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Hillary Du

Mr. Gallagher

AP English Literature

16 April 2010

Raissa Venables: Painting the Soul of a Room through Photography

Raissa Venables is a photographic artist. By combining modern technology with

art techniques resembling neo-cubism, she presents a warped and psychological point of

view of a rather dull place. Venables’ artistic style reflects a great influence from many

noteworthy contributors to the history of art. One of the more important ones is Jan Van

Eyck from the Early Renaissance age who painted portraits with vividly bright and

precise details. Although she uses high-end technology, she distorts the photographs’

angles and symmetries to generate different perceptions. In contrast to David Hockney’s

notion that old masters of art attempted to present hand-painted portraits to look more

realistic, Venables seems to attempt to do the opposite by composing her photographs

into a hand-painted looking piece of art. Wagner and Uhrmeister observe “the seemingly

inert settings of everyday life are sensual and living places” in which she strategically

chooses to challenge our humanly creativeness to bring out our natural connection to fine

art. She suggests that as we “mark the environment, our environment marks us” in

which case inhabitants and visitors of said places permanently leave them with a story

containing their “deeds, dreams and nightmares.” Without any physical human presences
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7in her photographs, Venables aims to implicitly tell a story through raw human intuition

(sec. “Raissa Venables” par. 1).

Venables was born in New Paltz, New York in 1977. She attended the Kansas

City Art Institute to receive her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from 1995 to 1999. She

then continued her studies at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard

College to get her Master of Fine Arts degree from 1991 to 2002. Although she is from

New York City, she is quite active in Germany where she holds many of her solo and

group exhibitions at places such as Kunstverein Ulm and Galerie Herrmann & Wagner

(sec. “Vita” par. 1). She is currently teaching at the School of Visual Art in New York in

the Photography Faculty. She has been there since 2003. She has held many lectures

around the country in the states of Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey,

and Missouri. Venables has also completed residency programs in Berlin, Germany in

2004 and New Mexico from 2006 to 2007 (sec. “BIO”). Her work can be found in public

collections and also in a book dedicated solely to her work by Hatje Cantz Verlag with an

essay by Matthias Harder and an interview by Lori Waxman (Verlag).

Venables uses a complex technique of digital image processing to manipulate her

art to achieve many different perspectives at once. Once she chooses an interesting

location, she then takes pictures of that place in as many angles as she can. The frames

are then scanned and rearranged on her computer. Venables fulfills the task of
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combining many focal points into a single photograph. This is comparable to a film

sequence (Harder). She is most likely inspired by filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock

who believes that “making a film means to tell a story” and the “installation of the

camera at a given angle [should] give the scene its maximum impact” ("Alfred (Joseph)

Hitchcock”). This would support reasoning behind Venables’ many angle shots because

in the end she merges all of the shots into one perfect photograph that ideally serves her

overall purpose. Her style also resembles neo-cubism, which is an “attempt to represent

multiple points of view of space and objects simultaneously.” It is a “combination of

cubism and new media technologies” and is done by utilizing four video cameras to

capture an object in a 360° view, “one integrated 3D space.” The original concept of

cubism was originally developed between 1908 and 1912 and was greatly experimented

through the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque (Amaoka par. 3). Venables

displays the “cubistic structure and expressionistic colors of her plates” that “integrate the

classic modern stylistics in contemporary photography” (sec. “Raissa Venables” par. 1).

Renaissance art greatly influences Venables’ work. She is particularly drawn to

the famous oil painter Jan Van Eyck who is credited to being the inventor of oil painting.

That is in fact untrue because the art of painting with oils dates back to much earlier than

Van Eyck’s time. However, Van Eyck is certainly recognized to have mastered this

technique and is credited to developing a “stable varnish that would dry at a consistent

rate” made with linseed, nut oils, and resins. There is “striking realism in microscopic
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detail” in his portraits. He “infuse[d] painted jewels and precious metals with a glowing

inner light by means of subtle gazes over the highlights” that manipulates the lighting in

his paintings (Pioch sec. “Biography” par. 3). This gives the paintings an unreal amount

of excess light, which is observable through Venables’ photographs of naturally dark

crevices and rooms. Every object in the photographs is clearly visible and holds lucid

details, things which might have been lost without the excess light because of the natural

shadows of the chosen area. Van Eyck’s portraits were known for his “precision” in

which he was able to even “capture the individual hairs of a fur collar” with “neither

microscope nor telescope” (“Jan van Eyck” par. 6).Although the places where Venables

chooses to take her pictures are naturally shadowed and dull, this addition of aesthetic

light illuminates the many details that shadows would originally mask. The extra

lighting can also attribute to a religious context.

David Hockney’s thesis in his book Secret Knowledge in which he tries to prove

the reason behind how hand-painted art started looking more and more like photographs

taken with modern technology today. His thesis was that they might have used an optical

device known as the “camera ludica.” It is a “prism on a stick” that reflects the image

only a piece of paper below. Tracing the image would allow for better symmetry and

detail for each portrait as opposed to how much less precise it would turn out if drawn by

freehand. Hockney attempted to prove his thesis by juxtaposing artwork in chronological

order ranging from northern Europe to southern Europe over the course of approximately
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five hundred years. This was not done to insinuate or assume that this means the artists

“cheat[ed].” Hockney put into consideration that “it requires great skill” and does not

make drawing any “easier.” The use of an optic lens simply showed the advancement of

mankind and a new approach to the world of art. It “demonstrated a new vivid way of

looking at and representing the material world” by allowing artists to create more

“immediate” and “powerful” images (Hockney, “Through the Looking Glass” par. 7).

However, now it is contemporary fashion to “rediscover the lost techniques of the

old masters” by attempting to do the same, but this time with our own updated

technology. It is no longer too difficult to create a portrait to look like a photograph

taken by a camera. Venables does the opposite and attempts to recreate the perfect

images that modern technology produces into painting-like artwork. She achieves this by

distorting an otherwise perfect picture. The many captures of different angles diverge

into a single image, but the warping technique generates the imperfections that unguided

painting would naturally enclose.

One of her photographs depicts a church in Duomo di Orvieto, Italy. The church

is brightly lit but does not have many windows. There are eight visible windows, but the

light sources come from three main windows in the center and one to the left and one to

the right. There are also three outstanding turquoise blocks of architecture on the ceiling.

The turquoise symbolizes strength and protection from harm. This aspect resembles Jan
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Van Eyck’s portrait named the Annunciation in which “three bright windows” represent

the Trinity “and of how Christ is the light of the world” (Pioch sec. “Symbolic light in

van Eyck” par. 1). Both portraits render religious symbolism. Venables’ main focus of

the photograph is the altar. The altar is simple and, although inanimate, truly exudes

power. The most light and color from the religious paintings comes from the middle

where the altar is and everything else surrounds it. Wagner and Uhrmeister praise that

the colors are especially “intoxicating” (sec. “Raissa Venables” par. 1). They also bear a

resemblance to Van Eyck’s jewel-infused oil paints. This is partially credited to the

excess lighting because it accents the hue of each individual color, especially the bright

turquoise ceiling, reddish mahogany floors, and sandy colored steps.

The largest and most eye-catching objects are the oversized steps. Perhaps

suggesting that the altar is divine and sacred, the stairs would lead to a higher place,

namely heaven. The left side of the room is noticeably darker and much more cluttered.

It bends towards the altar, which is similar to the act of begging for mercy. The right

side is tidy and noticeably more illuminated as light is reflected off of the floor in a larger

surface area than the left side.

Venables could be suggesting that the people who come into this church possess

two qualities: good or bad. This is probably based on her moral values, but the main

point of this photograph is to tell of exactly what kind of people go to church. There are
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good people that are frequently cleansed of their sins and there are the impure souls that

seek forgiveness. She is able to achieve this through her lighting contrasts between the

two sides of the rooms. Although the photograph is illuminated as a whole, the left side

is considerably darker in color. This is also true for Jan Van Eyck’s portrait as well. He

also sections off places where the lighting differs in luminosity. Although the portrait is

warped, every detail is kept in contact and explicitly precise and deliberate.

Another photograph is named The Jesse James Room. The bright red on the

walls and the overall red theme can either stand for love or rage. Both are very

passionate emotions and the room implicitly signifies a struggle with the heart. It is a

bedroom that seems to fall into the center. The most eye–catching object is the bed

because the color contrasts with the redness of the whole room. The pure white bed is

bent in an awkward angle, and the floor seems to guide along the same angle. The room

is not symmetrical as the walls can be seen to be bent at unusual angles. The room seems

to oppose the laws of gravity because the chairs, bed, light stands, and dresser resist

falling to the ground. The objects bend with the room as if it were natural to be so. The

door is severely slanted. This room is particularly darker than the rest of Venables’

photographs. The floor is dark, probably black. However, she still manages to

incorporate the perfect amount of light to the room so that there are no shadows that
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would potentially block any details. The window is exuberantly bright which indicates a

sunny day on the outside of that gloomy room.

In this photograph, Venables may be pointing out that the person that lived in that

room had a glimpse of hope right outside the door. The lone bed signifies loneliness and

the white bed sheets might suggest a very pure and innocent person lived there. That

person’s story contains a plot concerning internal struggles with the heart and problems

socializing. Another interpretation could be that the person is harboring a lot of anger

and holding a grudge against the outside world. It is a punishment for him/her to stay in

the room because as the room closes in, they suffocate from their own extreme emotions.

It is Venables’ ultimate goal to allow her photographs to be interpreted in as many ways

as they can. She is training the audience’s imagination and human intuition. Venables is

able to represent these different interpretations by her attention to color. Red is a

particularly diverse color in which it holds more than one meaning. By allowing some

darkness in the photograph, the shades of red differ and therefore the emotion of each

area of the room differs.

Venables also has a photograph named Opened Tent. The outstanding colors are

orange, purple and blue. There is a blinding light right in the center of the tent. Venables

manipulated her frames into a final picture that portrayed a 360° perspective within a 2-

dimensional plane. That blinding light is from the top of the tent and is from the sun
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outside. The light is blurry and not typical of the morning sun. It provides more than

enough light to distribute around the entire tent. The lining of the top of the tent is how

on the side of the tent. The sides of the tent get drawn into the center of the photograph

creating an illusion that makes it seem farther away. This actually stretches the tent out

and makes it much more spacious. The objects in the tent are neatly arranged and

diversely colored. The natural wrinkles of the tent and the sleeping bag are kept. There

are no straight lines in this photograph, which aids the fact that it should resemble a

painting more than a picture taken by a camera.

Notice that all of her photographs always have some sort of presence from the

sun. This gives off a very optimistic feel to her overall personality. The areas being

photographed often originally have no persona, but after manipulation of lighting, the

whole room’s aura changes. Venables manipulates the idea of neo-cubism and applies it

to her artwork. There is no need to rotate objects to see 360° perspectives anymore

because all the angles can fit into one single frame. What she is suggesting from this tent

photograph is that even in a closed and cramped environment, it is appropriate to look on

the brighter side of things. If you stay positive and think brightly (i.e. the bright colors)

then the enclosed feeling will stretch out and become non-existent.

Through observation of Venables’ artwork, it is possible that photographs can

mimic paintings. David Hockney still admired those “old masters of art” (Hockney) that
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used optic lenses because it still takes a true artist to be able to create fill in the empty

spaces after tracing. Raissa Venables can be accredited with the same accomplishment

and title because she explored a new way to portray art. Although warped, her pictures

are still able to demonstrate techniques involving details and management of lighting.

Venables proves that the physical presence of a human is not necessary to understand

human emotions. Human intuition can perfectly understand the emotion and soul of a

room through the techniques executed. Perhaps over the years, humans have forgotten

about human intuition and their connection to art had gotten dim. Raissa Venables’ goal

was to reinforce that relationship with nature because it is important to understand art. It

can forever preserve our existence.

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Works Cited

"Alfred (Joseph) Hitchcock." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2003. Reproduced

in Biography Resource Center. Michigan: Gale, 2010. 5 Nov. 2003. 7 Apr. 2010



This is a very detailed biography of Hitchcock’s life and passion for filmmaking.

It touches on theme, style, and film effects/techniques. Venables was influenced

by his approach to movie making from his techniques.

Amaoka, Toshitaka. “NeoCubism.” Amaoka. 22 Mar. 2010


This site gives a summary of the history of neo-cubism and how it came to be. It

describes its concept and its process through technological terms. Venables’ style

resembles neo-cubism through the process of gathering many perspectives and

joining them all into one.

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“BIO.” Raissa Venables. 22 Mar. 2010


This is Venables’ official website. The “BIO” section includes the history of her

exhibitions, collections, lectures, awards and honors, etc. It also includes a section

filled with articles all about Venables and her artwork.

"Jan van Eyck." International Dictionary of Art and Artists. St. James Press, 1990.

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Michigan: Gale, 2010. 1 Jan. 1990.

11 Apr. 2010 <>.

This contains Jan Van Eyck’s biography.

Harder, Mathias. “Raissa Venables.” Roswell Artist-in-Residence Foundation. 2005.

Helmut Newton Foundation. 22 Mar. 2010


This part of the website displays Venables’ works present in the Marshall Gallery

in 2007. It also gives a short analysis of her stylistic approaches and techniques.
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Hockney, David. Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old

Masters. New York: Penguin Group, 2001.

Hockney attempts to prove old masters of art used optics and lenses to aid in their

masterpieces. He observes that paintings advanced to extremely precise detail and

angled precision within mere years from each other. Venables also uses

technology in her artwork.

Hockney, David. "Through the looking glass: David Hockney explains how a question

about some Ingres drawings led to a whole new theory of Western art. (Point Of

Departure)." History Today Ltd., 2001. Expanded Academic ASAP. 7 Apr. 2010




This gives a more in depth preview of David Hockney’s thesis in his book Secret
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Knowledge. He notices how paintings started to look more like photographs from

modern technology. Venables does the opposite by trying to make her

photographs looks like paintings.

Pioch, Nicolas. “Eyck, Jan van.” WebMuseum. 19 Sept. 2002. 22 Mar. 2010


This site gives the biography of Eyck’s life and historical contribution through oil

painting in which he is credited to be founder of (although he was not the original

creator). It analyzes some of his art to show his oil-painting and lighting

techniques. His lighting techniques greatly influence Venables’ use of light in her


Verlag, Hatje Cantz. “Raissa Venables.” Hatje Cantz Verlag GmbH & Co KG, 2006.

A book of Venables’ artwork that includes an essay by Matthias . and an

interview by Lori Waxman.

Wagner, Cai, and Margret Uhrmeister. “Raissa Venables.” Wagner + Partner. 5 Feb.
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2010. 22 Mar. 2010 <http://galerie-wagner->.

This site gives a short overview of Venables’ film sequence technique and

purpose behind her art. It also displays some of her photographs along with a list

of her exhibitions, education, public collections, private collections, and grants

and awards.
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Works Consulted

Baldass, Ludwig. Jan Van Eyck. London: Phaidon Press, 1952.

A collection of Van Eyck’s paintings. Venables is greatly influenced by his style.

"Cubism." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 7 Apr. 2010


This article briefly tells about how cubism came about, its founders, and its effect

through multiple perspectives. This relates to how Venables takes many shots of a

single area and combines it into one single perspective.

Dhanens, Elisabeth. Van Eyck. New York: Art Books Intl Ltd / Alpine, 1981.

An art book displaying work from both Van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan. This

is to show more examples of how the Van Eyck technique of lighting influenced


“Eyck, Jan Van or Jean.” Dictionary of Artists. 2006. Print.

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A biography of Van Eyck’s personal life as well as a short analysis of his style.

Venables is greatly influenced by his style.

Eyck, Van. The Holy Lamb. Belgium: Editions Marion, 1946.

A collection of Van Eyck’s paintings. Most are of religious context and displays

his mastery of oil painting. His use of color, detail, and lighting is crucial to

Venables’ own artwork.

"Hubert and Jan van Eyck." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale

Research, 1998. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills,

Mich.: Gale, 2010. 12 Dec. 1998. 11 Apr. 2010



This is a lengthy biography about the two Eyck brothers. It talks about their

contributions to the art world through oil painting.

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Jansen, Marten. “Pablo Picasso cubism.” 7 Apr. 2010 <http://pablo->.

This site gives the definition of the art of cubism and its origins. It connects this

form of art to Picasso and how he integrated it into his style. Venables’ style is

similar to neo-cubism, which is a modern twist to this older style.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. “David Hockney.” The Artchive. 7 Apr. 2010


This is a section about David Hockney from Lucie-Smith’s book Lives of the

Great 20th-Century Artists. It is a small biography about Hockney. Venables is

influenced from his film stills and collages.

"Robert Campin." International Dictionary of Art and Artists. St. James Press, 1990.

Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Michigan: Gale, 2010. 7 Apr. 2010.


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This is a biography of Robert Campin, a Flemish painter and a significant

contributor to art history. It includes style, works, and publications. He

experimented with oil paints with egg based tempera to achieve bright colors.

This is reflected through Venables’ vivid photographs.

Specialy Graphic Imaging Association. 22 Mar. 2010


This gives a short explanation of what digital image processing is.

"Stanley Kubrick." Contemporary Authors Online. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in

Biography Resource Center. Michigan: Gale, 2010. 19 Feb. 2003. 7 Apr. 2010



This is a detailed biography of Kubrick’s road to becoming a filmmaker. It talks

about his contribution to contemporary films. There is a list of his works

including periodicals and screenplays. Venables’ work may prove some

inspiration from Kubrick’s film techniques.

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"Technological Innovation and Aesthetic Response." History of the American Cinema.

David A. Cook. Ed. Charles Harpole. Vol. 9. New York: Charles Scribner's

Sons, 2000. [355]-396. Gale Virtual Reference Library. 7 Apr. 2010



This is an overview of cinematography. It discusses Kubrick’s use of a “series of

snap-zooms” in his films and their effect to the overall outcome. Venables uses a

similar technique to snap-zooming to capture different perspectives of one area.

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Venables, Raissa. Duomo di Orvieto. 2008. 16 Apr. 2010

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Venables, Raissa. The Jesse James Room. 2009. 16 Apr. 2010

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Venables, Raissa. Opened Tent. 2002. 16 Apr. 2010