Fife, Malcolm Art 399 Portfolio
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Academic Level at Time of Creation
Date of Creation
My life would make a perfect decadent novel. Nothing happens, but it happens with style. The time we live in now is an exceedingly decadent one, and I am interested in making connections and comparisons to periods of historical decadence. Aesthetically and thematically I am interested in the art and literature of the 1890s and 1920s, especially the Aesthetic, Decadent, and Art Nouveau movements. Art that is ornate and intricate attracts me. Superfluous ornament is something that makes life more bearable. One way this shows up is a consistent use of historical settings in my work. The people in my art are usually dressed in the fashion of one hundred years ago or earlier.
My painting style draws on Sir William Orpen, John Singer Sargent, and Anders Zorn (for instance, I painted two self portraits inspired by self portraits painted by Orpen) and my drawings and prints are influenced by the style of Aubrey Beardsley, Harry Clarke, and Edward Gorey. I am frequently inspired by decadent authors and literature, especially the Welsh author Arthur Machen. Machen has inspired me so much that I am working on a series of illustrations for his novel the Three Impostors. Films, especially the silent films of Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang, inform the architecture and settings in which I place the people I draw as well as the clothes they wear.
My art should look as if it had been created in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. Viewers ought to feel transported to an earlier era. The content of the art should be able to speak for itself and the message should be relatively easy for the viewer to interpret instead of being highly ambiguous and cryptic. I want my art to work on multiple levels. The visual aspect should be aesthetically pleasing even if the viewer is not contemplating the message.
The media I work in the most are drawing, printmaking, and painting. For different media, I use different styles. I think the medium should call attention to itself and should not be self-effacing. My pen and ink drawings and prints are very linear; the mark making is very precise and controlled. I use little to no smooth shading (i.e. graphite or charcoal) in my drawings. If I do employ shading, I use stippling to render more three dimensional forms with light and shadow. Usually, I fill in darker areas using a series of parallel diagonal or horizontal lines that extend the entire length of the interior of the form. This is a highly artificial style of drawing and thus very decadent, for the Decadent movement was preoccupied with artifice. In general, I try to use a similar style to that of my drawings in my prints; however, the only form of my printmaking with a very different style from my drawings is mezzotint. My style for mezzotint is necessarily much more naturalistic and I focus on depicting the play of light. When I paint, I also use a much more naturalistic, albeit more looser and painterly, style. And as with my mezzotints, something important to the feel of my paintings is the depiction of light.
Since the start of the pandemic I have become interested in comparing historic diseases and pandemics, such as the plague and the 1918 flu, with what is happening today. For example, I have done a mezzotint of plague bacteria and I am working on several paintings that deal with the Great Plague of 1665 in London. Viewing today’s problems through the lens of similar historic events can add interesting insights. Because of these historical interests, research and reading about historical images and texts is an important part of my artistic process.
T. Michael Martin, MFA
Since the start of the pandemic I have become interested in comparing historic diseases and pandemics, such as the plague and the 1918 flu, with what is happening today. For example, I have done a mezzotint of plague bacteria and I am working on several paintings that deal with the Great Plague of 1665 in London. Viewing today’s problems through the lens of similar historic events can add interesting insights. This is the work I have been making recently, and it is the work I am including here.
In multiple of these pieces, I have reimagined the medieval theme of the Dance of Death in the setting of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Two are from a series of ink drawings I am in the process of making that draw on Hans Holbein the Younger’s series of engravings representing the Dance of Death. Because my subject matter is drawn from an earlier era, I use historic styles for my paintings, drawings, prints, and ceramics. My art should look as if it had been created in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. Viewers ought to feel transported to an earlier era. Pieces 6 and 7 are ceramic, 8 and 15 are oil paintings, 12 is a linoleum cut, 1-5, 11, and 18 are lithographs, the rest are ink drawings.
Photos #6 (a & b), #7, and #10 by T. Fife. All others by Malcolm Mathison Fife.
Fife, Malcolm and Fife, Malcolm, "Fife, Malcolm Art 399 Portfolio" (2020). Professional Practices (ART 399). 102.