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New York Collective Paints Over Baroque Paintings with Art School Scrawlings

The Bruce High Quality Foundation's latest exhibition transposes the activity of an art school/studio onto the paintings of Caravaggio, Rubens, and Poussin.
February 2, 2017, 1:55pm

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Massacre of the Innocents,2015-17, oil on canvas, 203.2 x 304.8 cm, 80 x 120 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

The transient space of an art studio, its activity and whirlpool of ideas, finds form with the Baroque styles of painters Caravaggio, Rubens, and Poussin in a series of new works by New York-based art collective the Bruce High Quality Foundation. The group—who also run a tuition-free art school the Bruce High Quality Foundation University—work with a roster of rotating anonymous artists and have a new exhibition entitled Pearls set to open at London's Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in February 2017.

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The title of their latest exhibition is taken from the Portuguese word "barocco," from which Baroque is derived—it  means "a rough or imperfect pearl." It's this imperfection that is hinted at in the works, because the Bruces take the Baroque paintings as a base from which to overlay the happenings of the art school, which is based in the same place as the collective's art studio.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew,2017, oil on canvas, 111.8 x 142.2 cm, 44 x 56 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

"These paintings have been inspired directly by the liminal space that is our studio and school. Things and people have to move through it," the collective explains to The Creators Project. "And so the paintings are themselves liminal—hybrids of a type." The paintings in the exhibition feature the marks and etchings from the chalkboards of the collaborative bustling space, the students' and collective's "performed thinking and mindless scrawling."

"These rectangles of space become narratives of the tug of war between individual and collective ideas. In this sense the chalkboards are already Baroque, just lacking the imposition of a particular geometric, iconographic, or spectral order," the group explains. "We paint next to [these] chalkboards and digital projectors and folding chairs and stacks of books. We paint while planning classes and discussing ideas with faculty and students. They leave things behind: stray marks, bits of thoughts. These works are an attempt to hold fast to something that can’t be held fast."

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Landscape with a Calm,2015-17, oil on canvas, 101.6 x 152.4 cm, 40 x 60 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

The process of creating the paintings was inspired by the underpainting of an artwork, the grisaille. But BHQF's method involves processing an image digitally in Photoshop and turning it into a stepped grayscale. It is then projected onto canvas, where it's traced, the grays are replaced with colors traversing the parameters of value, chroma, saturation, moving from dark to light and applied with paintbrushes and oil paint.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Autumn (The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land), Detail,2015-17, oil on canvas, 203.2 x 304.8 cm, 80 x 120 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

"Our project is to preserve through representation a sense of suspended coherence shared between the space of our school and certain works of Baroque painting we feel have a distinctive sense of narrative order," the collective notes. "And so as much as the works have a pre-defined process, they are also wholly responsive to the happenstance of the school on any given day. We aren’t trying to impose legibility or create collaged meaning through the juxtaposition of the referenced paintings and the fragmentary detritus produced by educational experiences. Rather the opposite."

The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, 2017, oil on canvas, 121.9 x 152.4 cm, 48 x 60 in. Courtesy Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London. Copyright the artist.

Pearls by the Bruce High Quality Foundation is on 10 February to 11 March 2017 at the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, London W1B 4BT. You can find out more about the Bruce High Quality Foundation at their website here. Find out more about Bruce High Quality Foundation University here.

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