Trompe l'oeil artist Anthony Adcock received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Chicago and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a specialization in oil painting from the American Academy of Art. Anthony also studied painting and drawing at the Vitruvian School of Art in Chicago, and has spent time studying plein air painting in Italy. Anthony has gallery representation at Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago, M Gallery of Fine Art in Charleston, South Carolina, Lovetts Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Cureeo, an online gallery based in Chicago. His work has also been featured in the magazine New American Paintings and in multiple venues and galleries throughout Chicago. Anthony continues to paint in Chicago and teaches full-time at the American Academy of Art.
Reproducing the visual world through a centuries-old medium seems nonsensical as I find myself surrounded by ready-mades, performance work, and indefinable objects that provide experiences unknown to painting. Yet, I find myself painting, questioning the relevancy of the craft and its role in contemporary art. As the field of cultural production expands, the realm of painting recedes to near irrelevancy, which may be its greatest value. There is magic placed in the act of painting, related to the magic of an heirloom passed down by a deceased relative. Although the heirloom may be no different in appearance and value from a common object, its owner might be unwilling to sell it at market price. The same principle can be applied to illusionistic painting when comparing a painting of an object with an actual object. For example, a Trompe loeil piece that is nearly indistinguishable from an actual object acts both as the object and as a painting of the object. This duality creates the ability for the piece to shift between ready-made and painting. Instead of highlighting facture, the representational painting questions authorship and production, leaving the viewer to question the significance of the perceived object. Paintings, playing the role of found objects, can create experiences once foreign to the practice, while simultaneously questioning the value and relevancy of the craft.
Representational painting is an act of observation and reflection, an act of reproduction. Creating a painting in this manner requires hundreds of hours of work along with years of training. One issue with representational painting is that the laborious craft often takes precedence over concept, as the sole purpose of the work is to make a gorgeous painting. The paintings of Bouguereau are beautiful but they are also considered unimaginative portrayals of clichéd themes. To avoid this problem one might move towards abstraction or another medium entirely. However, if finish is pushed to the point of being indistinguishable from reality the painting no longer becomes beautiful, it becomes reality. This level of painterly illusion can only be achieved by pushing Trompe loeil to a minimal form.
I have taken a minimalistic route with Trompe loeil painting, which has led me to create frameless paintings that may seem void of depth. The paintings resemble common flat surfaces, ranging from planks of wood to street signs. It is necessary to inspect the edges of the surface, as this is where the illusion lives. Abandoning the frame allows the paintings to be viewed from multiple angles, giving them a sculptural quality. The work then becomes about the surface, transforming the painting into an object, which naturally aids in its relationship with the space the painting is placed in. This alchemical idea of recreating an object in oil paint allows the painting to be viewed as a sculpture, which brings the viewer to consider the work as a found object or ready-made. Acting as a sculpture, the painting draws attention to the sides of the piece. Contrary to conventional modes of representation, the sides assure the viewer that the object is a painting, while the painted surface validates the object as reality. By placing a familiar material on the sides of the piece, like wood, the viewer is able to shift back and forth between actual object and painting.
When creating a piece, I often start by finding or creating a model. This process can be as simple as finding a piece of cardboard or as complex as building a concrete wall. The model is then studied and used to produce a painting. The labor of finding or creating a model is essential to my process, as I feel it is necessary to fully understand the material and learn how light reacts with its surface. The models are generally dirtied, worn-out, and used by humans in some way. The surfaces are full of indexical information accumulated from hours or years of labor, use, and reuse. Only some of this history is visible to us as marks obscure or erase older marks. Einstein once compared the universe to an erased chalkboard. When a chalkboard is erased, there remains only a frame of bits of information, which could be used to piece the universe back together. By leaving pieces of information in the painting, the viewer can attempt to fill in the gaps. Similar to a Gerhard Richter painting where a squeegee of paint covers the painted image, a plethora of dirt and corrosive elements obstruct the view in my work. This obstruction causes the paintings to seem depthless, reducing the surface to an abstraction of marks. Giving the work the capacity to mediate, the neutral and depthless surfaces allow the paintings to live in both hyper-representational and minimal worlds. As the paintings become more meticulous the subjectivity becomes more minimal, pushing against each other to the point of cancellation.
On occasion I present the models with the paintings. This tends to transform the surrounding objects into paintings and adds productive confusion to the installation. This method of installation raises questions of authorship and labor. The laboriously constructed paintings lose their magic, while the actual objects gain a certain kind of aura by virtue of being on display. The idea that a viewer can potentially question authorship through a representational painting leads me to question authorship on many levels. The paintings may require hundreds of hours of work only to be passed over by viewers, mistaking them for actual objects. Similarly, high-rise buildings require years of work by hundreds of workers, only to have them go unnoticed on a daily basis, with no credit given to individual workers. A bridge will be attributed to the architect with hardly any mention of anyone else, while a film will mention every last person down to the water boy. I struggle to understand why workers are acknowledged in one case and not the other.
The craft of representational painting can never truly be mastered to the point of perfectly depicting light falling on a three dimensional object, considering that the mixture of oil and pigment can never emulate actual light; but our perceptions of reality can be distorted and shifted so that we believe in the immediate recognition of a familiar object. Trickery can be a powerful tool to visually depict and deliver an experience. Presenting representational paintings as found objects provides the opportunity for an experience that was once foreign to painting, broadening and simultaneously questioning the so-called magic of oil painting. That intuitive recognition through illusion of a familiar object is where the viewers imagination is activated, leading to a conjuration of the unseen. This act of conjuration provides an experience that will differ among viewers, bringing viewers to question their own perceptions of reality, and leaving me to question the same. If perception can be shaped and molded, then the difference between an actual object and a painting that is perceived to be an actual object is questionable. This questioning fuels my continued fascination with illusion, and is what motivates my unyielding dedication to the craft of oil painting.
News and Upcoming events
I am now represented by Packer Schopf Gallery in the West Loop.
Expect a solo show in the near future!
My work will be featured in New American Paintings issue #107.