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Still life? - Rob and Nick Carter bring old paintings to life

Transforming by Rob and Nick Carter propels Old Master paintings into the 21st century.

The average museum visitor looks at an artwork for 2 to 4 seconds. How could you invite them to linger a bit longer? With that ambition in mind, artistic duo Rob and Nick Carter have invented art on the intersection of painting and cutting-edge computer generated imagery, creating a body of work with the title 'Transforming'. In this series, Old Master works are brought to life through digital animation and all 12 of the moving artworks are exhibited together at Masterpiece Chelsea for the first time.

Using artists such as Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Jacob van Ruisdael and John Constable as a starting point, the Carters aim to re-engage with the works and make them come to live!

The extraordinary effects, reminiscent of the magical paintings inside Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, are achieved in various ways. Some images, such as Justus Junkers Still Life with Pear and Insects, are actually framed iPads playing a sequence of pixels selected at random. The butterfly you see softly flapping its wings will never be seen like this ever again, in a fascinating of art imitating life. For others, such as Giorgio Bararelli de Castelfranco’s Sleeping Venus, they filmed a real model against a green screen, so you can see the sun going up and down as Venus softly, almost unnoticeably breathes – and sometimes suddenly, unexpectedly shifts and twitches in her sleep.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Landscape Painting, 2013–17, after John Constable, Study for The Cornfield, c.1817

Study for a Cornfield by John Constable, 1817, is a landscape painting where every leaf on the trees, every cloud in the sky is softly, subtly brought to life with millions of tiniest animations and running at 2.5 hours, it is longer than a feature film. For Rachel Ruysch and Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder’s images of flowers in a vase, they recreated the setting of the original painting and then filmed real flowers for 10 days as they decayed, discarding the frames with no action and editing the remaining film into a 32 minute sequence.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Dyptich, 2013, after Justus Junker, Still Life with Pear and Insects, 1765 and Still Life with Apple and Insects, 1765

Decay is a common theme with still life and Amrosius Bosschaert the Younger’s famous vanitas Dead Frog with Flies from 1630 is one of the most striking works, with the flies actually moving and buzzling, maggots crawling and the frog slowly rotting until nothing but a skeleton is left. The works range in duration from 30 minutes to 3 hours, and as the films move and develop over time, the viewer is invited to notice subtle changes, with occasional real-time activity bringing the works to life.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Vanitas Painting, 2012–13, after Ambrosius Bosschaert the Younger, Dead Frog with Flies, c.1630

The mouse in Willem van Aelst’s Still Life with Candle, Walnut and a Mouse from 1627-1683 is barely visible, hidden in the dark. In the Carter’s version, you might suddenly jump as the mouse scurries across the table busying itself with the walnut. The Carter’s capture us as viewers by our innate love for moving images and entertainment, somewhere on the intersection of TV and art. The shiny darkness and that strange inner light that seems to come from the Old Masters is wonderfully recreated in the shiny crisps surfaces of our modern day retina displays.

Rob and Nick Carter, Transforming Still Life Painting II, 2016, after Willem van Aelst Still Life with Candle, Walnuts and a Mouse, 1647

It is a truly contemporary response to old master drawings and Five Tulips in a Wan-Li Vase is the first piece of video art recently acquired by the Frick Collection. Rob and Nick Carter will be hosting a talk on Bringing Old Masters to life Through Animation at Masterpiece 2018 on 3 July to reveal some of the magic behind their enchanting digital art. One of the Transforming Landscape Paintings is also currently on show at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

Rob & Nick Carter Transforming series is at Masterpiece 2018, Stand A22, ben Brown Fine Arts from 28 June - 4 July.