Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vision to Hand awarded PSA Certificate of Excellence 2011

I'm happy to announce that Vision to Hand (oil on linen, 36" x 26") received a Certificate of Excellence from the Portrait Society of America this year!

It's what I call a "figurative portrait" because it is both a portrait of artist Diane Feissel, and also a figurative work that conveys an idea that is relevant to the subject, and also goes beyond the subject. I guess you could say that I "use" the subject to explore a theme, but she's not just a model, a tabula rasa onto which I project that constellation of ideas; she's an individual who is also partly the source of these ideas.

Matthew Inness asked me to describe my thoughts about this painting, and he posted the painting and description in his wonderful blog Underpaintings. (If you like realist art and you haven't yet read Matt's blog, check it out. You won't want to miss all the interesting news and commentary.) Thank you, Matt, for including my work along with all the other Portrait Society award-winning entries. Congratulations to all these exceptional artists!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Realism: Legacy and the Gene Pool

I look around at all the schools of realism today and marvel at the diversity of styles and viewpoints that are emerging out of the teaching of highly respected artists. To name a few off the top of my head, there are the Putney Painters, the Water Street Atelier artists, the Novo-Realists, and here in Philadelphia, the Studio Incamminati artists and the "Direct Painting" heritage at PAFA. Of course there are many more. All of them have different approaches, and the artists emerging from them are doing exciting work.

I've noticed that these groups tend to stay together and show together often, for obvious reasons. The artists share a common teacher, of course, and they know each other very well from learning and painting together. Sometimes there is a painter whose style jumps out from the group as markedly different, but more often the uniqueness is consistent but more subtle. It's easy for these painters to get a show together because just the distinction of belonging to a school of realism is in itself a valid reason for a show.

But what if we mixed things up a little? What if artists, galleries and curators organized more themed shows that reached across these different schools of realism and invited artists from all kinds of different backgrounds?

There is a lot to be said for the "legacy" that is passed down from one artist to another. The legacy idea is not really stylistic, although artists may be initially drawn to study with an artist (or one who studied with that artist) because they are attracted by the style of the work. The legacy has more to do with learning that artist's way of seeing, methods of working, and putting conceptual understanding into practice. The best "masters" (I use that word although it has a slight cringe factor for me) are those who would not want students to copy their style, who would help students become the kind of artists they are meant to be. So if "masters" do not want artists to copy them, that's all the more reason for artists to look beyond their own inner circles and appreciate, even embrace, what other artists are doing.

Then there are all the artists--myself included--who do not belong to a specific school. There are so many realists working today who add fuel to the fire of the realist art movement. We need more and different shows. We need to widen the gene pool a bit, shake up the mix, and try new combinations. I can think of so many people I'd like to show with--and the list varies with the themes that I come up with in my head. And I'm also thinking of all the wonderful accomplished artists I know who do not have the advantage of belonging to a group, but have the strength of their own artistic voice. Just think if we all raised our voices together in a single group that transcended our various allegiances!

A few years ago, I was asked by the director of a local center to help organize a portrait and figure show of Pennsylvania artists. I wanted a variety, so I suggested artists from across the board stylistically. At the time, I didn't know any artists from Studio Incamminati. For some reason, I thought of that school as separate from the rest of the Philadelphia art scene. Right after the show was over, I started meeting some of these really exceptional artists, and I wished I could have turned back time and included them in the portrait show.

But fortunately there are always new opportunities. Last year I served on the exhibit committee, helping to put together the "Inspiring Figures" show at the Butler Institute, in which some of these artists participated.

If realism is to thrive, we can't just stay within our safety zones. We can make a much greater impact on the art world in general if we hang together and help each other. We are working toward a common goal to see representational art, in all its traditional and contemporary permutations, achieve widespread acceptance and validity.