The best art of today isn’t compulsively preoccupied with influencing the future, but instead looks back and situates itself in the present while helping us understand a bit more the works of the past. That is what Marc Dennis has been doing for the past several years: painstakingly working on extraordinary, hyperrealist paintings whose subject matters combine masterpieces of the Renaissance, Impressionism or the Modern era with elements of our daily life.
Visiting Marc in his Brooklyn studio prior to his solo show in Aspen at Casterline Goodman Gallery was an enlightening moment. Having all those large-scale pieces around us - some of them in the process of being finished, some of them completed but still wet, and some of them taking shape - allowed me to see his talent first-hand. Working obsessively with art history books around him, Marc first carefully decides which masterpiece he wants to bring back and why and what contemporary topics he wants to explore. He then does many sketches in a little sketchbook, followed by preparatory drawings. Faithful to the methods followed by the old masters, he approaches the magnitude of a blank linen canvas armed with hundreds of different brushes and tubes of oil paint, and with the hands and heart of a virtuoso, each detail becomes as important as the sum of the elements in the composition of his paintings.
Besides triggering reactions from everyone who comes in contact with his work because the overall effect is so smart and humorous, it is Marc’s technique that sweeps people off their feet. Having seen the work of hundreds of hyperrealists throughout my life, the quality of Marc’s work is unparalleled. His brushstrokes are smooth and calculated; his juxtaposition of new elements is in perfect harmony with the master painting so expertly reproduced that the eye is tricked into believing it is a photograph.
My favorite in this series is “Rock Star,” a perfect reproduction of Diego Velazquez’s 1656 “Las Meninas,” the Spanish’s artist most famous piece. In “Rock Star,” Marc has added a disco ball to the ceiling of Velazquez’s studio inside the Alcazar Palace in Madrid and the reflection of the mirrors sparkle all over the space. The result is so visually compelling and so jocose, that one can only wonder if the inclusion of the disco ball is a set-up by Velazquez - who painted himself in this iconic piece - to see the princesses, dwarves and chaperones in the painting let loose.
But then I’m reminded this is Marc Dennis’s piece and my thought process comes full circle. Marc is funny and intense, full of energy and so quick-witted; this is the kind of work that he is meant to create. It is, however, almost a weird proposition to think that it takes so much patience and time to make paintings like these and that they come from someone with such a fiery disposition. Then I remember that he has Cuban ancestry and that he spent several years of his childhood living in Puerto Rico - he has learned versatility, his passion isn’t fabricated, and when the focus is needed, he has it there to access it at will - and it all makes sense.