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7 stunning paintings you should see in person

First things first, I am not a painter. I am just a fan of painting and in this post I wanted to offer up seven remarkable paintings that have made a huge impression on me and have inspired huge amounts of my own creative output. Hopefully they will spark similar reactions for you. My father was a painter, so he undoubtedly influenced me a great deal in the choices below (as I was growing up he took me along to so many galleries to see these paintings in person) and I am indebted to him for seeing many of them. Today would have been his birthday, so it seems fitting to share this.

There are a dozen other extraordinary works that could have easily made this list but these were the ones that came to mind first. These reproductions, of course, only offer a glimpse of the brilliance of the original works themselves. If you can, I urge you to find them on your travels and soak up their mystery and genius. On with the art…

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1. Gas – Edward Hopper (1939)

I could pick any Edward Hopper painting and marvel at it for hours. I love them in the same way I love Raymond Carver stories. Each one of them a lonely, cinematic, beautiful slice of America. They are so sparse & profound with a wonderful underlying drama in each painting. Perhaps more than any other painter, it is his ability to capture the way light falls that is so compelling. In this painting I love the falling evening light above the treeline compared to the banks of light from the white building that run out across the courtyard. And the man at the pump is one of those classic Hopper figures that I love, who seems to throw up as many questions as he answers. Ultimately, Edward Hopper will probably never be the most popular painter of all time, but to me he is undoubtedly one of the greatest.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA

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2.Böhmen liegt am Meer – Anselm Kiefer (1996)

No reproduction can truly do justice to the stark emotional pull of Anselm Kiefer’s painting. It hangs alone on a wall in the mezzanine of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and dares you to look at it. It is a big, stark, imposing painting with the title “Böhmen liegt am Meer” (Bohemia lies by the sea) written plainly across the dirty horizon on the canvas. The writer in me loves that mixing of the two artforms and the simple poetry of it.

No matter how often I see it, I can’t get over how roughly and coarsely it is painted in big dollops of thick oil paint, with sections of the raw canvas peeking through in other parts. And those splashes of poppies across the burnt out landscape are so subtle and brilliant. Pure emotion. It is a painting that I will never see enough times. My dad adored it so much that we sprinkled a few of his ashes in front of it after he passed away.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

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3. An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump – Joseph Wright of Derby (1768)

I still remember seeing this bizarre candlelit scene for the first time and almost being hypnotised by it. I still wonder what made Wright-of-Derby choose this particular scene to paint above all others? Apart from the way he conjures light so beautifully in such a modern cinematic way, it is the chilling main character staring directly at me (as if he is willing a reaction) who remains the most compelling part of the painting for me. There is also something particularly ominous about that moon being revealed from behind the clouds in the window on the right. A masterpiece of painting.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, London, England

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4.Bed – Robert Rauschenberg (1955)

I absolutely love the fact that Robert Rauschenberg brazenly sticks objects to his canvas, paints on household artifacts and simply creates these mish-mash constructions of art and everyday objects. It makes sense to me.

This installation/painting “Bed” is so striking. I still can’t get over how simultaneously colourful and grimy it is, while at the same time coming across as really funny and perhaps not really taking itself too seriously. Maybe none of that is true, but it always resonates with me as a really great piece of work that inspires me every time I see it.

Can be seen at : Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA

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5. Untitled – Jackson Pollock (1948)

I have to admit I didn’t really get Jackson Pollock until I saw his paintings on a wall in front of me. Part of it is the sheer scale of some of the works which doesn’t translate well in reproductions. It’s such a different experience standing in front of these enormous canvases with thick swirling drips of paint that dance across the canvas so beautifully. The other thing is how surprisingly emotional the paintings are. Pollock went through loads of phases but this “Jack the Dripper” phase, which is his most well-known style, will always be my absolute favourite. This untitled painting from the Met manages to be not overly cluttered like some of his other pieces and I am really fond of the simplicity of the red and black on a big raw open canvas. Overload of Pollocks. Yes please.

Can be seen at : Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA

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6. The Taking of Christ – Caravaggio (ca.1602)

Caravaggio’s breathtaking painting hangs in the National Gallery in Dublin and it is a painting that never fails to astonish me (It also has a curious history). It is impossible to not be bowled over by the incredible painterly skill and ability on display.  The composition of the scene and its balance of light & darkness, as well as the little details in Jesus Christ’s body language as he accepts his fate with such resignation are more impressive with each viewing. Apparently there are only about 80 of Caravaggio’s paintings in the world which makes this one an even rarer treat every time I see it. Stunning.

Can be seen at : National Gallery, Dublin, Ireland

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7. Pie Counter – Wayne Thiebaud (1963) 

Wayne Thiebaud was one of those painters I had never heard of until a few years ago when myself and my dad went to see a retrospective of his work in the Whitney in New York. I was absolutely knocked out by his paintings. To see a painter’s extended body of work like that was wildly inspiring, as I really got to see the different phases and creative processes that happened along the way. I was drawn instantly to “Pie Counter” because it appealed to my jokey sensibility but at the same time I loved the bigger statement it was making about consumption and mass production in America. Thiebaud later went on to paint remarkable, colourful, brainbending landscape style canvases that would equally belong in a list like this but for now I will enjoy these slices of pie thank you very much.

Can be seen at : Whitney Museum, New York City, USA

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2 Comments on “7 stunning paintings you should see in person

  1. Joseph Wright of Derby painted an even better pic than the one shown. It’s on show at Derby Museum and Art Gallery. It’s called ‘A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery’ check it out

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