In the Studio: The Process of a Painting with Aurélien Couput

The topic of visibility and invisibility is something I am really drawn to in art – what an artist chooses to make visible or invisible is a theme that I find to be fascinating, densely packed, and layered.

Aurélien Couput’s (NAP #99) painting Enola Gay falls in this category.  As the title suggests, the subject of his work is the Boeing B-29 bomber used to bomb Hiroshima.  However, Couput eliminates the object, central focus, and namesake altogether, shifting the subject of his work to the aftereffects brought on by Enola Gay.

Aurélien Couput | Enola Gay, 2012, Oil on canvas, 75 1/2 in. x 133 in.

In making Enola Gay invisible, Couput makes the horror, tragedy, and force of the event visible and central.  Below, we follow his progress and process of completing his painting, accompanied by his own words and sentiments. - Ellen C. Caldwell, Los Angeles Contributor


Aurélien Couput: “As source material for my paintings, I use photographic images of historical and, at times, tragic or controversial events that have taken place within the United States. I use my cultural heritage and background as a lens to confront these widely-publicized and often recognizable images, and I edit and reintroduce the images of the event to the viewer.”

Detail of sketch.

“I distort my source material by editing and omitting elements from the original image to the point of creating a mark of censorship that affects the way someone perceives the work. The painting is then taken in as only a painting, an image existing solely on its own and removed from its original context. This process forces a de-sensitization to the subject, and the once highly-recognizable image stands as more of a traditional still-life or landscape and less as an iconic image from America's visual culture.”

Detail of sketch and studio.

“My process is quite straightforward and reveals my interest in traditional paintings, genres and themes instilled in me during my time at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. I prefer to work on canvas directly stapled to the wall, as opposed to a stretcher. I like the physical aspect of my brush working on a strong surface, as I tend to work forcefully and purposefully as I paint. The first step for each of my paintings is applying a thin layer of gesso. I then add a warm undercoat over the entire surface, which I use as a starting point to add washy layers of color that reveal the image step by step.”

In progress in the studio.

“My oil painting process is not too dissimilar from watercolor, as I often first sketch out the image and respond to how the paint is absorbed in the canvas. By the end, there are some brushstrokes with greater substance and density and others with more atmospheric qualities.”


“For my palette, I typically use a small range of colors: 3 browns, 2 blues, a red, an orange, and occasionally a white.”

The finished piece: Aurélien Couput | Enola Gay, 2012, Oil on canvas, 75 1/2 in. x 133 in.

“In this painting, I selected an image that depicts the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay after dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. I chose to omit the plane, which was the focal point of the source image. Now the landscape, which was initially the background, becomes the subject of the painting.”


Born in France, Aurélien Couput lives and works in New York. He is currently an MFA candidate at Columbia University. He spent six years at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and two years at the Haute École dʼArt et de Design in Geneva.

Couput has received international recognition and multiple awards for his work. Last year, he was the recipient of the Prix de la Foire International de Dessin (FID) in Paris. He was also featured in a broadcast of Journal des Galeries on ARTE, a European cultural television channel. In 2007, he was awarded the Raymond Weil International Photography Prize. In 2002, he received the 8th LVMH Young Artistsʼ Award that allowed him to study for a year at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Most recently, he was selected for the New American Paintings MFA Annual #99. Couputʼs work has been exhibited in New York, Paris, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.

Ellen C. Caldwell is an LA-based art historian, editor and writer.

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