Like many a great still life, this one by James White is a dazzling piece of representation. But the scene represented is at one remove, painted from a photograph. His use of black and white draws attention this fact, as skilful as the reproduction may be.
The result is a literal sort of photo-realism. It shows things just as they stand in the artist’s studio, yet gives emphasis to how they have been framed by a camera lens. This seems ad hoc. Perhaps it is, although the smoothly applied oil paint and varnish brings gravity to the incidental scene.
White’s depiction of a burgerbox and half bottle of water belongs to a genre which historically likes to celebrate food. But instead of a carefully composed picture of domestic abundance, we are given here takeaway packaging, bottled water and a bag of sugar.
In a way he is expanding the thematic range of painting, getting real about his subject matter along with its mere appearance. But the gesture is also ironic. Considerable time and effort has gone into the rendering of some everyday detritus and the work is displayed in a perspex box which elevates the content even further.
Perhaps that is what painting has always been about, aggrandisement in one way or another. This it can still do better than a camera, and look, it can even immortalise a snapshot if that is what you want it to do.
James White – New Paintings is at Max Wigram Gallery, London, until 17 July 2010.