Arrows pierce the hide of a centaur. He holds his hand against his chest in pain. He looks behind him with a stern, hurt expression on his face.
Nearby, a man is attacked by his two hounds. He’s fallen to the ground, and his canine companions are poised to pounce on him, prepared to kill him in what could end up being a gruesome display of violence.
These scenes are images painted by visiting ETSU professor Christian Rieben and are part of an exhibit of similar work called “Heroic Painting,” which takes its inspiration in part from mythology. On Friday, he hosted an artists talk in Tipton Gallery, where the pictures hung from Dec. 1 through the end of January.
Many of the images are painted with vibrant colors and have a thick, tactile texture.
“The work looks fantastic on these gray walls,” Rieben said, referring to the gallery space. “The color really just pops off.”
In some cases, material is thrown on the canvas with an improvisational and almost impressionistic verve.
“As time has gone on, I’m more and more into the physical properties of oil paint and how it drips and splitters,” Rieben said, talking about a painting inspired by Zeus’s abduction of Europa.
In the painting, Rieben poured paint on the canvas to create Europa’s hair. He had to pour paint on three separate occasions to get the look that he wanted, finally producing a dramatic, flowing cloud of orange that he liked.
This extemporaneous style seems to crop up in many of the paintings that are on display.
“It’s improvisation and then its reactive,” Rieben said. “You improvise something but then you very much then have to respond to what you’ve done. I spend a lot more time looking at my paintings than I am painting on the painting because you do these things quickly but then you have to assess, ‘What have I just done? Is this good or this bad?’”
The arrows sticking out of the centaur’s hide are sharp shafts of paint that appear to be drawn with a quick, deliberate stroke. Parts of the paintings, such as arms, seem to be drawn with a deliberatively imprecise attention to detail. Like the arrows, arms are occasionally just sharp strokes of paint that appear to exist in contrast to some of the paintings’ finer detailing. This is deliberate.
“There’s a difference between art and illustration,” Rieben said, responding to a question about the painting of the hounds, “and if I do everything, if I clarify everything, if I cross every ‘i,’ dot every ‘i,’ what are you going to do? … Painting is its own phenomena. It doesn’t have to make everything explicit.”