(Kiana) #1

Fresh Paint

LEFT Tony de Wolf,
Vine Plums, China
and Tall White
Jug, oil on panel,
41 x51cm

Tony de Wolf
Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of northern Belgium, has
always been something of a hotbed of still life painting,
ever since Joris Hoefnagel first made delicate watercolours
of flowers and fruit for his patron, Emperor Rudolf II, back in
the latter part of the 16th century. The conditions were ripe
for a period of artistic renaissance, after the iconoclastic
riots of 1566 destroyed countless religious works of art
and wealthy patrons stepped in to employ a new generation
of painters. Still life subjects had religious echoes (a
pomegranate was symbolic of resurrection, for example,
while a bunch of grapes alluded to the Last Supper), while
the vast tables on which they sat were reminiscent of the
endless flat landscapes of the Low Countries.
One contemporary painter who is more than upholding
this rich artistic tradition is Tony de Wolf. Born in Antwerp in
1961, he immersed himself in the art of the region,
spending countless hours sat in galleries making copies of
masterpieces by the great Flemish painters, as well as
seven years intensive training at the city’s Academy of Fine
Arts. So, having absorbed the works of masters like Willem
Claesz and Willem Kalf, the key to composing a great still
life, says Tony, is balance. “This doesn’t have to take the
form of symmetry, but an ebb and flow must exist between
all objects as though they’re interacting.”
Tony’s technique is at once painterly and hyperreal, with
new oil panels such as Vine Plums, China and Tall White
Jug revealing a dazzling array of expertly crafted textures,
from ceramic sheen to juicy flesh. Nevertheless, he largely
avoids exaggerating shadow effects or reflections and
prefers to err on the side of painting what he sees.
“Too much artistic license or flare away from the forms
can adopt an entirely different effect in the painting,”
he explains. “The textures of fruit surfaces such as peach
fuzz, the cloudiness of grape skin, and the waxy sheen of
cherries are achieved best through painting every detail
you can pick up from looking.”
That process of looking is an exhaustive one, developed
as Tony builds each painting meticulously. “My work
requires numerous layers from start to finish, including
underpainting at the start and over five layers of varnish
at the end.”
Push for details on how he applies those layers and
the artist confesses to using “extremely fine and small”
brushes, although he won’t give away any more trade
secrets than that. “By this stage the brand logos have
rubbed off the side,” he says, enigmatically.
Tony’s next exhibition runs from 10-26 October at Thompson’s
Gallery, London W1.

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