughton. As ideological tracts, his paintings are hilarious -- but once I got past the snickering, I was always willing to stipulate his competence as a craftsman. Here's my 2012 comparison of pro-Obama artist Michael D'Antuono to McNaughton; D'Antuono gets the worst of it.

Well, here's the latest from McNaughton...

Oh dear.

This is childish. Again: I'm not talking about the message, absurd as it is. I'm talking about the execution.

The perspective is hopeless, with multiple vanishing points indicating a wide variety of horizon lines.

And then there's the lighting. If you look at Trump's face and body, the light source seems to be coming from the viewer's right. But if you look at the red curtain, the light is coming from the opposite direction!

Finally, there's the handling of the paint. The face is executed with the kind of good-though-not-great competence I expect from McNaughton. Unfortunately, this work contains many passages which are simply amateurish. The cathedral is a disaster, especially in the upper reaches. I wouldn't accept such work from a student.

Elsewhere in the art world: The conservative blogosphere went nuts a few days ago, when we learned that Jeffrey Epstein's home contained a portrait of Bill Clinton wearing a blue dress. We now know that this work was created by Petrina Ryan-Kleid, who was then an art student. The work was sold for $1300, chicken feed by Epsteinian standards, though a student must have welcomed the cash.

The artist explains that her motive was to show how "opposition parties caricature presidents."

In other words, she was mocking Republican propaganda campaigns. How ironic! This very work became the centerpiece of yet another Republican propaganda campaign against Clinton.

Although I'm sure that my politics are far closer to Ryan-Kleid's than to McNaughton's, fairness dictates that I critique this painting with the same candor.'s a student work.

But does anything excuse the ridiculous anatomy of Bill's left foot? And look at the size of the head in relation to the deltoids. Don't they teach anatomy to art students any more?

Ryan-Kleid photographed a model and still got it wrong. If you go to the trouble of snapping a reference photo, then for chrissakes, look at the photo.

The handling of the paint is pedestrian at best. The dress is poorly executed and the vertical lines in the architecture are far from straight. Even the most impoverished student artists should invest in a T-Square. Placing the bookshelf in soft focus was a cheap dodge. On the positive side, the furniture is handled pretty well.

Petrina Ryan-Kleid attended a prestigious private university, the New York Academy of Art, which was founded to train artists in the ways of old-school craftsmanship. This work is not the best advertisement for that school.


joseph said...

I understand what you're saying. I have a friend who has a son who is first violinist in the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. He and his cousin, a gifted cellist at some orchestra, played a concert here. I went, but I might just as well have been listening to a high school audition. I simply lack the discernment to tell the difference. My parents had the original Ed Paschke painting "Red Sweeney." I'm sure it is quite good, but I preferred paintings by Mark Forth, certainly a lesser talent. My mother told me never to buy paintings as an investment, just buy what you like. There is, after all, no accounting for tastes.

Mr Mike said...

only way I can describe McNaughton paintings is muddy.