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Saturday, 29-Apr-2017 19:11:31 EDT
rebranding rembrandt

Canadian photographer Levin Rodriguez revives Dutch Golden Age masters. Through his ‘photographic painting’ techniques, Rodriguez interprets and modernizes centuries-old classics to nurture inescapable journeys into the history of art.

2012 Self Portrait
Photopainting by Levin Rodriguez
Educated in South America and Europe, and with degrees in Physical Geography and a Masters of Science, Levin Rodriguez doesn’t possess any formal training in the arts. He grew up surrounded by an artistic family that influenced his appreciation for classic paintings at an early age. “I look up to the Masters because they produced meaningful and everlasting images with tools and substances we would consider today rudimentary.” For Rodriguez, photography is the replacement for canvases, brushes, paints, and glazes and his camera has become the instrument to produce painting-like images that he coins ‘photographic painting’. He says, “In my opinion, if I can produce an image that is just a fraction as good as the Masters, I will feel rewarded and fulfilled.”

It’s a dedicated process, one that requires both intellectual stamina and creative skill. Depending on the painting Rodriguez chooses to recreate, research can take several weeks to gain an understanding for the objects within that masterpiece. What were they, what was their significance, how were they used, and how accessible are they? While many of these objects do not exist today, it is absolutely critical for them to be recognizable with enough similarity to build the photographic composition and, on occasion, it is necessary to reproduce a prop by modifying existing, readily available objects.

The greater challenge, however, surfaces during the shoot once the objects are in place. Rodriguez explains, “Painters are not restricted by lighting. They can fake perspective, exaggerate angles, and simulate light sources whether they are truthful or not. This flexibility is not available in photography. In the shooting phase, lighting can be modified, added, and taken away – but it cannot be faked.” Up to 40 painstaking stills later, the exercise results in masterful excellence.

Rodriguez’s talent is real. It is progressively passionate, riveting, and it is absolutely breathtaking. But that isn’t even the best part... Let’s face the facts and call it for what it is – the masses aren’t exactly pouring in to visit local art galleries. It can be expensive, it’s not cool, and – far worse – art and art history are far from being considered ‘mainstream’. This is where Rodriguez’s images are unprecedented. Simply knowing that his photographic paintings are inspired by the classics inevitably steers interest towards the originals. His profound rebranding of the Masters educates without the boring lectures in an instant – and the works of Kalf, Rembrandt, and Vermeer of the Dutch Golden Age are therefore revived.

2012 The Kitchen After the Maid Left
Photopainting by Levin Rodriguez
  1658 The Kitchen Maid
Oil on Canvas by Jan Vermeer

Is this a shortcut for a quick art history education? It doesn’t have to be… But it’s definitely heading in the right direction. Take a look at the brilliant depictions above for a moment. Do you see it? Does it take your breath away?

Well, it was worth it then, even if just for… that.

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Sheila Quinn
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