Friday, 16 September 2011

UnMasterclass 37

On the outskirts of the Chinese city of Shenzhen there is an extraordinarily bizarre place called the Dafen Oil Painting Village, reputably the most concentrated place of craftsman on the planet.  Here some of the principles of UnMaserclass are taken to absurd levels, to such an extreme that nothing is learnt, only reproduced again and again. In Dafen thousands of artist live and work in a closed community; a cacophony of oil painting. There lies a strange morality of painting the work of others. is typical of what is on offer, where “High Quality paintings will be painted with toppest quality canvas and paints by years of expierenced artists. All the detials will be carefully painted, the finished paintings will be exactly the same as the original pictures.” (one can only hope that the paintings are of a ‘toppest’ quality that is better than the English on the website!) Highly skilful painters paint versions of masterpieces by Monet, Botticelli or Renoir to an incredible standard, more incredibly still they can be reproduced at any size and from as little as 60 dollars per painting, minus postage.  One iconic photograph of the place shows rows upon rows of painters behind easels, all dressed different, but all painting exactly the same self-portrait of Monet. All these different artists are all producing exactly the same painting for, primarily, westerners to pop the painting above the fireplace to fill a space on the wall.
An abiding memory childhood is of a painting that hung in my Nan and Grandad’s house. I can clearly remember a heated debate when I saw the much bigger version of (or rather the original) painting of Constable’s Haywain in the National Gallery with my parents. They tried to explain that my Nan’s version was not the original, but as I had seen my Nan and Granddad’s version first I was sceptical. As I got older I came to realise that although the image was on a canvas-like surface, the work was devoid of brushstrokes to catch the light, it was a print. My parents were right after all! I wonder if the grandchildren visiting and seeing a Dafen version of a past masterpiece will be even more sceptical than me when told their grandparents do not own the Mona Lisa or Birth of Venus, or more drastically will the Grandparents be turned in to art police by art sleuth grandchildren?!
Interestingly Dafen artists are now turning out ‘original-fakes’, versions  of master artists. These paintings have not existed before but are in the style of the artists. This is homage and forgery in the name of commerce going to absurd, yet logical levels. There is nothing new here, except that the Dafen painters are not trying to con anyone to make large sums of money like in traditional forgery, they are open that the Chinese artists are only painting in the style of past masters and now people seek out and by the versions by applauded Dafen  artists with the chinese signatures as opposed to the original artists. As I said earlier it is highly debateable whether the artists of Dafen are learning anything by painting these versions of masterpieces, they arrive highly skilled, and after an art education similar to that of past European art academies. However these trained artists then never go beyond this training, endlessly stuck in a cycle of painting these masterpieces/artists, far away from ever actually seeing the originals in Western art palaces.
To see this weeks UnMasterclass episode of a version of Sir Henry Raeburn’s painting of a Vicar ice skating, please follow this link,

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