The New Contemporary Art Magazine

Tag: Figurative Painting

England-born, Toronto-based painter Mark Liam Smith’s figurative scenes are overlayed with abstract shapes and rich colors. His mastery of the latter is even more fascinating when you consider that the artist is colorblind. (Check out the artist’s Instagram page here.)
For more than thirty years, Kerry James Marshall has been creating art to inspire important conversations about African American history and identity. His paintings follow the grand traditions of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, but with new narratives in which black people are the central figures. While Marshall initially began his career as an abstract artist, his dramatic shift to figurative painting occurred in the 1980s when he realized that African American artists and subjects were being excluded from major art museums and galleries. Marshall decided he would use the techniques of the Old Masters so revered in those institutions to create a new dialogue, in which black perspectives are given greater visibility within the art history canon.
When asked how to describe the human figure, artist Noah Buchanan has said: "The human figure is an anatomical event that houses the spirit of the human condition." His oil paintings perfectly illustrate what he means by this: an incredible display of the human body's physical elegance and prowess, while also expressing what we cannot see. His art has been praised as among the best of his generation, a fusion of contemporary and classical themes with a Caravaggio-like command of anatomy.
In painting the world around him, Argentinian artist Diego Cirulli is sensitive to the temporal nature of things. His large-scale oil paintings represent Circulli's unique experience of reality: a collage of the artist's memories and the people he is with, often with eyes closed or obscured entirely, as if to suggest that our vision is not a crucial component to our perception of life. "Imagery is the possibility of generating a crack in the surface of a given reality," Cirulli says.
Canadian artist Paul Fenniak paints with a careful eye on the natural appearances of things and through his process of painting, he arrives at a deeper expression of the human spirit. He has been considered "a master of the psychological realism" for his haunting portraits of people in random every day places like the beach boardwalk or on their lawn, often appearing detached or lost in their own inner world. And although his scenes offer us something familiar to grab onto as the viewer, ultimately, we can't quite reach his subjects emotionally and are left to "invent".
Brooklyn based artist Jonathan Viner pursues dreamlike visions that blend the design aesthetic of the time he grew up in, the 1970s, with cool tones and pops of bright colors. First featured in Hi-Fructose Vol. 34, and on our blog, one of the strengths of Viner's oil paintings lies in their stylish look, using elements of the era's sex appeal, trendy accents, kitsch and fashion, to pump up their nostalgia and intrigue. In his upcoming exhibition "Strange Math" at Roq La Rue Gallery in Seattle, Viner offers a cinematic narrative in a series of new allegorical paintings.
Chinese born, California based artist Vincent Xeus paints his portraits with a sensitive treatment of light and shading to an almost haunting effect. Though his work shares elements of 17th-century Dutch masters and contemporaries like Gerhard Richter, Odd Nerdrum, Francis Bacon, and Antonio López Garcia, Xeus has created an entirely new approach. Previously featured on our blog, he has said that his intent is to reveal that which is beneath what we think we see. This involves smudging the paint until the subject's face is hardly recognizable or appears blurry and more impressionistic. His latest body of work, "Hue is Full / A Thousand Faces", which opened Friday at Gallery 1261 in Colorado, takes his unconventional style to a new level where he wipes and scrapes away at his subjects.
German painter Alpay Efe portrays a contemporary beauty in his works, but he isn't interested in perfection. His paintings of still life, nudes, and modern figures focus instead on the ever so slight smile or the way light touches a form as he sees it. Influenced by Zeitgeist art and pop culture, he paints figuratively and realistically, using primarily oil paint on wood panel. The background in many of Efe's paintings shows his art studio in Oberhausen, Germany. His studio is what you might expect- towels on the easel, cups of coffee and half-eaten doughnuts, and there is a certain attitude and specificity to the way he captures it.
American artist Jamie Adams paints the human form with the expertise of an European Old Master. His rendering of musculature and gradation of skin tone is exacting and hyperrealistic. However, there is something askew in the way the necks of his figures sometimes turn too far — as if snapped by an unknown force — and stomachs appear to bulge and contract to unnatural degrees. The distortions to which Adam subjects his characters, and their simultaneously alluring and repelling effects, are similar to the ways in which John Currin manipulates his female figures. The uncanny resemblance is likely no accident, as Adams and Currin are contemporaries of one another. Born within one year of each other, Adams and Currin are both BFA graduates of Carnegie Mellon University.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby uses a mix of collage, drawing and painting to create large-scale artworks with an emotive punch. The artist draws viewers into her works through details within acetone-transfer prints of small photographs takes from the internet and Crosby's own photographs, in addition to magazines and advertisements. The layers, patterns, and their varying degrees of transparency create dreamlike images that move in and out of reality. In this way, the works hint at the complexities of fantasy and actuality in everyday domestic life.
Rainbow waterfalls spill from the faces of Brian Donnelly's men and women. The Toronto-based painter describes himself as a portrait painter, yet he distorts and erodes his subjects to sometimes unrecognizable ends. Donnelly's paints from real life, selecting his subjects based on interesting features such as piercing eyes or characteristic facial hair. He then paints them on canvas before using a combination of turpentine and hand sanitizer to make the colors run.
Acrobatic bodies, dismembered heads and elongated limbs stack, twist, and slide among one another to create complex human compositions. The new paintings by Richard Colman are now on display in his solo exhibition, "Faces, Figures, Places, and Things," as the inaugural exhibition for San Francisco's Chandran Gallery. The colorful artworks apply both subtle and obvious, real and fantastical instances of human behavior to explore the intricacies and curiosities of human relations. Coleman's use of minimalist forms and color blocking guide one to focus on the content of his paintings as opposed to their surface aesthetics.
Israeli artist Nir Hod once told Interview Magazine, his greatest discovery was that "it's not easy getting older." In his painting series "Genius," Hod pulls at the tension between childhood and adulthood and breaks open a space in between innocence and inurement. His images are of young children smoking cigarettes and looking at the viewer with expressions of disdain, arrogance and suspicion. Though there is certainly an element of dark humor in dressing rosy-cheeked toddlers in rich fabrics and endowing them with sweeping hair, the paintings are disquieting for their ability to reflect one's now-corrupted inner child back unto him.
Painter Hilda Hiary uses bright colors and fleeting patterns to create images that unite instead of divide. Born in Ammam and self-identified as an Arab-Jordanian artist, Hiary forgoes ethnic markers in her characters in favor of soft swirls and fading lines. Just as her lines are never straight, Hiary's characters are never still. Whether talking or smoking, they are always invigorated with a sense of movement. The dynamic energy is only bolstered by the oscillating patterns.
Tunisian artist Atef Maatallah paints people on grainy, monotone backgrounds to highlight the inner worlds of his characters. Maatallah often paints diptychs, in which one panel features only a single object such as a tea pot or small animal. Purposely separated from the human figures, the objects serve as outer manifestations of the peoples' fears or desires. For example, an elderly woman with sun-baked sunken cheeks watches with a solemn expression as the feathers of a skinned bird — its' complexion the same color as the woman's — float downwards. In another image, a forlorn mother looks down as her two children sleep; one in her arms, the other slouched against her back. In the background, a bare light bulb hangs. The light is out.
Quebec, Cananda based artist Mathieu Laca often plays with shape and form in his oil paintings. His latest series increases his usual level of distortion in warped portraits of historical figures. These include famous icons, especially writers, like Virgina Woolf, Charles Baudelaire, and Henry David Thoreau. Throwing all visual conventions out the window, Laca contorts and smudges their faces with spots of intense colors, some beyond recognition.
Iranian painter Ali Esmaeillou reveals haunting parallel universes beneath the pleasant facades of everyday life. In each series of paintings, Esmaeillou explores the psyche of specific archetypes, such as warriors, or digs into the personalities of the characters that compose a particular story, like the great 10th century Persian epic, the Shahnameh.
Berlin-based American artist James Bullough splinters and fractures hyper-realistic paintings of women to open spaces through which complex and unfinished stories are revealed. The vibrancy of skin tone and naturalistic musculature in Bullough's technique were learned through an intensive study of Old Master paintings. Bullough's interest in Old Masters is also evident in the way in which several of his nude subjects stare at the viewer, while taking care to keep their faces at least partially concealed.
Growing up in rural Colorado, Oregon based artist David Rice forged a special connection with his environment, which he develops in his colorful illustrations. His works focus on themes of nature through figurative portrayals of animals. Rice forges a link between the natural world and what is man-made in his current exhibit, "Two Creeks" at Antler Gallery, which is showing alongside Syd Bee's "In My Bones". In a new series of nine acrylic on wood panel paintings, Rice portrays wild animals with unnatural elements. A recurring element is fabric, which appears as clothing fashioned as cloaks that the animals wear, draped over their backs like blankets, or in more subtle forms.
Los Angeles based multimedia artist Amir H. Fallah does not consider our looks to be the most important thing about us. He describes his art as "alternative portraits", portraits of a person that look beyond their physical characteristics. His 2014 exhibition "The Collected" established his definition of portraiture through a variety of methods from ornate paintings that play with color and geometrical patterns to found-object sculpture. With his current installation "The Caretaker" at Nerman Museum Of Contemporary Art in Kansas, Fallah continues this exploration in new paintings and sculpture.
Edinburg based artist Sarah Muirhead (covered here) portrays every day people in her mottled, figurative acrylic paintings. The watercolor-like quality of her art lends to her keen observations of the body and skin tones. Muirhead elaborates on her style choice in her artist statement: "The quality of flesh, its contrasting textures and tensions, the density and potential of muscle and the irregularity and dimples in fatty tissue are important in the way I want to describe any given subject. I want the bodies I paint to be a strange mixture of lurid, glistening attraction and true empathic realism avoiding elegant cliches." She continues her unique exploration of the figure in "Bonded," which opens today at Leyden Gallery in London. 
Berlin based artist Jaybo Monk (previously featured here) is the architect of an abstract world in his paintings. Human figures, which he likens to "cathedrals", are split apart, masses of muscle and shapes swimming around the canvas that leave us feeling disoriented. Combined, they provide the backdrop for a landscape with no boundaries, a place Monk calls "nowhere". His current exhibition "Nowhere Is Now Here", which opened last night at Soze Gallery in Los Angeles, explores this concept of wandering, both literally and metaphorically.
Andrew Hem (HF Vol. 21 cover artist) makes his curatorial debut tomorrow with "Ill Squad!", a group exhibition of his fellow artists at Giant Robot gallery. Throughout his career, Hem has shed a light on his favorite artists in another way, in his lush and colorful paintings. Among his subjects are those who inspire him creatively, which he portrays either at work in their studio or on some fantastical adventure. At his solo exhibition last year, "Dream but Don't Sleep" (covered here), Hem shared with us his ongoing enthusiasm for garnering a public interest in his friends' work. Nearly all of the artists in his "squad" stem from an illustration background, but together their works are eclectic and showcase a variety of media.
Throughout art history, water has been a symbol that is rich with tradition. Water is responsible for life on Earth and an important part of our natural being; it has the power to cleanse, nurture and heal. Texas-born artist based in the UK, Cynthia Westwood, carries on this tradition in her oil paintings of nudes bathing. Her imagery has been labeled as erotic, even feminist, but depicting nudity is not central to her work. Like that of American impressionist Mary Cassatt, Westwood's art can be described as "special by not being special". Here, we witness every day women taking part in what appears an every day act.
Chrystal Chan's heroines are of two worlds. You could say they exist in alternate dimensions, as they are inspired by Chan's belief in the supernatural. She can be a bibilical figure, as in her "Protector" carrying a swan, a shepard of a wolf pack, or a little girl back at home in her bedroom. They are often accompanied by the animals she saw growing up in San Francisco. While these images can be calming, there is also an unsettling darkness that surrounds her work.
Kevin Peterson's subjects exist somewhere between a wintery city and sunny Houston, where the artist is currently based. Do a web search on his art, and the response is polarizing. Hyperrealism has become a controversial art form- most admire the excruciating detail, while others disagree with copying tags or photographs. Without question, Petersons' portraits of children in a graffiti-colored world are emotional and ironic. His current show at Thinkspace gallery, "Remnants", portrays his own fantasy-urban jungle.
 Soey Milk has seen a lot of creative and personal growth in the past year- she tackles life with the same focus as her precisely detailed, figurative paintings. When we last caught up with her, she was still a student at Pasadena Art Center and experimenting with a new style that incorporates colorful drapery. Recently graduated, her upcoming show at CHG Circa on December 13th showcases the result of her progress. Appropriately, the exhibition title "SINAVRO" loosely translates from Korean to "To progress slowly, almost imperceptibly." Her identity as a young woman living between two cultures, Korean and American, is represented in her intermixing styles.
Christine Wu's (covered here) art draws emotional tension from its soft, tonal palette and sketchy layers. She guides the viewer's eye with detailed points of interest and spots of colored light. Fundamentally, warm light might imply comfort, cheerful emotions, while cool hues imply something more mysterious. Wu intentionally manipulates the light and color of a scene to achieve a variety of effects. Her next series of paintings is inspired by morning light. She will exhibit these with Kyle Stewart, Hannah Yata, and Melissa Haslam at Parlor Gallery, opening September 13th. We visited her new studio in Los Angeles for a preview.
Boston based artist Laurie Kaplowitz describes herself as a “figurative painter committed to Expressive Figuration”. In other words, Kaplowitz creates imagery focused on expressing her emotions, portrayed as ghostly, textured figures. Stylistically, she takes inspiration from Italian Renaissance painter Titian. He reportedly used layers and glazes in his portraits to represent the layers of human identity. Kapolowitz uses the same approach in her process by painting the portrait over and over again until it resonates off the canvas. At the same time, the subject appears light and airy as if disappearing into space. Her art experienced a change in style around 2010, which we feature here.

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