Trained as a conservator, Kathleen Gilje has turned her interest in restoration into paintings that reconfigure masters works by twisting its commentary. I was initially introduced to Kathleen’s work when she was a visiting artist at Vermont Studio Center, and have followed her progress since my residency. When writing this post, I continue to be enticed by her process and dedication to building connections between contemporary issues and the history of art.
At first glance, Gilje’s painting may appear as highly successful academic re-paintings of works by Sargent, Velasquez, Holbein and others….but something about the work feels tampered. With closer examination, subtle and not-so-subtle alterations introduce images of tattoos, props and 20th century works of art that intervene into their classical interpretations. She has taken into consideration (and employs) the methods, such as x-ray, that define historical conservations. In “Woman with a Parrot – Restored” (2001), Gilje responds to the historical scrutiny of Courbet’s composition and the confusing pose of the female figure by adding a voyeuristic, nude male under the final layer. Gilje presents this addition as an x-rayed image that reveals her meticulous underpainting.
The references that Gilje makes in her work run deep, and even to the truly informed artist or historian could be fooled by or overlook her interventions. In “Violon d’Ingres, Restored” the union of Ingres and Man Ray harmonize the Neoclassical ideals of the figure with the clever awareness of Dadaism.
Gilje’s understanding of art history in its entirety is apparent in all the cross-references she depicts. Rather than have me describe them all, spend some time on her website. Kathleen is represented by Francis Naumann Fine Art in New York.