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Traditional Painting in the Technological Age;
Exclusive interview with award-winning painter Michael de Bono;
Self-taught painter Michael de Bono first exhibited in 2008 at the Royal Academy of Art's Summer Show in London and has won several prestigious awards. With an affinity for the work of the Old Masters, his skilful paintings are both innovative and modern. In considering the question of the place of traditional painting in the technological age, Michael looks to the work of some of his favourite forebears.
He explains: "The qualities of human composure and silent introspection are a first rate subject. When a person sits in contemplation their features relax and without wishing for attention they nevertheless attract it. This is evident in the painting of Vermeer and others. The faculty for higher contemplation and refined emotion is a characteristic which distinguishes us from our evolutionary cousins, the ape, and are qualities which I believe impart significant gravity in the art of painting. Leonardo epitomizes this phenomena in almost every example of his work but it is especially potent in one painting of his entitled 'The Virgin of the Rocks' which can be seen at the National Gallery in London."
With increasing technological innovations in the 20th century Michael considers the meaning of his art and the traditional applications of painting in the second decade of the 21st century. He holds the positive notion that the tradition of painting is as essential in the atomic age as in any other.
He adds: "What is the first consideration of a painter when evaluating his traditional function in a century orientated toward the advancement of technology? Where is the human element? For me the painter contributes to humanity what no machine can. The painter centres our attention on a type of beauty and ability that can be created by the human mind alone, with only the use of some basic pigments and a few sable brushes.
It was seeing my first Caravaggio at a young age which made an irrevocable impression on me. The painting in question was Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus which I consider to this day to be unparalleled. It taught me that there was something more worthwhile to pursue in life. There have been many advances in science and technology; many ingenious innovations since Caravaggio finished that painting in the 17th century, but they are somehow sterile and impersonal pieces of machinery which do little to capture the human spirit and do less to inspire it."
The 21st century is indeed unprecedented in terms of the proliferation of the means of transmitting information with greater speed and efficiency. With the advancement of technology Michael considers the relevance of the painter in our technological age.
He states: "The painter observes the natural world, internalizes and then conveys it with varying degrees of faithfulness to his objective and subjective sense of reality. In short, the painter conveys what it is to have consciousness, and what it means to be a living and cognisant being by the very act of his creation. In this way the tradition of painting has had a special relevancy and will continue to be relevant for as long as we humans exist."
In discussing the tradition of painting in the context of the rise of technology Michael asks whether we are at risk of loosing sight of why technology was originally created and how the painter may assist people in ways that technology cannot.
He continues: "Why did technology arise? To my knowledge from the time of The Industrial Revolution onward, almost every piece of technology was invented with a common function. In theory this was to facilitate our needs and save labour in order to advance our general well-being and happiness. However it has become clear that with the expansion of technology there has not been a concordant increase in human happiness.
Labour has indeed been saved but at the cost of meaningful employment and without rewarding work people cannot be happy despite their improved material conditions. I cannot say that the ancient craft of painting will solve human problems but I believe it can enhance happiness in general and provide meaning to life. The simple practice of painting in my experience is very satisfying and I have witnessed people derive a special pleasure from it."
Michael's practice of painting and the nature of the subjects he portrays are reminiscent of earlier centuries. They offer a welcome rest from the often frenetic pace of the modern world. To achieve this Michael adopts a balanced approach between the tradition of painting, which requires concentration, and the distracting aspects of the technological era in which he lives.
He elaborates: "No painting can be made without concentration, and only within a quiet environment can concentration be sustained. In order to paint well a painter must therefore retire somewhat from technological distractions because such distractions will not aid his practice. The application of technology is better suited to other objectives and the proper time for them is when the painting session has ended. It is better that a painting be done well in concentration than poorly in distraction."
The question asked by those curious to know how the artist creates the subjects in his paintings often centres around the topic of the camera. Michael regards the invention of the camera as a useful expedient which can aid the painter but which should not be relied upon exclusively and certainly not in preference to viewing the world directly through the human eye.
He explains: "A painting begins with a drawing variously detailed directly to the panel. My paintings are then established on that basis. I refer to natural objects as the eyes perceive them. Photographs are useful but there is a world of nuance and depth that the camera often fails to capture but which the eye has evolved over millennia to detect. It is always instructive to refer to natural forms as the eye sees them and to that end it is my observation of the natural world which furnishes the primary source material for my paintings. Photographic images perform a supplementary role."
Known to work for sixty hours a week to complete his detailed oil paintings, with the finesse that many collectors have come to appreciate, his free time is understandably limited. He is nonetheless delighted to receive messages from people and endeavours to reply when possible. He may be contacted through his website at www.michaeldebonofineart.com
On a personal note Michael adds, “It is the lot of the painter to experience fluctuations of income. I'm very fortunate, however, to be able to paint and this is my priority. Adversity for many artists is a simple fact of life. Consequently, being unable to afford a car or to travel very often prevents me from accepting invitations to events. I hope that everyone nonetheless enjoys viewing my work and all are welcome to contact me with any questions or comments.”
Michael de Bono has a keen understanding and passion for his craft. A dedicated artisan with an incisive comprehension of theoretical philosophy, the future appears open to possibility for this new generation of painter.