Louisville Artist Examines History Through Oil

Louisville artist Daniel Pfalzgraf opens a new solo show at Swanson Contemporary (638 E. Market St.) this weekend. “Blindly Following History” is a series of portraits of the September 11 plane hijackers, a sequel of sorts to his 2010 exhibit “Oil and Water Don’t Mix,” which featured similar portraits of BP Oil executives.

These portraits started as blind contour charcoal drawings, a technique you might have been taught in an art class — while drawing from a model (person or object), you keep your eyes trained on the model, not your paper. Pfalzgraf then painted in his drawings with oils — oil paint and used motor oil. The resulting portraits are sensitively distorted, allowing the flawed communication between hand and eye to capture the ineffable emotional tone of a face.

Pfalzgraf’s work on “Oil and Water Don’t Mix” began as a reaction to the swift rise of gas prices in 2008.

“It all started out innocently enough when I was playing around, making paintings using the motor oil I saved when I changed the oil in my truck,” he said in a recent email. “I tried utilizing a waste product and turning it into something more valued on an aesthetic level. Thoughts then began to swirl around in my head when I began thinking about the rising oil prices and how painting with oil could one day become similar to painting with gold leaf.”

Pfalzgraf began this series when the Louisville Visual Art Association invited him to participate in an exhibit on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. From his artist’s statement: 

Doing portraits of the perpetrators who committed one of the worst attacks on our nation’s soil seemed like an interesting endeavor. The effect of the actions taken by these men in just a few brief moments is nothing short of astonishing. Beyond the tragic immediate losses that day saw, these men caused a multitude of new laws to be drafted, new government agencies to be created, tripped off global economic turmoil, and completely reset standard actions and daily routines world-wide. As vast a shadow as they cast, I found it remarkable that really the only images I could find of these men online were of their driver’s license photos.

The exhibit opens Friday with a reception at 5 p.m. and runs through March 23.

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