It’s been decades since video emerged as a widely used medium in the art world. Nonetheless, there’s still something vaguely surprising about the work of Andy Denzler, the Zurich-born artist whose hyperreal oil paintings recreate paused moments from VHS reels.
To create his paintings, Denzler fast forwards or rewinds videotape and then abruptly pauses it, capturing people and landscapes rippling across the lo-res screen as though they’re being blown away by a gust of wind. He then paints from the frozen frame, using smears and rough strokes to replicate the corrupted lines of celluloid on canvas. The paintings are an oddly distant, almost analytic, take on contemporary life and the passage of time. We’ll never know the anonymous canoers or beach goers in these frames. It’s easy to imagine one as the cover of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a similarly wry meditation on leisure and death in modern America.
Denzler emerged on the international scene back in the mid-'00s, when he was barely 40 years old. At the time, the digital-analogue-feedback-loop style was fairly nascent, and a bit novel. His paintings from that era are usually pulled directly from old movies and have a Warholian feel to them. In a 2008 interview with Trevor Guthrie, Denzler compared his technique to visual sampling. “The best musicians today are influenced by composers and sounds from the ’70s or even earlier,” he said. “It is difficult to create something new. Every single brush stroke has been painted already. One can only find new forms of combinations.”
But over the past five years, Denzler’s work has grown more complex, not to mention a shade or two darker. Rather than painting freeze-framed images 1:1, he’s traveled further into abstraction, teasing out space between his source material and his own mind. Jagged blank spots peel back to show scribbles and abstracted human forms. His subjects stand defiantly staring into the frame, well aware they’re being "watched." Full of brutal landscapes and psychological weight, this work has far more in common with Edvard Munch or early Gerhard Richter than Andy Warhol.
Denzler still uses videotape as a visual device, but he offers a slightly darker interpretation of what it means. "Painting today is perhaps in a hybridization period, giving the artist a way to slow down mass media’s accelerated production/consumption rate of images past their sell-by date," he says. "By subverting mass media, the painter can refresh a dead image, reanimating it like Lucien Freud paints the flesh, providing it with an extended shelf life."
Head over to Denzler’s website for a full chronology of works—for more on glitch art, this dissertation is a great place to start.