“My characters are telling History”
History, fragments of it mixed with fiction and the abstract. Titus Kaphar’s eye weaves a narrative that is visually perched on history and deconstruction. He exhibits hidden ideas. Therefore the power of the present appears; that which can even twist and drape over an inherited image, a piece that stroked its last brush-stroke hundreds of years ago.
“Many of the paintings, though they rely on the visual tropes of history,
are in fact invented in order to have more control of the narrative”
Something hidden is dismantled upon opening the curtain or peeling an orange. The portrait of a well-off man, the facial expression of a lady or the strict family composition of the Renaissance, are abruptly interspersed on the scene with the face of an African-American person. Then Copley, Eakins and Delacroix’s portraits appear spread out in a new perspective, images never before seen.
The mission that Titus Kaphar has put into practice is removing the history from pieces where art shows neat and finished work, like extracts from a golden age monarchic utopia. All of a sudden, certain revelations emanate in his work, an extract from history that hasn’t been told with a golden frame. He suggests an ignored message, a distinct interpretation that makes room for today, that time of artistic sublimity.
They are cuttings or clippings exiled from the cited work along with the chronology, adopted from our time to pervade these works with a more inclusive, panoramic view. Therefore, for example, one of the protagonists is separated from the painted scene. It is replaced by its silhouette in white, a revelation of absence. Its existence is decontextualized, thus leaving behind, a space to reflect, to shroud with an interpretation, argument, feeling or perhaps logic, whatever the void allows or represents.
Titus’s hand produces an irreverent, bulky decomposition, full of motives and meanings, superimposed and integrated ideas, where he tries to immortalize the context more than a person, a comprehensive idea. He ridicules, dismantles and provokes, covers and reveals layers on a whim; he composes on top of what already exists. He uses the painted surface and that recognized by time and collective memory and brings it back with an additional angle, or without any angle. The mission is to show and expose that unanswered question that challenges the positioning of African-Americans in art history, from their current anonymity to the current artwork. A shortcoming, an oversight.
Classicism works of art and works from the Renaissance are blended with contemporaneity. They weave together in a narrative game that decomposes the masters that kept historic pieces, in order to build new realities upon him, real or fictional, with actors that have been behind the scenes until now. He has said in an interview with Times, “I draw from all time periods in the canon of art history, with an emphasis on American and European traditions from 1700 and 1900, for my image references and 1900 to contemporary for my interventional gestures.”
Thus, the materiality and details strip down a fragment; this creates texture and causes movement in the painting. It produces a feeling of motion. The people that filled the paintings until then are left white, and only space is left, that void of white light that proclaims something with its absence.
The way in which he has pursued the mission of creating consciousness and interrupting every single meaning of some pieces, have lead him to experiment with an endless number of materials, a push towards different visual art techniques to make comprehensive and uninhibited work. With it, cuts, sculpture, diverse materials and fusion, join together throughout his professional career. The result: a hybrid style, a challenging mix, an impartial mix, a critique.
As a consequence, the effect that this work has on the inherited works is the history that the art tells. They suddenly shake the artistic models that become unstable and malleable, an object that could be questioned, a story that we could add paragraphs and ideas to. “I feel that my characters are dictating the story and that you are a scribe. I think this is the clearest way to describe the monologue I have in my head,” he says. Through this, the painter’s authority is questioned to make history through his pieces, and a collective memory is built and deconstructed over time and with the voices that erect and praise it. In this case artistically, the replicas of great painters become vulnerable to the present, to the hand that narrates it, to the space that receives it. Pervious to time.
The void and overlapping leave an unwritten destiny in the end. They leave doubt. The history told not only starts to disappear, but to reinvent itself. Titus Kaphar isn’t afraid to carve up the presences and fill his work from others. He expresses and brings feminine and African-American absence in classic painting to the table and denounces it through his particular way of creating new scenes: cutting, separating, binding. The image is violent, the African-American woman gazes through the dismantled portrait, staring, hegemonic in defense of her existence, and she sees how they have kept her hidden. In another case, a hollow wooden frame is what holds the endless number of strips that destroy the facial expression of a former gentleman. And the proposal is made, the trend that redounds to critique, social affairs and a longed for justice appears.