Paint Like a Precisionist: Student Artists at the Museum

July 25, 2018

After their recent trip to the exhibition Cult of the Machine, a group of eleventh-graders from Oakland School for the Arts created their own paintings inspired by the exhibition. Scanning today’s landscape for scenes that echoed the show’s early industrial views, the fifteen students (led by teacher Andrew Junge) chose to paint subjects both unexpected and everyday: a computer circuit board, a tangle of streetlights, an electrical pole set against the sky.

Like many of the artists featured in Cult of the Machine working nearly a century ago, the students painted their subjects in the Precisionist style—an aesthetic defined by smooth surfaces and streamlined geometries, reflecting both the beauty and coldness of the Machine Age. With their crisp lines, simplified forms, and often exaggerated color schemes, the students’ fifteen paintings similarly capture the sublime beauty of the modern industrial environment.

Image: All works: 2018, Acrylic on canvas. From left, top row: Eli Fredenburg, Roxy Rymland, Eli Hauser, Haven Hibser, Emmett Stephens; middle row: Elsa Rudolph-Swanson, Rona Raz, Jake McRae, E. B. Couts, Luis Leon; bottom row: Dejon Erving, Rami KD, Sean Busse-Boozer, Rowen Sanford-Eckhaus, Arthur Johnstone


telephone pole and blue sky with moon

E. B. Couts. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20 in.

I filled the pole’s shadow with dark purple to achieve simplicity, but I kept in all of the wires and electrical mechanisms to get a sense of detail.

—Eli Fredenburg, student artist
stoplights and traffic at sunset

Arthur Johnstone. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 16 in.

A tangle of streetlights, wires, and cars sit against a changing sky in this painting by Arthur Johnstone (above). Arthur said that painting in this style was challenging. “I’m really an Impressionist at heart,” he said.

smokestacks with a gray sky

E. B. Couts. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16 x 20 in.

E.B. Couts’s painting of smokestacks (above) offers an iconic view of industry. The only hint that the scene is from the present day is the freeway railing in its foreground.

green computer circuit board on red background

Luis Leon. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 16 in.

Luis Leon’s painting of a computer circuit board (above) renders a miniature subject at maximum scale. A fundamental component of modern technology, the small device assumes nearly architectural proportions in Luis’s work.

window at a slant showing a cityscape with partial clock showing on wall

Roxy Rymland. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 16 in.

Roxy Rymland’s painting of the view through an urban window (above) presents the sky as a quilt of intersecting shards of blue and pink light. “I replaced the realistic properties of my reference photo with unrealistic colors and shapes,” said the artist.

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