Your fine art information site since 1995

Lincoln Perry
The term "realism" has any number of applications when addressing art. In its strictest application, art historians use the word to apply to the "style" introduced by Gustave Courbet in the mid 19th century, but I find it can transcend historical period and refer to an approach to life itself. We're told that in their struggle, Antaeus is re-energized every time he touches the earth, and only by holding him in the air can Hercules exhaust and defeat him. Realism is an attitude that could use Antaeus as an emblem for the need to recharge through contact with the ground, which I would argue implies being in touch with both nature and culture. Nature, the observed, the perceptual world, can be interpreted or understood through a deep knowledge of past art, or visual culture. When Italian art found itself impoverished, like Antaeus held aloft, in the late cinquecento, Caravaggio touched the earth by painting through direct observation, as did Annibale Carracci, who also advocated careful study of previous masters who, he felt, had a more solid foundation to work from than his Mannerist contemporaries.

I can relate to both the feeling that art has become somewhat exhausted, and that we can consciously return to solid ground. For me, working from the model is always influenced by the tradition I love, a tradition that, far from limiting the contemporary artist, should imply both a vast freedom and a deep fund of available formal options. In that I've always wanted to paint narratives, both drawing from life and an array of ways to organize pictorial space have seemed essential. When doing a group figure composition, one depends on a lifetime of working perceptually from the model, as organized by a conceptual vocabulary of compositional options. As this mysterious mixture is pursued over a lifetime, the process can become both considered and spontaneous, mixing the work ethic and the pleasure principle.

Lincoln Perry 08.2011