These Out-of-Focus Paintings Put a Contemporary Spin on Traditional Portraiture

A new exhibition in London showcases the Miaz Brothers’ radical subversion of Old Master classics

The Maiden
The Miaz Brothers' hazy portraits challenge viewers' perceptions, inviting the audience to complete the artworks' narrative. © Miaz Brothers / Maddox Gallery

To create their eerily unfocused portraits, Roberto and Renato Miaz—contemporary artists more commonly known as the Miaz Brothers—apply coats of aerosol paint to large-format canvases. Rendered virtually unrecognizable, the pair’s hazy subjects play on viewers’ perceptions, leading audiences to question “the place of the soul in portraiture,” as Aimee Cliff wrote for Complex in 2014.

“Everybody can see a friend or somebody else [in the paintings],” Renato told Complex in 2014. “… Everybody has [their] own perception and connection.”

This May, the brothers’ most recent project—a series of blurred homages to Old Master paintings—is set to go on view at London’s Maddox Gallery. Titled “The Past, Present & Imperceptible,” the solo show features portraits that allude to the work of noted painters like Caravaggio and Rembrandt van Rijn, reports Katy Cowan for Creative Boom.

“[I]t is not possible to gaze passively. Instinctively, you are immediately prompted to engage on a physical level with what you see, moving closer or further away to decode what is before you,” say the brothers in a statement. “As memory begins to manifest and thoughts start taking form, emotions arise along with the possibility for reflection.”

The Miaz Brothers, The Surgeon, 2021 © Miaz Brothers / Maddox Gallery
The Miaz Brothers, Young Man, 2019 Courtesy of Maddox Gallery
The Miaz Brothers, The Astronomer, 2021 © Miaz Brothers / Maddox Gallery

According to the Fabien Castanier Gallery, which displayed selections from the pair’s Antimatter Series (a wide-ranging collection of portraits of friends, historical figures and imagined characters alike) in 2014, the brothers often present their work with little context, forcing viewers to make their own associations and “complete the narrative.”

Consider, for instance, The Maiden, a 2021 painting that portrays a woman looking over her shoulder. From a distance, the work looks like a formal Renaissance portrait. But upon closer examination, it bears more of a resemblance to a photograph taken by a camera whose lens refuses to focus.

Another canvas, The Astronomer (2021), shows a man wearing what appears to be a ruff, or distinctive Renaissance collar. The man may be staring straight at the viewer, but the artists’ (precisely) imprecise application of paint makes it difficult to tell.

Speaking with Designboom’s Andy Butler in 2014, the Miaz Brothers said they were “fundamentally … interested in the ‘perception’ and not the ‘representation’—a direct relationship with the senses and the capacity of the self when faced with the elaborate influx of information that nowadays is becoming more and more important.”

The duo added, “It’s kind an exercise for the inner spirit … a flexible experience of stretching the awareness of what we see and perceive.”

The Miazes use airbrushes, which disperse miniscule droplets, and spray cans to add layers of acrylic paint to their canvases.

As the pair told Widewalls’ Sanja Lazic in 2014, this medium allows them “to represent the fact that we are composed of infinite particles in continuous evolution, which change in tandem with the complex reality that surrounds us.”

Born in Milan in 1965 and 1968, respectively, Roberto and Renato collaborated creatively from an early age. Per their website, the brothers began their art career by exhibiting site-specific art installations that incorporated sound, light and different settings.

Later, when the pair started painting full-time, they decided to depict a broad range of subjects, from portraits to landscapes to specific objects like Coca-Cola cans and a bottle of Chanel perfume. Most of these works are executed in the same fuzzy, airbrushed style.

“The Miaz Brothers have the ability to make something as finite as a portrait a boundless experience,” says Maddox Gallery Creative Director Jay Rutland in the statement. “Their signature haziness is as beautiful as it is brilliant, and with each work, we are reminded that nothing is truly imperceptible.”

“The Past, Present & Imperceptible” will be on view at Maddox Gallery in London from May 20 to June 10.