#12 — Bertrand Meniel
“By 1996, I had been working in my studio for two years trying to perfect my technique. I was working from pictures taken in Miami. During these two years, I did a number of paintings, but only a part of this work gave me satisfaction. It was time, however, for me to know what it was worth—to know if I should continue or give up. I knew Louis Meisel from the books he had written, and I knew the importance of his influence in the Photorealist art movement, so he was the one I had to meet. When I went to the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, my primary goal was to get an evaluation of my work. I especially hoped for encouragement to continue my work; ultimately, I got much more.
Whoever sees the art dealer solely as a dealer is mistaken. The art dealer should be a successful collector, who manages to show others the paintings he loves. So when Louis Meisel decided that my work deserved to be exhibited in his gallery, I suddenly measured the chance but also the responsibility that it represents.
As an artist, I would like painting to be an exercise in intelligence, tolerance, and adventure. The purpose of every painting is to satisfy the ardent gaze of the one who sees them. The artist is afraid: afraid of being bad, afraid of failure and ridicule, afraid of living in the hell of bad painters. The art dealer is there to comfort and sometimes to show the way.”
– Bertrand Meniel, 2019
The first series of Bertrand Meniel’s paintings—the ones that introduced him to the world as a Photorealist—are his renditions of the deco hotels in South Beach, Miami. While he was born in the south of France and lived there his entire life, his first attention as a realist painter was drawn to this very specific and unique cityscape. These were the paintings that he presented to me on the first occasion that we met. Meniel’s awe-inspiring technical skill impressed me, and these paintings placed him on the American art scene.
To date, I have yet to meet a painter, who can accurately incorporate more detail within a painting than Meniel. Despite being self-taught (Meniel’s academic background was in physiotherapy), his brushwork is finer and tighter than any other painter I have ever seen. His technical abilities have continued to strengthen and astonish me. Over the years, Meniel’s subject matter has shifted from being purely based in American subject matter (beginning with Miami cityscapes and later San Francisco imagery) to include European subject matter. Meniel was one of the first Photorealists to fully-embrace European imagery, and to do so as a European himself.
In 2004, Meniel began his first series of European cityscapes—paintings of Paris. His panoramic views of Paris introduced sweeping and expansive views of the city. Influenced by the Photorealist paintings of Richard Estes, Meniel adeptly incorporates multiple perspectives into many of his paintings, creating imagery that mimics how the eye reads a landscape rather than strictly adhering to how it is represented through a lens. With his expertise in digital photography and his technical skills, Meniel’s works not only advance on the cityscape imagery initiated by Estes, he has become the leading artist in the world in depicting detail and information in a painting.
Amongst his Parisian series, “Forum des Halles” in 2006 was about the largest and most ambitious in terms of imagery, detail and “information.”
Sometime during this time period, Meniel mentioned to me that he had read about the salon events that we used to host in our SoHo loft in the 70s. These informal get togethers were held several times a year for the newly designated Photorealists to meet and share ideas, techniques and become friends. Meniel proposed that the new, 21st century Photorealists who did not know each other, should be able to enjoy what the original artists did. He suggested that the group all meet in a neutral city, check into a hotel, spend meals together, and become friends. AND during the day, each artist would be able to photograph that city and make a painting to commemorate the week.
I thought that was a great idea and said if they would each do at least 2 paintings, I would arrange a museum exhibition of the efforts. The artists that were included were Bertrand Meniel, Tony Brunelli, Clive Head and Raphaella Spence. Brunelli had just gotten a commission to paint a scene in Prague. So that became the destination city, and the Prague Project was shown at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, New York in 2004-2005.
This led to us to Zurich, which was attended and painted by 7 Photorealists in 2007, and subsequently to Monaco’s Grand Prix, and then to New York in 2011, which included 15 artists.
While only able to produce about 60 paintings in the past 25 years, Meniel has made, and is continuing to make, a major contribution to this art form and artists. His latest painting, “Chevy’s” (2018) took him 14 months to complete, but astoundingly, it contains more detail and information than any painting done anywhere or in any time in the world. In just a couple of decades, Meniel has become one of the world’s leading Photorealist painters.