Deconstructed Portrait of a Woman: Oil Painting in the Style of Adrian Ghenie

This post is the fifth in a series of oil painting project tutorials derived from coursework completed at Academie Noord in Brasschaat, Belgium. Projects were designed by Schilderkunst teacher Marilou van Lierop. The sample artwork is my own.

Faces firmly grounded in reality then reproduced, distorted, even destructed through the interpretation of a contemporary painter. This is the work of Adrian Ghenie, one of the world’s best-selling artists.

After teaching her class how to paint, Marilou van Lierop began to challenge us with the question of why we paint. She did so by presenting us with an interesting challenge. In this lesson, we were to paint a portrait based on an actual photographic image. Then, we were asked to unpaint it. We made a face, then abstracted it into a head.

“For the face is a struc­tured, spa­tial organ­i­sa­tion that con­ceals the head, whereas the head is depen­dent upon the body, even if it is the point of the body, its cul­mina­tion.” (Gilles Deleuze).

“We already have the photograph,” she would say. “Now we have to paint away from reality.” The process of making art is about much more than just copying what we see with our eyes.

Pie Fight Study, Adrian Ghenie, 2012

Marilou presented us with several copies of Ghenie’s paintings. Each student was to choose one example. In addition, we needed to find or create a clear, well-contrasted image of a person that we dislike (known or unknown).  As we had already done this exercise, and some students found it difficult, our teacher thought that this would help to ease the deconstruction process. I chose Adrian Ghenie’s Pie Fight Study. I also found an online image of a woman, who I’d like to leave anonymous. With our materials in place, we were to first paint a portrait, then deconstruct it following the method of our chosen example.

Project: Portraiture in the Style of Adrian Ghenie

Skills Exercised: Imprimatura, Wipeout Method of Underpainting, Painting Wet on Wet, Painting in Value Gradations, Dry Brush, Impasto

MaterialsWater-Mixable Oil Paints, Water, Water Mixable Linseed Oil, Paint Brushes, Canvas/Canvas Paper/primed wood panel

The Palette

In this class, we use water mixable oil paints and mediums. Not only are they better for the environment (water is used as a solvent), they’re also much better for our health in a crowded classroom (less toxic fumes).

My painter’s box includes the following Winsor & Newton Water Mixable Oil Colours, as suggested by my painting teacher. Other brands may work just as well, but I haven’t tried them myself. All additional colors are either mixed on the palette or created through glazing onto the painting.

  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
  • Burnt Umber
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • French Ultramarine
  • Viridian
  • Titanium White

I also use a bottle of Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Linseed Oil

The Method

Students were asked to sketch out a basic working portrait directly on the canvas. We then built up our paintings using the same methods used in previous projects. However, we first aimed for realism on one area of the work, and reserved the other side for deconstruction. Deconstruction was achieved by  generally painting in a loose style, brushing over the wet paint, dry brushing over the dry paint, adding thick areas of impasto, and any other methods with which we’d like to experiment.

Deconstructed Portrait of a Woman, Oil Painting on Canvas, original artwork by R. Palesca, 2016
Deconstructed Portrait of a Woman, Detail, Oil Painting on Canvas, original artwork by R. Palesca, 2016
Deconstructed Portrait of a Woman, Detail, Oil Painting on Canvas, original artwork by R. Palesca, 2016