To contemporary audiences, classical antiquity means white, bloodless marble. Never mind that Greek and Roman statues were actually adorned in shimmering gold, creamy ivory, and a dazzling kaleidoscope of bright colors.
Using his camera to travel back in time, James Welling presents Iconographia, an ongoing photographic series exploring the Mediterranean region’s ancient artifacts. On view at Regen Projects July 9 through August 20, 2022, Iconographia features work from the photographer’s colorful Cento series, as well as new work from his Personae series.
“Modern approximations of this polychrome are startling to viewers still accustomed to the colorless neoclassic ideals of beauty,” James explains in an interview with Musee des Arts Contemporains Grand-Hornu, where work from Cento hung recently. “But I was not interested in simply recreating the colors of the Ancient Greeks,” he continues. “Using digital technology, I applied highly unnatural colors to the sculptures.”
Named after Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck’s prolific portrait series, which was subsequently modified many times after the artist’s death, Iconographia demonstrates how revered symbols of the past become changed, distorted, or misunderstood through time. “The individuals depicted in Personae are primarily Roman, with a few persons from ancient Greece, Egypt, Syria, and North Africa,” James says, shredding contemporary assumptions about race and ancient aesthetics.
Borrowing liberally from the Old Masters of Western art, James restores his anemic subjects with the breath of life: blushed cheeks, sea green eyes, personal trinkets he imagines they chose for themselves. He notes: “My hope is that these colors seep into the ancient stone and take on a life of their own.”
Iconographia is on view at Regen Projects July 9 through August 20, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. For more information, please visit the gallery here.
“My hope is that these colors seep into the ancient stone and take on a life of their own.” — James Welling
All photos published with permission of the artist(s); © James Welling, courtesy Regen Projects.
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