What is the purpose of the still-life artist in the age of the iPhone? In virtually everyone’s pocket is a camera capable of pin-sharp HD photography, each with editing software that can overlay dozens of atmospheric filters. You’d think that the smartphone would have killed still-life painting by now. In fact, it’s the opposite.
The rapturous response to Brett Humphries’ debut show at the Catto in 2014 proves it. Art lovers adore Brett’s meticulous, miraculous works. Why? Because, for all their photo-realistic precision, they are truly painterly. They shimmer in a way that no photograph could ever do.
And they are beautifully arranged. It’s a grand irony that in this age of ubiquitous photography, hardly anyone composes an image any more. It’s too easy to just shoot away instinctively. This is why painting endures. Brett Humphries clearly obsesses over the composition of his little dramas. And the astonishing paintwork brings a hyper-real quality to the food items, vases and utensils that populate his world. His berries are just very very berry.
Brett’s career background propelled him towards his photo-realistic speciality. After a foundation course in art, he took a degree in Scientific and Natural History Illustration at Lancaster University. Later, he worked as a designer and 3D sculptor for a CGI film studio where, he says: “I was tasked with translating my painting skills to a new medium, computer graphics, to help the company diversify from man made subjects to more organic subjects.”
After six years Brett left to fulfil his long term ambition to be a professional artist. Though he has painted landscapes, it’s the still life that feeds his creative impulse. Indeed, Brett says his still life works represent ‘the culmination of all my artistic knowledge and technical expertise refined into a single painting.”
The reference to technical expertise is significant. It takes immense skill to master this level of photorealism. Brett says: “I aim to make the brushstrokes become part of the objects themselves. This helps to give the trompe l'oeil effect and makes you feel that you can pick objects straight out of the painting”.
Of course, Brett recognises the historical weight of his chosen subject too. The still life is over 400 years old. And in the hands of the Dutch masters it was loaded with symbolism very much of its time. Clearly, Brett seeks to bring a modern sensibility to his arrangements. “I think the fundamentals of the classical masters need to be in place, but I prefer to work in a more contemporary style,” he says. “I look for a modern interpretation of the genre, with the light, colours and subjects of more contemporary work.”
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