Ever since the emergence of the significant avant-garde movements that embraced abstraction, the discussion of modern painting largely ignored figurative art. Struggling for a place at the high art table, figurative painting started its slow resurgence in the 1960s with Pop Art and other artists who rejected to have their visions depicted by the abstract gesture. Around the 1980s, figurative painting returned with a vengeance with the Neo-Expressionist artists and continued its resurgence. Some of the artist who have managed to shed new light on this genre include Lucian Freud, Julian Schnabel, John Currin, Kehinde Wiley, Gerhard Richter, and Peter Doig, among others. As John Currin once noted, "The idea that there is progress in the arts in the same way that there is progress in science is absurd[...] Art is evolutionary, in that it responds to the times but it doesn’t improve." The current forms of figurative paintings feature a wide range of experimental forms, compositions and subjects.
Experiencing an unprecedented revival, the world of figurative art is comprised of handful of artists who have interpreted and redefined this concept. The current landscape is particularly strong and there is a great commercial market for it. Contemporary artists are taking this traditional genre to new heights, exploring modern and salient issues such as race, gender, privacy, social media, and love. For all the talk of figurative painting’s death in the face of technology and newer movements, the world that surrounds us will never cease to fascinate, nor will artists ever stop tinkering with it.
Featured image: Mel Ramos - Bonnard's Bath.
The piece Three Studies of the Male Back from 1970 is typical of Francis Bacon’s figurative but abstract and distorted style. The oil-on-canvas triptych depicts male figures isolated within flat nondescript interior spaces and placed in front of a shaving mirror. Placed within a trapezoidal box-like cage, the figure is facing away from the viewer. Each of these figures represents Bacon’s lover George Dyer.
Featured image: Francis Bacon - Three Studies of the Male Back, 1970
Devoted to the female nude, the art of Mel Ramos elevated the traditional subject matter to new and engaging heights. The piece Bonnard’s Bath from 1979 is a tribute to the famous artwork The Bath by French post-Impressionist artist Pierre Bonnard. He quotes this famous piece and interprets it anew. His depiction gives the body a high degree of plasticity, but also places it in the scene almost unnaturally.
Featured image: Mel Ramos - Bonnard's Bath, 1979.
The American artist Margaret Morrison is known for her canvases which fuse together still life, elements from figurative art and subjects of surrealism. She is also known for her realistic portrayals of brightly-colored candies and toys. This piece Fisher Price People is from a series of works that depict child’s world of imagination, with huge toys, enormous robots, and life-sized dolls.
Featured image: Margaret Morrison - Fisher Price People, 2010
The Miami-based artist Ashley Oubré is known for her exquisite photorealism. Her stunning greyscale illustrations often depict nude figures lying prostrate or face down on the ground. The piece Defeat from 2015 captures loneliness, abandonment, and grief – recurring themes in the artist’s work. By layering graphite powder and Indian ink meticulously one after the other, she captures the little details that bring the sadness of her subjects to fruition.
Featured image: Ashley Oubre - Defeat, 2015
The artist John Wentz based his entire artistic language on exploring the human condition. Inspired by the writings of the psychologist Carl Jung, Wentz explores how the archetype of the hero influences the human experience. In the backdrop of his hauntingly beautiful artworks are stark landscapes and dilapidated carnival structures. In the piece Passages No. 19, the moody dystopian atmosphere is punctuated by subtle color shifts.
Featured image: John Wentz - Passages No. 19, 2015
The Berlin-based artist Julia Benz starts her creative process without a sketch or even a clear idea of what she’ll paint and lets her intuition take over. She creates her colorful chaotic cosmos by carefully applying diverse, contrasting colors onto pure blank canvases. Her masterful use of color can be seen in the piece Good Fiering from 2015.
Featured image: Julia Benz - Good Fearing, 2015
The artist Pippa Young explores the uncertainty of the modern world and our fragmented experiences and different meanings we assign to them. Revolving around this fragmentation of our experience and the nature of reality, the work of Young unveils the human vulnerability and fragility, transience, uncertainty, and the subjectivity of perception. The piece Self-Flagellation has been on view at the gallery Arusha in autumn 2016 as part of the exhibition titled A Shifting Uncertainty: Paintings.
Featured image: Pippa Young - Self-Flagellation, 2016
The artist Reisha Perlmutter relates her work directly to her experiences of light and nature from childhood, and her relationship growing up around the presence of water. The piece Reverie from 2016 is from her series AQUA that is about merging time, about memories becoming present experience. In these works, the light is critical, using it as its life force.
Featured image: Reisha Perlmutter - Reverie, 2016
The painter Adele Renault creates realistic portraits of pigeons and people. Her subject matter may live in the gutter or in and ivory tower. The size of her work ranges from small canvases to giant murals. Adele finds her inspiration in a beauty of everyday objects and subjects. The painting Nahal from 2016 shows her stunning attention to details.
Featured image: Adele Renault - Nahal, 2016
David Uessem is a German painter and illustrator known for his large-scale photorealistic portraits and figurative works. After completely devoting himself to painting, he focuses on portraiture and figurative works. Mixing acrylic and oil techniques in his artworks, he creates meticulously detailed works that look like high-resolution photographs, such as the work Crow. His subjects look as though they are about to step out of his large-scale canvases and become a part of the real world.
Featured image: David Uessem – Crow
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