Monday, April 4, 2016
When the market for hand drawn illustrations dried up many illustrators found themselves trained for a career that no longer existed. Concurrently a new wave of artists began to appear that were classically trained and working representationally. At first, galleries were eager to embrace these new "traditionalists" but soon found that they worked too slow and were not willing to push their work into slicker looking, more marketable formulas. Illustrators have no such reticence. Part of their training is to crib from any available source and to produce work quickly with an emphasis on high style and facile brushwork. The end result is a kind of strange hybrid of modernist sampled abstract/realism. A typical painting will have a tightly (photographically) rendered face with gradually dissolving brushstrokes, some neon colors thrown in for good measure, and a Clifford Still or Rothko like background. It looks good in glossy magazines and the higher end galleries seem to be eating it up. But really, what's the point? Wasn't the renewed interest in classical realism supposed to be a reaction against the fact that the art world has deemed representational art to be kitsch and not worthy of any attention whatsoever? Someone with an illustration background wouldn't know that. They wouldn't have noticed that in art school they received no training whatsoever, because an illustration major would have received some traditional training because illustrations couldn't ever become fully conceptual and non-objective. How could you sell a product if the viewer couldn't relate?
I titled this post "necessary roughness" because I am reminded of Harold Speed's admonition in his book on painting that the artist should beware of making work that is too perfect. That a certain amount of "dither" gives character to a work. Many realists that are working from life have decided to combat the problem of the "illustrators takeover" by either rendering work that is so detailed that it seems "hyper real" or by re-inventing cubism with fractured images. In my own work I want to make paintings that look like what they're supposed to represent, but also look like they're painted. Some artists take it as a compliment when someone says their art looks like a photograph, "even better than the real thing". When someone says that to me I want to hit them. If realism is to survive into the future it can not follow the illustrators down the path of impressionism to expressionism to surrealism to abstract expressionism to neo-expressionism. That was not the point of the return to classicism. It wasn't to re-boot modern art history. Realists need to take a deep breath and look to Chardin, and Corot, and Luis Melendez. Perceptual realism will never be a "big hit", it will never be a "fad", it won't ever be accepted by the cognoscenti. Who cares? I'll just keep looking hard and slow and painting away, while ignoring the siren-song "the end justifies the means".