How Would You Define the Modern Representational Canon?

by Matthew Innis |

In the previous post, we looked at how a single person’s collection of seven artists, through a series of happenstances, came to define the Impressionist canon.  The artworks in that particular collection were the first images the public learned to associate with the movement, and over the past century, the reinforcement of those images as the core of Impressionism have made those  paintings a treasured and invaluable part of world culture.  Even as we move forward and scholarship slowly expands the Impressionist canon, it is unlikely that those original seven painters and their works will ever be eclipsed by others within the same art faction.

For those artists working representationally today, it is difficult to guess who will be viewed as the exemplars of the field a century from now.  In truth, it is difficult to even predict if what is being done today will be viewed as a movement at all since many believe that there is nothing distinctly different between contemporary representationalism and what was being done by artists in the late 19th century.  It is all just the same journey, unfortunately detoured during the 20th century, but now back on its proper path.

This is perhaps why the representational art of today has not yet developed a name.  Some attempts have been made, but none has been recognized, let alone adopted by a large portion of artists.  The “contemporary representationalism” label I bandy about is more a descriptor than a movement name;  Alexey Steele’s “Novorealism” never quite rolled off the tongue in the right way;  “Slow Art” seemed to imply something that was backward; and “Neo-traditional” unable or unwilling to keep up with modernity.  “Classical Realism,” despite being an intentional oxymoron, was probably the most widely accepted term, but even that seemed to fall short, as it did not seem to be all-inlusive of the art being made.  And the biggest problem with all of these names is that the need for a movement and title has been forced upon us by the Modern Art industry of dealers and galleries and museums and investors – otherwise we would probably just be content to simply call it “art” and retreat to our studios to make more of it.

 

Jacob Collins

 

For the moment though, let’s pretend that the renaissance in representational art had a name (adopted or assigned), and that major institutions had decided to express their approval by adding works from the movement to their permanent collections.  The public came out to see the representational works, liked them, and pictures of those works entered into general art books and, perhaps more importantly in the 21st century, search engines became more likely to return such pictures with any online art queries.  If you were in a position like that of Gustave Caillebotte (whose collection formed the Impressionist canon), and your choice of artists among the contemporary representationalists would define the movement for all time, who would you pick?

 

Jacob Collins

 

I have tried this mental exercise myself, and I find it very difficult.  Some artists just seem like obvious choices, for example, Jacob Collins, who, because of his artwork, his teaching, and his activism on behalf of “Slow Art,” has really become an icon within contemporary representationalism.  Others who deserve recognition, however, don’t always seem appropriate for this list, like Richard Schmid, whom I love and without whom we would not have many of today’s artists who work in the “grand manner” (Schmid’s term).  Schmid somehow feels like the Manet to this group, a predecessor who made it all possible, but was himself too early to be part of the movement.  I couldn’t limit myself to just seven, so I tried ten, but every time I neared the last few slots, the number of talented people I had excluded weighed down upon me.  Likely, I will have to leave such a problem to someone else.

 

Richard Schmid

 

How about you?  Perhaps you could submit your own list.  Even if not a full ten, then maybe just that single person who jumps out at you as emblematic of contemporary representationalism.  Just add your choice(s) in the comments below, and if we get enough responses, we can tally them up and see where there is consensus.  Remember, there are no wrong answers, nor is there any justification needed for those you choose.

 

Richard Schmid

21 comments

    Linedrawer
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    Let’s see, Jeremey Mann, for sure, Richard Schmid, Kevin Beilfuss, Jacob Collins, Steven Assael, Dan Thompson, Roberto Ferri, they all exhibit different styles, but I believe their visual power and execution are arresting.

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    Nick Alm, Jeremy Mann, Michael Klein, Odd Nerdrum

    richard
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    I am partial to Burton Silverman first and foremost, Dan Greene, Yuqi Wang, David Leffel, Nelson Shanks (dec.), Tony Ryder, Costa Vavagiakis, David Kassan, Julirette Aristidies, Harvey Dinnerstein.

    Rebekah Ross
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    Juliette Aristides, Robert Liberace, Kate Stone, David Gray, Tony Ryder, Scott Waddell, Sadie Valeri, Elizabeth Zanzinger

    edcrow
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    Odd Nerdrum, Serge Marshennikov, Jacob Collins, Steven Assael, Adam Miller, Jeremy Lipking, David Kassan, Joshua LaRock, Morgan Weistling

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    Wow! Keep you suggestions coming. It’s neat seeing some of the same names popping up, but several names have already reminded me I have to rethink my original (partial) list.
    ————-
    One area that has given me some difficulty in defining the representational canon is Western Art. Western Art has remained strongly representational, and I think it should probably have its own list separate from the current renaissance. In a way, it already does: Whenever you check out a western auction, there are certain names you always expect to see and which are sure to earn top bids. Names like Couse, Johnson, Terpning, Grelle, Leigh, McCarthy, Bama, etc. seem to belong there. Schmid has also become a familiar face in the west, and Weistling, Gerhartz, and Burdick have a strong association there as well.

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    Dan Gerhartz, Robert Liberace, David Leffel, Sherrie McGraw, Richard Schmid, Jacob Collins, Don Demers, Jeremy Lipking, David Kassan, Michael Klein

    Scott Jones
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    Enjoyed the tour of the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA following the Portrait Society of America’s National Conference in April. I think it was pretty evident to everyone that Western Art is solidly grounded in representational and figurative artwork. It has always been that way — and contemporary western artists continue to excel in both and find success.

    Shane M Forbes
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    Joshua LaRock and Jeffrey Hein

    Ward Brewer
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    Nick Alm, Ray Donley, Ron Hicks, Hollis Dunlap, Ben Fenske, Gregg Kreutz, George Rorris, Lin Yong Kang, Liu Xin, Marc Dalessio

    PA JONES
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    I agree with all who have been listed, but would add Andrew and Jamie Wyeth…

    Michael
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    For me, Jacob Collins, Nelson Shanks, Daniel Graves and Odd Nerdrum are the top of the list. Ives Gammell, Annigoni, Richard Schmid, and Richard Lack are important figures too I think, but maybe a bit more like Manet, as you said. Additionally Grayson Parrish, Steve Assael, Juliette Aristides, Robert Liberace, Jeremy Lipking, Roberto Ferri, Tony Ryder, Daniel Sprick, David Kassan, Dan Thompson and I’m sure there are a few more I’m forgetting – these are other top tier figures. The people who leap to my mind whenever I think about Contemporary Realism (as I usually call it).

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      @Michael – I try to avoid “realism” since it involves the whole “warts and all” perspective. Hence the oxymoronic choice by Lack to call the movement “classical realism” – classical implying idealized form vs realism implying unedited depictions of life. I’m always afraid “contemporary realism” leaves out whole swaths of people who work more colorfully and less tight than the Academics.

    Richard
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    What about Jamie Wyeth? He was an acknowledged master of this genre at an early age…in the 60’s!

    Mary Diamond
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    There’s too many lol… , Colleen Barry, Jeremey Lipking, Rob Liberace , David Leffel, Ted Seth Jacobs , Sadie Valerie , Teresa Oaxaca .

    John Cole
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    Max Ginsburg, Vincent Desiderio

    alexander
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    How about Jordan Sokol, Amaya Gurpide, Steven Bauman, Cornelia Hermes, Richard Piloco, Gregory Mortoson,
    Brandon Soloff, Evan Wilson, Andrew Lattimore, Charles Kapsner, Robbie Wraith(England), of course Annigonni- -Richard Maury, George Murphy, Michael Klein,
    Tony Curanaj, Ed Minoff, Charles Weed, Nick Alm, David Kassan, Robert Liberace, Andrew Bonneau,Mark Delassio and younger artists Dale Zinkowski, Jessica Artman, Charlie Mostow, Erik Arnesen,Ed Rochat, Robert Zeller, Stephen Foster…to name a few

    decker
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    Raises a question: What is the fundamental basis for grouping these artists into a movement? If it is STYLE, then Wyeth, the Westerns, Schmid, etc. surely belong. If it is artistic HERITAGE (who studied with whom, when), then these become ‘outsiders,’ ‘precursors,’ or ‘fellow travelers’. If it is artistic IDEOLOGY (cast drawing, Saint Bouguereau, rejection of all signs of modernism, etc.), then we get a slightly different alignment.

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      So true, Decker. I think defining the Impressionists was easier. Stylistically, they were mostly similar (or at least equally dissimilar to the Academics). And we limited them to people working in just one country (many were French by birth anyway). Even if the contemporary representationalists were limited to those just from the USA, there are too many styles, goals, and schools of thought to try and wedge everyone into a single movement.

    Linedrawer
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    Perhaps it’s too early to name what we are doing as a movement. Consider that the experiences of abstract expressionism, conceptualist art, cubism, etc. of the Twentieth Century – in short, the disruptions caused by World War I – derailed realism and representational art of the previous hundred years. Give it time to re-establish our footing in bridging the two centuries before new innovations in our field come to pass. Then can our contemporaries and future generations look back at us a label us.

    Norm Lockington
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    Annigoni, Gerhartz, Lipking, Juan Martinez, Liberace, Klein, Baugh,Schmid,Leffel,Kassan,Assael and 10-20 more. The good news is that the list is long. Celebrate it!

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