Impasto is the technique of applying a thick layer of paint to the surface of a canvas, leaving visible brush or palette knife strokes. Though a technique of excess, it is not gratuitous. In fact, it has been used by painters for centuries to achieve a variety of specific technical effects.

If painting techniques in the classical and Medieval periods were aimed at preserving expensive pigments, the accumulation of wealth by European royals in the Renaissance gave the artists they supported license to add dimensionality to their paintings by using a little more. Oil painters like Rembrandt and Velasquez, working for wealthy patrons in the Netherlands or Spain, used impasto to improve upon their hyper-realistic portraits. After building up the base of the painting with thin layers of paint, a tiny, but noticeably thicker dab of bright white paint would be added to give shine and dimensionality to the pearls, rich fabrics, and jewels worn by their subjects.

Later the impressionist and post-impressionist movements used impasto to a different effect–using it to add texture throughout the entire work. In the 20th century, the most extreme iteration of impasto was deployed by abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, who used it as a transgressive act to accentuate the aggressive gestures of his non-figurative paintings.

This is the heritage taken up by Francesca Mollet, whose impasto techniques build complex compositions filled with layer upon layer of pallet scrapes and brush strokes, which evoke organic processes like those of growth and are then scraped or peeled away to suggest decay.

In contrast, in a work like you know when it’s real, Jasmine Gregory uses the traditional technique of impasto to impart a streak of translucent brilliance to a bunch of green onions. So too does Tirtzah Bassel, who, despite using colors that evoke unnatural lighting, deploys impasto like the Old Masters did, applying thick layers of yellow or red to highlight the features of figures that seem almost archetypal.