Creatives Outsource Oil Painting Inspirations to Chinese Artist Village

Aesop Rock, Pendleton Ward, and more contribute their ideas to an "outsourced" painting show from curator Alexander Tarrant.

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Feb 23 2016, 3:30pm

Untitled Photoshop Document by David O'Reilly. All images courtesy The Outsource Show.

At the Dafen Oil Painting Village, China's self proclaimed "most concentrated oil painting production and wholesale base” workers are known for reproductions of original paintings.  With this concept in mind, curator Alexander Tarrant invited a group of creators—writers, comedians, filmmakers and musicians to participate in a show in which they would be the ones conceptualizing, rather than painting. The result is an array of oil paintings on canvas, concepted from US-based non-painters, each varying in size, quality and style. The idea prompts viewers to rethink the line between concept and final product, or in this case, the art and the artist.

Failed Disintermediation by Brian Christian.

The creatives Tarrant tapped were asked to come up with an idea for a painting, provide reference images or instructions, and a skillful artist from the village would execute the piece. Tarrant traveled to the village, and with a local translator hired painter Mr. Zhang and his crew to produce the work for all 17 participants in the show. 

“I first heard about Dafen in 2007 when researching where I could have some art commissioned.” Tarrant tells us, “Last year I set aside a small budget, went through my personal “blacklist” of unrealized projects, and picked this one.” He continues to explain, “I was visiting Hong Kong filming a documentary and collaborating with some tailors in Kowloon. When I realized how close Dafen was, I popped over the border to check it out. I set up a local businessman as the translator / facilitator, spent a few days scouting my favorite painter in the village (Mr. Zhang), and gave them an initial test order.”

Google Images Mondrian by Alexander Tarrant.

In order to set this concept in motion, Tarrant reached out to a group of creatives including Money Mark, Aesop Rock, and Pendelton Ward, the creator of Adventure Time. “I invited my non-painter artist friends who I knew would grok the idea and interact with the painters in an interesting way. Selfishly, I wanted to see what happened when they went through this process.” Tarrant explains, “I received everything from an actual image or jpeg to a written text description, each to be translated and repainted. These instructions passed through a chaotic machine, a filter of language, culture, intentions, assumptions, and social norms —six weeks later the oil paintings arrived, rolled in a tube.”

LONELY IN MODESTO by Grant Dekernion.

When working in this type of method, a certain amount of control has to be released. Tarrant tells The Creators Project. “The chaos in the process is part of the final piece. I send the instructions and the source imagery, and you get the painting back and it’s usually 'Oh shit, you thought I meant that?' — and if you embrace that, I think it’s more beautiful than if the instructions were perfectly followed.”

Walking Desk by Pendleton Ward

In line with Tarrant’s idea behind the show, each original work created and on display belongs to the non-painters that concepted it. Collectors can purchase a further reproduction of each piece, in an unlimited edition that will again be painted by the third party. Tarrant reveals, “One of the things I’m most excited about with the show this month, is when people come to the show and buy a painting, they are buying another copy of the piece, they are buying another iteration of those instructions. So their piece will be a totally unique image based on the same DNA.” Essentially, this manner of reproduction could exist infinitely among each original commissioned work.

Tarrant tells us, “This is the first time I’ve used a system like this for a public facing event / show. I think once people see how delightful the format is, there will be follow up shows with more and more artists. I love visiting Dafen and seeing all of these paintings realized, and they love getting the work. Everyone wins.”

Google Streetview Candid by Money Mark

Quake Skin by Alexander Tarrant

Untitled Maya Scene by David O'Reilly.

The Outsource Show opens on February 24th at wәrkärtz in LA. 

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