Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Overpainting: Triumph or Tragedy?

On Friday I posted a retrospective on the work of Arnold Friberg. I love his work and by no means do I intend this post to diminish the work of an incredible artist, but I thought the following comparison worthy of contemplation. The following painting demonstrates the danger an artist can fall into when they revisit their own work. We have all done it. I have over painted or retouched a number of my own paintings over the years (I'll post an example tomorrow). I think any artist has the prerogative to change anything he creates if it is still in his possession, but when does such an effort cross over from improving a work to ruining one?

The Risen Lord - by Arnold Friberg

The above Painting by Arnold Friberg was painted sometime in the 1960's - I couldn't locate an exact date - but have heard that it was sometime after his iconic Book of Mormon Paintings were completed and sold to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is evident that Friberg was at the height of his dramatic and compositional powers at the time. This particular work was never sold to the church because, as the story goes, the brethren of the church had asked Friberg to paint the robe of Christ to cover his chest and Arnold refused and kept the painting. Fast forward to around 2005 and you get the following version of the same painting.

The Light of Christ - by Arnold Friberg
after it had been extensively over painted 

I saw it at a special exhibit that was held in 2006 of his Ten Commandments paintings and was shocked to see how different it looked from the version I remembered. Surely this was a different version because I figured that there was no way that an artist whose work was so valuable and revered would so severely over paint such a popular and well known work. The curator indicated that it was indeed the same painting but that Friberg had extensively over painted it to achieve what he deemed a more holy effect of light. He even changed the title to "The Light of Christ" In comparing the two, you can see numerous differences, most notably the light source which now seems to emanate from the risen Lord, but he also changed costumes, beards, skin tones and hairstyles throughout the painting. The change in lighting also flattened out the modeling on many of the faces to what I think is almost a cartoonish level. From my own perspective, I feel that he dramatically diminished one of the most stunning depictions of Christ I had ever seen. One can only hope that in the wake of his passing, someone will purchase the painting and have it restored to it's former glory by removing the subsequent layers of paint. I would think that it might be possible if he did not resort to severe scraping before the over working was done. Everyone can draw their own conclusions as to whether Friberg improved or ruined the painting, but I believe he should have let it stand as it was when he first painted it.


Mike Blake / Monisawa said...

wow! I didn't know he did those kind of things.

His newer version seems to have a Minerva Teichert feel, whereas before it was bold, dramatic, and defined.

Very interesting.

Kenney Mencher said...

I agree with you. He diminished the chiaroscuro in his repainting and the anatomy got worse on Jesus.

Gordon Napier said...

It looks to me like a totally different painting, which I hope is the case. An esteemed associate of mine was repainting a lot of his early works. I asked him to stop as he was changing but not necessarily improving the pictures, and he was better off starting again. (Traditional paintings, of course. If one reworks a digital artwork nothing is lost.)

Greg Newbold said...

I am fairly certain it is the same painting. I was told this by the curator of the Ten Commandments show, who I assume heard it straight from the man himself. Unfortunately, by the time Arnold repainted this, he had lost a step or two in his skill level.
I have to resist the urge to rework my own paintings also. If it is just a highlight or a slight change, I do it since often my work has to go out the door to a client before I am fully satisfied.