‘Art of the Real’ a realist revival?
by Tara McCarthy
Throughout the last three centuries like-minded artists have chosen to converge to form movements in art. Most of these have emerged as a reaction to socio, political and or established views on art. One must firstly regard ‘realism’ in its broadest use to describe ‘naturalism’, a desire to depict subjects accurately and objectively. Nineteenth century French realism was a reaction to the traditional mythological, idealised, fantasy images portrayed by the likes of Boucher and Fragonard. The ‘Realist’ movement was started like many groups of its kind, by a group of writers and artists, led by Gustave Courbet. He chose to paint real life; French peasantry became his subjects, and like many movements in art his radical ideas and work were rejected. Courbet once said, ‘painting is essentially a concrete art and must be applied to real and existing things’.
Since the 1950s realism has been used in a contrasting sense, namely of art which eschews representation and depiction altogether and avoids all forms of illusionism. ‘New realism’ saw some artists become even more obsessed with the need to depict subjects using such detail that it was impossible to tell the difference between a painting and a photograph. This consequently set a precedent for ‘super realism’, where extreme realism takes over and attention to detail controversially produces an image that is unrealistic. There are in fact so many derivatives of realism that it would take a deeper delve into the realms of art history to comment on all of them. The point is, that since art began the need to depict a subject realistically and give it meaning, is a life long ambition for many artists.
‘Art of the Real’ consists of four extremely successful artists who have found each other, as a confluence finds its meeting place. The term ‘real’ imbues thoughts of realism, could ‘Art of the Real’ be a realist revival?
Angus McEwan RWS ARWS, David Poxon RI, Denis Ryan RWS and Sandra Walker RI, have common threads running through their work, not only the fact that they all use watercolour, but many other facets that binds them together as a group.
“There are many notes on a piano, but you don’t need to strike them all simultaneously to play a good tune. It does however help to know where they all are and what they mean. My fellow artists in AOR know how to make that stretch for the hidden keys, know how to put the notes together to convey meaning and depth. This is not a spontaneous learning, it is the result of a deeper practice, a learned and altered state that only comes through truly connecting with the essence of a time and place, which is why these artists sound a deep and soulful chord.” -David Poxon
Angus McEwan’s work is a reaction to his surroundings and he sees his paintings as an interpretation of reality. The subjects he chooses to paint often have textured surfaces, exciting colours and neglected objects. McEwan speaks of Illusionism as the heart of western art, and to describe the world we inhabit with such precision and interpretation, in a way that the eye can be seduced in to believing it is peering at reality, is not only the pinnacle of human expression, but should be celebrated as such. The expression of an idea, according to McEwan, seems to have taken over from the pursuit of painting a real subject. He is hoping that ‘Art of the Real’ will re-introduce a dose of reality to a visually weary audience.
“I like textured surfaces, the play of light on a weathered door or the beautiful complex colour arrangement that only reveals itself through time. . I also engineer the truth. I will alter reality to describe or emphasise, add or remove, control or reveal, that which informs the viewer. This is my reality, most often not necessarily natures.” -Angus McEwan
The approach to subject matter by the members of this group is nothing more than reverential. Denis Ryan’s depiction of neon signs in run down areas of cities are given hallowed treatment, in that they are so lovingly reproduced and given iconic status. Ryan admits that he typically focuses on these beautifully crafted signs, which are invariably in a state of advanced decay. These signs of steel and glass, mounted on stone or plaster walls offer him the painterly problems he is interested in, with their different textures, surfaces and reflections.
“I hope my paintings of these wonderful signs will enable people to appreciate them in a different and more respectful way. They certainly deserve it.” -Denis Ryan
As a master painter of the cityscape, Sandra Walker aligns herself with artists that pay tribute to the common place. The buildings that she chooses to paint are fast disappearing vestiges of the past. Walker points out that this choice is purely visceral – it’s as though they choose her. The attachment to her subjects is emotional and these fascinating buildings are full of human interest, giving a feeling of being in that particular moment in time.
“To my mind these subjects transend mere replication, but exist in their own right.” -Sandra Walker
The need to feel a strong personal connection to their subjects is evident throughout the groups’ work. David Poxon’s paintings of abandoned objects are visually stunning and denote a past – a hidden story of work and toil. This is a recurring theme in his work, whether it’s a piece of machinery, a lock, a door, sometimes a mountain of metal and broken bits of tools, that are all in a state of decay. What once were things created and used by man, then discarded, become objects of adornment.
When a painting works there is a resonance, which stretches beyond both subject and picture plane, reaching out to the viewer and transcending a mere visual experience. To be able to convey something of the ‘real’ of my subjects, which are the commonplace, the overlooked, the places and work things of mankind, is a powerful and stimulating experience, a joyful and respectful thing.”-David Poxon
David’s paintings are pure watercolour, they can take weeks to complete. Replicating his objects to give the illusion of reality, is not necessarily the most imperative outcome, rather, the significance is in the honest portrayal of a manmade object that is a worthy reminder of craftsmanship and a manufacturing industry that has long since past.
The groups’ love of ‘craftsmanship’ and the ability to provide a realistic interpretation of their chosen subjects is apparent. However, their art is not just about portraying the realistic elements of their subjects, or proving their superb technical ability, but an endeavour to give meaning to their subjects. Their endearment towards and emotional attachment to each and every subject they choose, is in itself a reason to form a collective celebration of real art and is at the heart of ‘Art of the Real’.
To read the official press release, visit the M Gallery of Fine Art Press Page.
For questions regarding the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 843.727.4500.