What Actually is a Painting?

Tired of constantly running into classical, and now way too commercialized, masterpiece paintings? The masterminds behind the art exhibition, creation, and collection space that is Espace Surplus acknowledge this frustration when they assert that “Painting is the issue.” Their current exhibit presenting the paintings of Japanese artist Sumiyo Nagai is a much-needed refreshing take on painting. Manipulating space and time in her two-dimensional paintings, Nagai’s vibrant artwork draws the viewer in just enough to peak their interest, while encouraging them to linger longer on the surface that is a painting.

Is art simply a constructed reality?

Having been completely impressed by the live creation of Yvonne Andreini’s 96 hour drawing marathon at Espace Surplus, we decided to explore the more long-standing exhibits that the art space holds. What we found only further ignited our interest — exploring the relationship between painting, history, space and time, their current exhibit presents aesthetically pleasing and exciting art that is timeless, and yet not tedious or overdone.

The exhibit includes large-scale canvas depicting the earthly realities of buildings, cityscapes and under-water scenes, as well as a small room of drama and laughs with a collection of paintings of oriental-inspired masks that are available exclusively for the collectors belonging to Espace Surplus. Philosphical texts exploring the basis and intention of art, with a particular focus on painting, supplement the exhibit. Should art serve as a newly constructed reality that the artist and viewer can get lost in? Or should a painting simply be taken for what it is — a flat surface depicting a particular idea or view?

Wedding reappears yet again…!

One of my favorites, and also the first painting visible to visitors at the end of the entry-way’s long hallway, shows a downward look into a strangely familiar cityscape boasting colorful towers… sure enough, this painting is inspired by Berlin’s Wedding district around the  Max Hetzler gallery space. Nagai’s genius use of space and time in this painting allow the viewer to focus primarily on the towers while the city buildings fall away or visually blend into the distance. Her creation of a flat, non-enterable space guides the viewer to really take in the intended focus of the painting, the towers. This painting in particular highlights the exhibit’s philosophy of paintings as a representation of reality, not a newly created world or reality for the viewer to get lost in… Wedding is wedding, not an abstract fantastical reality.

Towers “Wedding Inspires Yet Again!” “Towers” – Sumiyo Nagai 2011, Mixed Media on Canvas, Courtesy of Espace Surplus. Photo: Julie Anne Miranda-Brobeck

How can one re-invent and keep the timeless mode of art that is painting from becoming old and trite? Nagai’s artwork and Espace Surplus tackle exactly this issue. Nagai’s paintings find the perfect home in Espace Surplus’ altbau gallery space with its intact high-ceiling moulding and, in some instances, crumbling walls and floorboards — embodying this time-bound struggle of differentiating the different epochs and understanding of what art, and painting in particular, is.

  • Espace Surplus Sumiyo Nagai – “Die Gesetze der Malerei”, March 2nd – April 13th, Wed-Sat: 11am – 5 pm