Bryan Leboeuf: Mosh Pit, 2003. Oil on linen

By Lauren Beck

Figure 1 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: The Descent from the Cross, c.1633. Oil on canvas

Figure 1 Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: The Descent from the Cross, c.1633. Oil on canvas

Figure 2. Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet: The Descent from the Cross, c. 1697. Oil on canvas

Figure 2. Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet: The Descent from the Cross, c. 1697. Oil on canvas

Figure 3. Bryan Leboeuf: Lion’s Den, 2011. Oil on Canvas

Figure 3. Bryan Leboeuf: Lion’s Den, 2011. Oil on Canvas

Figure 4. Bryan Leboeuf: Age of Man, 2003. Oil on linen

Figure 4. Bryan Leboeuf: Age of Man, 2003. Oil on linen

Figure 5. Caravaggio: The Entombment, c. 1602-1604. Oil on canvas

Figure 5. Caravaggio: The Entombment, c. 1602-1604. Oil on canvas

Bryan Leboeuf’s painting, Mosh Pit, depicts a crowded expanse of bodies and limbs viewed from above, on top of which a man is suspended, held by the people below. While the subject matter of the scene is modern and profane, the striking position of the body of the main figure is reminiscent of Baroque depictions of the religious subject of the Deposition of Christ from the Cross. Leboeuf’s use of chiaroscuro lighting and other Old Master techniques enhances the artistic references to the past embodied in this seemingly contemporary subject.

Leboeuf depicts a male Caucasian figure at the center of the painting being hoisted upward by background figures. The title of the work implies the setting is a mosh pit, a violent throng of dancers at a hardcore concert, yet the cropped, crowded scene with its intense focus on the corpse-like central figure easily calls to mind the image of a ecstasy of a mob wailing a dead hero or the deeply historical image of the dead Christ borne down from the cross by his followers. The figure is shown lying supine atop the crowd with his head thrown back obscuring his face, his right arm bent, and his left arm extending out to the edge of the canvas. The main figure is shown as slender and muscular but not highly idealized. Other figures can be seen behind the main figure as a part of the mosh pit. Many cannot be seen clearly and fade into the background. However, a few of the figures can be seen clearly, notably what appears to be a woman shown covering her eyes with her hands, seen at the feet of the central figure.

Bryan Leboeuf’s Mosh Pit reflects works completed during the Baroque period.[1] Leboeuf has said, “the actual materials that I use to make paintings have been in use for hundreds of years.”[2] He mentions that he utilized his formal training to study past master painters’ process and techniques.²

While the Mosh Pit, is obviously a profane, modern subject, the way in which Leboeuf positions and illuminates the central figure recalls seventeenth century paintings of the Deposition, such as Rembrandt or Jean Jouvenet’s Descent from the Cross (Figs. 1 and 2).[3] Both Leboeuf’s figure and the Christ figures in Rembrandt and Jouvenet’s paintings are cast in a very dramatic light in contrast to the paintings’ drastically darker backgrounds. Rembrandt’ and Jouvenet’s figures are both partially nude, covered only by a white fabric cloth draped around their waists.[4] Likewise, Leboeuf’s figure, though clad in skin-colored jeans, also wears a white cloth knotted about his waist. In the context of the mosh pit, this is perhaps a t-shirt shed by the dancer, but it visually recalls the covering worn by Christ. Leboeuf positions the body of his main figure with splayed, bent arm and legs and a hanging head, bodily extremities positioned in a way that causes them to fade into the darkness of the background. The same arrangement appears ommonly in images of the Christ in the Deposition, including the images by rembrandt and Jouvenet. Likewise, the background of both of these paintings contains a woman covering her face in mourning, tying Leboeuf’s woman to the image most likely to the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdelene mourning at the base of the cross. In its use of intense chiaroscuro, the Mosh Pit also references the techniques and style, in addition to the iconography, of Baroque painting, in particular perhaps the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio and the tenebrism of Rembrandt.

Leboeuf adapts historical iconographic and stylistic forms in Mosh Pit in order to either illuminate the everyday profane subject matter or to de-emphasize the religious subject matter. The artist who was raised as a catholic references religious and historical ideas in many of his works, most obviously in works like his Lion’s Den (Fig. 3), whose title refers explicitly to the tale of Daniel in the lion’s den from Old Testament’s Book of Daniel.[5] More subtle historical allusions are evident in Leboeuf’s Age of Man (Fig. 4) painting that has many similarities to Mosh Pit. As in Mosh Pit, the naked-torsoed main figure in Age of Man, lit in dramatic chiaroscuro seems to recall images of the dead Christ. The figure depicted in Leboeuf’s Age of Man exhibits a grayish-pallor, sunken belly, prominent rib cage that recalls images of the Entombment of Christ, perhaps especially Caravaggio’s Entombment (Fig. 5).

Bryan Leboeuf’s painting, Mosh Pit, draws stylistic and iconographic inspiration from the past in order perhaps to illuminate quotidian, profane scenes or to extend the sublime aura of traditional history painting to scenarios from everyday life. This can be observed through Leboeuf’s depiction of profanes scenes that directly reference religious art works of the past, through the positioning of his figures and the use of dramatic, chiaroscuro lighting.

[1] Martin, John Rupert. “Baroque.” Penguin Books, 1997. 1-368.

[2] Leboeuf,Bryan. “Bryan Leboeuf”, Oranges and Sardines poetsandartists.com.

[3] See Pächt, Otto, and Lachnit, Edwin Ed. Rembrandt. München (deu): Prestel, 1991. 1-254. Schnapper, Antoine. Jean Jouvenet, 1644-1717, Et La Peinture D’histoire à Paris. Artistes Français. Paris, L. Laget, 1974, 1974. 1-299.

[4] Rzepinska, Maria. “Tenebrism in Baroque Painting and it Ideological Background,” Artibus et historiae VII/13, 1986. 1-22.

[5] Williams, Jay. “Realist Paintings by Bryan Lebeouf”.

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