Whilst the other paintings in this series utilise symbolic pictorial allusions to reflexively critique spectacle, commodity fetishism, pseudo-spirituality and other facets of the commercialisation of art, Madonna responds particularly to the idea of reproduction. Due to the impossibility of travelling around Europe and painting in front of the authentic original, each of the paintings in the series had to be created with reference to a reproduction. The incongruity of such a methodology alongside critiques of mechanical reproduction as a tool of the culture industry are not lost, but rather acknowledged. The limitation of the colour palette to only CMYK colours is a strategy by which it is possible to concede the limitations of working from reproductions whilst maintaining the critique. It would be reductionist to believe the use of reproductions to produce the paintings undermines the criticality of the work. Debord's notion of détournement as the '[t]urning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself'1, would suggest that an employment of the object of censure is a primary method for radical critique. This leads to the conclusion that there is no contradiction inherent in the work.
Madonna, 2015, Oil on Panel, 22x25cm
The use of the CMYK colour palette is not obvious from the appearance of most of the work. Madonna reveals this technique through its progressive removal of each colour. The break down of the bottom half of the piece acts as a window into the painting process, illustrating the techniques utilised in the paintings. The piece has the appearance of a failed print out, as though the printer had run out of each ink one by one, leaving the bottom section of the image blank. There is a clear implication of the unreliability of reproductions to accurately convey the unadulterated original. The ambiguous concept of the Aura is useful in understanding the questions raised by Madonna. Defined by Walter Benjamin as '[t]he 'one-of-a-kind' value of the 'genuine' work of art'2, the aura is the term given to the intangible worth of an original artwork that is not present in its reproductions. Benjamin claimed that the aura was destroyed by reproduction. The framework for the valuation of the aura of the artwork matches with my own thoughts around the spiritual functionality of art; Benjamin explains that aura has its 'underpinnings in the ritual in which it had its original, initial utility value.'3 The spiritual functionality of artworks, which was the dominant driving force behind historic aesthetic practices, is lost when art can be mechanically reproduced as the 'one-of-a-kind value', or uniqueness, of the artwork is lost in the multitude of copies.
1. Dominic Holt, Cultural Strategy Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2010). 252.
2. Walter Benjamin and J. A Underwood, The Work of Art in the Age Of Mechanical Reproduction (London: Penguin, 2008), 11.