The following article is reprinted w/ permission from the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance website.
It is with great sadness that I write this tribute to my friend, the late Paul Havas. Paul was one of those painters that early returned to the landscape for inspiration, against the prevailing Abstract Expressionist aesthetic that dominated the cultural scene in the late 50s and early 60s in the United States. Although he made the Pacific Northwest his home, and the wet, salty landscapes of the area his principal subject, he never forgot the strong structural underpinnings of abstraction that he absorbed during his formative years. It is this adherence to structural rigor, and his refined poetic sensibility, that make his paintings such a unique contribution to the art of the region. Paul was also one of the founding members of the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance.
I first encountered Paul’s work, long before I had met him, at an exhibition entitled “Night City”, at Woodside / Braseth Gallery in 1987. It was a strong show, with starkly balanced compositions of vivid halogen and neon colors amidst deep ultramarine. I still love all of these paintings, which can be seen at his website, http://www.paulhavas.com/, in the ‘earlier work’ section. (more…)
A selection of artworks from current members of the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance.
There are several people working to retool the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance for the new millennium. The Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance was originally founded in the early 1990s, by a group of artists that were meeting regularly for figure painting sessions at the studios of William E. Elston and Christel Kratohvil. It’s inaugural meeting was attended by over 40 artists, including some of the most prominent figurative artists from the region.
The NFAA published a bi-monthly journal of reviews, art criticism and rants, and held regular meetings at various artist’s studios and galleries. The organization also sponsored and presented lectures and symposia on topics ranging from Art and Photography to W. P. A. art restorations. During its brief existence as a formal organization it was represented in full-page articles in the Seattle Times and the New Art Examiner, a Chicago-based national art magazine. An article from the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance Journal was reprinted in Harpers Magazine, with attribution but without permission.
The organization was formally active for 5 plus years, and continued as informal relationships between artists and colleagues. With the advent of widespread Internet access, social networking and other technological advances, several of the original members (along with some younger artists,) decided the time was ripe to reinvent the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance. Interest in figurative and Realist art has grown exponentially since the original organization was active. Members of the NFAA believe that it is essential that figurative artists exert their collective influence over the world in which they work, exhibit and teach. Membership in the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance is reserved for professional artists that work in a figurative or Realist style, and who reside in the Pacific Northwest region. That region includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia. Further information is available at the Northwest Figurative Artists’ Alliance website, www.nwfigurative.org.
One of my current inspirations is the shin hanga printmakers of Japan. Shin hanga or ‘new print’ was a movement that spanned the first half of the 20th Century, primarily during the Taisho and Showa periods, and was a deliberate effort to revitalize ukiyo-e printmaking. Whereas shin hanga subjects tended to be primarily of romanticized landscape images, the artists were capable of rather arresting images of the urban environment as well. One of their principal innovations was to print the key plate or block in gray. This caused the key plate to drop back, and de-emphasized linear and calligraphic qualities in favor of color, volume and atmosphere. The artists involved were many; a few of the more prominent were Hiroshi Yoshida, Kawase Hasui, Shiro Kasamatsu, Koichu Okada, Toshio Kakihara and many others. I’ve included minimal captions, w/ artist, title, date and publisher. My intent was simply to present a broad variety of shin hanga subjects to spark others’ interest. The Wikipedia entry for shin hanga can be found here.
I recently had a conversation, via email and facetime, w/ my friend and colleague the watercolorist William Dubin. We were talking about the work of Michael Reardon, a watercolor painter that is getting a great deal of attention lately. We both had similar feelings about Mr. Reardon’s work, and Mr. Dubin was able to articulate them quite nicely in the following excerpted email: (more…)
“Some artistic temperaments are strong enough to absorb and take advantage of everything. In spite of being brought up in ways that would not have come naturally to them, they find their own path through the mazes of other men’s precepts and examples. They benefit by what is good, and although they sometimes bear the mark of a particular school, they develop into artists like Rubens, Titian, or Raphael. It is absolutely essential that at some moment in their careers, artists should learn not to despise everything that does not come from their own inspiration, but to strip themselves of the almost always blind fanaticism which prompts us all to imitate the great masters and to swear by them alone.”
Eugène Delacroix, Journals,
quoted in ‘Imitation and Authority: The Creation
of the Academic Canon in French Art, 1648 – 1870
an essay from ‘Partisan Canons’ by Paul Duro
(The works in this slideshow are intended to illustrate the broad variety of artists working in primarily one vein of Realism. The artists represented are scattered across the globe, from Argentina to India. Some of the works do not have complete information, not because I didn’t seek it, but because it was simply not available. If any artists recognize their own work in this presentation, and want to correct the information w/ regards to date, media, title or size, please contact me via this blogsite or via my website at http://www.elston.net . You may use the class inquiry form to reach me.)
Time is an elastic thing. When the Impressionists had their first shows, a few of the artists involved had already achieved some moderate success in the Salon. For all of the controversy that their exhibitions engendered, they had pretty much entered the mainstream by the end of the ensuing decade. No matter which side of the aesthetic divide one stood on, the Impressionists were at least considered a legitimate part of the conversation. Contemporary Realism and Figuration have not fared as well.
In the United States, the art of the 1930s and 40s was dominated by figuration. Social Realism, American Scene, California Style and various Regionalist camps presented a rich tapestry of figurative approaches, joined together by a typically American pragmatism. Many of the artists of this period had been politicized by the Great War and the Great Depression, and many of them were avowed socialists or Marxists. By the late 1940s, and in the wake of the “Advancing American Art” controversy, the establishment had begun to see this as a liability. The country was veering to the right.
I ran across this image of a painting by David Hettinger, an accomplished Realist who lives in Illinois. I was immediately struck by the fact that the model’s pubes are “trimmed”, something that seems to immediately qualify the work as being “of the moment.” It reminded me of a series of drawings that I saw in the early 1980s at Vose Galleries in Boston, a series of nudes by William McGregor Paxton. The figures, all female, were pretty conventional save for the fact that they all wore high heels. These were done probably a few decades before the famed Vargas Girls graced the pages of Playboy magazine.
It started me thinking about the ambiguous relationship between nudity and sexuality in art. After all, the figures from the Classical period were usually devoid of pubes at all, and it was said that the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin had his marriage to Effie Gray annulled on the grounds that her having pubic hair was a deformity. This story is obviously apocryphal, but telling nonetheless with regards to our cultural history. (more…)
Diana Crane’s sociological treatise “Transformation of the Avant-Garde: The New York Art World, 1940 – 1985” was first published in 1987. In this work she attempted to apply the tools of her discipline to a subject that has proven elusive and mercurial. She documented the introduction of new art forms, including abstract expressionism, pop art, minimalism, pattern painting and contemporary figuration, and traced their dissemination and ultimate acceptance within the institutions that constitute the Art World, in both New York and the broader national context. Of interest to figurative and contemporary realist painters was her account of the failure of the figurative painters of the late 1960s and early 1970s to gain traction within the gallery and museum community, especially outside of New York. Along with this institutional neglect came an absence of serious critical attention and dialogue.
A case can still be made that the figurative work produced at that time presented the most challenging critique of contemporary visual culture then available. There is no doubt that the movement, such as it was, has bifurcated and grown, spawning many different sub-movements and recombinant variations. Much of this has taken place in somewhat isolated enclaves, where the artists have proceeded with their respective cultural labors unaware of much of the work of their peers. This critical and infrastructural blackout has itself played a substantial role in the development of figurative and realist styles in the last quarter of the 20th and first few years of the 21st centuries. Some artists have become even more deliberately isolated, in an attempt to recreate the support mechanisms and training methodologies of the latter part of the 19th century, in some cases adopting similar historical and lexical affectations. Others have been content to view figuration as simply an extension of abstraction, emphasizing formal qualities over cultural meanings, and downplaying referential content. These two factions share much more in common than their adherents realize. (more…)
My friend the painter Don Ealy passed away on Sunday. I met Don when I was a pre-teen. He was married to my sister Marcia’s best friend, Mary “Babe” (Alward) Ealy, and Don had been close to Marcia’s first husband, the painter John Thamm. I recall visiting Don and Babe’s place on 7th in Spokane, just East of the downtown area.
I occasionally saw them on infrequent trips to Spirit Lake, where they have lived for the last several decades. Don painted in a little studio behind their house. It was full of canvases and coffee cans half filled with turpentine, a real painter’s studio. He loved to paint, and he loved to talk about painting. He was an extremely warm person. Once I ran into him, after not seeing him for many years, at Davidson Galleries where I was showing. He seemed to pick up our conversation where we had last left it, and it was as if I had just seen him the day before.
I have to say that I found this ad interesting on a number of levels. Art in America is usually devoid of anything of real interest to a painter, and this copy was not different in that respect. I wondered why an artist with such an evident level of accomplishment would have to spend several thousand dollars in an attempt to interest a gallery in his work. The more I looked at the ad, the more ambivalent my feelings became. Why only New York, Los Angeles or Chicago? The painting itself seemed to be very vigorously painted, but brought to mind the paintings by David Hockney of swimming figures with submerged distortions. And something about the grinning countenance of the artist reminded me of a painting by Richard Dadd, one of his “Watercolors to Illustrate the Passions” titled “Want the Malingerer.” In Dadd’s painting the viewer is looking down a long road leading into the city. A group of beggars, including a dog with a pewter cup in its mouth, are leering out at the viewer from the left edge of the road. Their grinning faces reek of desperation.I was thumbing through a new issue of Art In America when I happened upon a full page ad with a photograph of a grinning artist standing in front of a large painting of three swimming female nudes. The painting looked interesting, and the ad copy read “Figure painter with large body of work seeking new representation in spacious gallery. New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago.” The ad included the usual contact info: website, email, phone, in that order.