excerpt from THE WORLD AS THEY KNOW IT, by Dr. Carey Rote
...photographer Barbra Riley, is inspired by the Flemish-Dutch masters. The Baroque still life tradition of this region of Europe has influenced works like Conversations We Never Had: Aesthetics, Content, Installation. Still-life imagery is here placed against the backdrop of the Texas Hill Country, Corpus Christi, and Florentine images. The digital creations include painterly overlays with glitter.
Chicago photographer, Laura Letinsky, who has also been influenced by Flemish-Dutch still-lifes in her series, “Hardly More Than Ever”, discusses the connection between digital photography and the earlier art. In an interview with Julie Farstad in the ‘zine quarterly, mouthtomouth, of Spring/Summer 2004, Letinsky states:
…17th-century Northern European painting set up the conditions for photography, in that it demanded a kind of monocular seeing. It required equal attention to everything, which is what a photograph does. So photography came along less as an invention, and more as a realization of a way one sees, and a reinforcement of this way of seeing.
Conversations We Never Had is a series of three digital images that have been printed on canvas. The surfaces have been coated with acrylic. The painterly brushstrokes that have been added to the surface provide an even closer connection with the Flemish-Dutch still-lifes. The three images are sequential. They tell the story of what a studio art professor teaches: Aesthetics, Content and Installation. They are tied together by the repetition of images across the three panels.
In Aesthetics, Riley’s Texas Hill Country property provides the backdrop. It reflects the scenery that she sees in her walks near her property. The woods and the still life in front of them are both organic and natural. They are both exposed to decay. Real fruit from her trees appears next to fake fruit and flowers from Hobby Lobby. Humor lies in determining what is real and what is not real. The car keys are a contemporary foil, to remind you of where you are. The kittens are “kitsch”, a risk, a gamble for the artist, but one that she is able to pull off with her sense of irony.
Content is set against one of the Las Doñas de La Corte floats in the 2010 Buccaneer Days Illuminated Night Parade in Corpus Christi. The moth reappears (also seen in Aesthetics), a symbol of night and death. A Gregory Tegarden vase is juxtaposed with flowers (real and fake), crouching kitschy kittens and a USB chord. The real and the not real are presented together again in this image.
Riley’s last panel is Installation. The kittens reappear against the panel from Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise on the Florence Baptistery. A detail of the panel on the story of Abraham shows a portion of the Angel announcing that Sarah will bear a son and a portion of the Sacrifice of Isaac. The sacrifice scene shows an angel sweeping down from heaven to stop Abraham. The kittens arrange framed pictures of Hill Country woods and a scarlet tanager near a loquat tree. A heart-shaped piece of labradorite stone, pearls and a peeled orange are brought into the contemporary era by the USB chord. Vacillating between the real and the fake is an apple with its supermarket sticker, also of the present, like the USB chord. Are the artichoke and flower real or fake?
Riley’s three still lifes are interactive. They reflect the potential for change and movement. Something is happening here.