View Full Version : In praise of realism!

10-29-2010, 12:12 PM
My home town of Scarborough lies on the North Sea coast in the county of North Yorkshire. These references to the north carry the implication that Scarborough is a permanently cold and forbidding place but nothing could be further from the truth. When the wind is from the north-east it blows pretty well unimpeded from Siberia and in those circumstances it can be quite bleak but, for the most part, Scarborough's climate is relatively mild because it is mediated by the sea and, in the summer, it can be warmer on occasions than Spain or the South of France. The local scenery is magnificent. The coastline offers a rugged grandeur with cliffs up to 500 feet high in places whilst further inland we have the rolling beauty of the Wolds in the South and, to the north, the wild heather-clad expanse of the North York Moors. Not to mention the Danby and Broxa forests which are on the doorstep.

I mention these things not out of any desire to boost Scarborough's tourist trade but simply to show that it is a pretty good place to be so long as you don't mind isolation. When we first moved here 23 years ago I used to refer to Scarborough as the town that was 40 miles from nowhere. The nearest city is York which is 45 miles to the west whilst the metropolitan centre of Leeds lies 30 miles further to the west. Hull is 50 or so miles to the south and the industrialised heartland of Teeside centred around Middlesborough is 50 miles to the north. Directly to the east the nearest major centre lies 429 miles away across the north sea to the German shipbuilding port of Kiel on the border between Denmark and Germany.

From an artist's point of view one of the advantages of this kind of geographic isolation is that artists in Scarborough are able to explore new means of artistic expression without interference from the mainstream artistic establishment in the UK which is often capable of producing hostile criticism for anything that does not fall within its perception of what might be classified as art. There is a form of inverted snobbery in parts of the artistic world which can accept a pile of bricks or an unmade bed as worthy of exhibition in a major gallery whilst turning down paintings that are technically and imaginatively executed.

Towards the end of 2008 the Scarborough Art Gallery hosted an exhibition entitled "Scarborough Realists Now" which featured the work of four artists all of whom have made their home in Scarborough and all of whom have contributed in some measure to the growth and development of realist painting and made the realist painter more respectable in the eyes of the UK art establishment. All four use photographs in their work, but not exclusively so, since the photographs can be, and often are, supplemented by sketches and notes made on site. So, although there is some degree of technical overlap between them the way in which the artists make use of their photographs can differ significantly. All use a form of realism in their painting, in some cases the wealth of detail displayed leading the viewer to assume that the painter is a "photo-realist" or "hyper-realist". However, none of their paintings are just a copy of a photograph, or of a composite set of photographs. Look closely at one of these images and you will see that the artist has adjusted the space within the painting in an interesting way so that the painting displays more than could be taken in by the human eye looking from a fixed standpoint. Thus while some of the subject matter of the painting is immediately recognisable some is not and this can give the painting an almost surreal quality. The idea of solving a compositional problem by moving part of the subject matter, or changing the perspective to accommodate an unusual viewpoint, is immensely exciting if it can be done without making any obvious error to the eyes of the viewer. The possibilities seem endless and worthy of exploration. Three of the artists have websites or make use of gallery websites to display their work and if you have any interest in realist painting you should find the following links will provide some jaw-dropping viewing:

www.marlboroughfineart.com/artist-Clive-Head-121.html (http://www.marlboroughfineart.com/artist-Clive-Head-121.html)

www.panterandhall.com/artists/whitehead.html (http://www.panterandhall.com/artists/whitehead.html)

www.nathanwalsh.net/ (http://www.nathanwalsh.net/)

The latter site take a few minutes to load, even on broadband, but stick with it because your patience will be rewarded. If it appears to be taking too long use the back button on your browser then, after a short interval, the forward button. That, for me, shortens the download time.

10-29-2010, 02:46 PM
Amazing! Thanks very much for sharing. I have to give your comments some thought!

10-29-2010, 03:19 PM
I think you're right, I always found that small towns in the middle of nowhere tend to have very creative people in them. I also think small towns tend to be more accepting of the odd habits of their neighbours. I always found it funny that bigger cities and schools were thought to be more Cosmopolitan when in reality in a larger population you don't have to associate or get along with people you think are a little weird or what have you. In a small town you have to learn how to associate with different types of people and you learn a little more common sense I think.

There is a form of inverted snobbery in parts of the artistic world which can accept a pile of bricks or an unmade bed as worthy of exhibition in a major gallery whilst turning down paintings that are technically and imaginatively executed.

I totally agree but being a cynic (and an accountant :) ) I believe most of the critics know it's just ridiculous but it brings in publicity and publicity is money. It's the same sort of nonsense that goes on in other media, especially TV. Which is why "Jersey Shore" cast members are paid a tonne of money while "Masterpiece Theater" has to beg for every dime. (By the way hopefully since you're in the UK you never ever ever have to encounter "Jersey Shores" my friend)

10-29-2010, 05:51 PM
Thanks for sharing these artists, they are all absolutely superb, and I really love what you've written, it must be great to live somewhere that you feel so passionate about

10-30-2010, 05:23 AM
Gayle: If you enjoyed visiting the sites given in my last post then be sure to visit the one given here.

Virginia: I know what you mean about publicity and money. At the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition 30 years ago there was a huge painting, perhaps 6 feet square, hung amongst an eclectic selection of very accomplished artwork. It was painted in large blocks of colour using only bright red and battleship grey and it was priced in the catalogue at 10,000. When I railed against this iniquity in my art group one of the members said quietly that what every artist wants is for people to view their paintings and remember them. In that the artist was entirely successful for I remember the work clearly even after all these years.

laf.art: If you enjoyed visiting the links given earlier I think you may become ecstatic if you visit the one I am about to give. Ben Johnson is the only artist to have been awarded honorary membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects for his paintings recording the work of British Architect Norman Fowler. He must be one of the only artists to work as did some of the Renaissance artists with a team of assistants. His "Liverpool Panorama" took him and his team over three years to complete with the final stages being done in public at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool between 28 January and 7 March 2008. Over 51,000 visitors came to the gallery to watch.

www.benjohnsonartist.com (http://www.benjohnsonartist.com)

Incidentally, Clive Head one of the artists mentioned in my previous links currently has an exhibition at the National Gallery in London which runs until 28 November. Ben Johnson is also scheduled to have an exhibition there between 8 December and 23 January. Both these exhibitions are running in conjunction with the Canaletto exhibition and that's interesting because Canaletto was known to manipulate space within his paintings in order to enhance the viewing experience.

10-30-2010, 07:07 AM
I'm absolutely in awe of the skill of those artists, It's mind boggling someone can paint as realistically as they do with such complex subjects. I'm speechless.

10-30-2010, 08:57 AM
I am totally blown away by the paintings on those sites. Incredible work.Although I am not a realist painter and I dont strive for realism I do respect and admire that art form.

I understand and agree with what you are saying about galleries calling a pile of bricks or an unmade bed art. We have that here in Canada at the gallery in Toronto. I have trouble understand that kind of "art" myself. Why a bathroom sink attached to a wall is considered art i have no idea. Maybe I am not there yet:confused: There is a a certain snobbery and it seems there is a small group that sets the trend of what is "in" as far as art go's much like the impressionists days when some of them could not get into the Louvre . When they criticized Renoir's work saying the women looked like there flesh was rotting.

I guess it is just the way of things in the art world, always was and always will be. Guess I can only paint the way I feel and the heck with establishment and their ideas of what is considered worthy of being recognized as true art.

Thanks for sharing these wonderful artists and you comments. It was very interesting and thought provoking

chammi kaiser
10-30-2010, 09:02 AM
Doug. Thanks for sharing these websites. I am a little overawed - my eyes are still open wide and so is my mouth. Mindboggling stuff.

10-30-2010, 11:13 AM
Purple, Elinor & Chammi: So glad that you enjoyed looking at some very accomplished realist paintings. It's interesting to look back and reflect that Constable was considered to be a realist painter and so were the members of the Pre-Rafaelite Brotherhood. In art there must be a number of degrees of realism and we see many of them displayed on this website many of them of very high quality. There should also be room for the degree of pseudo-realism. James Naughton is considered to be one of the UK's leading contemporary landscape painters. You might think that this means realism moved to the countryside but you'd be wrong. Naughton thinks of himself as an abstract painter and it would be interesting to learn what you think after you have visited his website. Read the profile first then look at his portfolio.

www.jamesnaughton.com/profile.htm (http://www.jamesnaughton.com/profile.htm)

10-30-2010, 03:29 PM
Thanks Doug, these are awesome!! Its hard to believe they are painting!! magnificent work!!

10-30-2010, 05:36 PM
Hi Doug

Thank you for posting, Scarborough is indeed a nice seaside town, popular with holidaytmakers, I have been there myself and enjoyed the place!

Photorealism, their skill is no doubt fantastic and to be greatly admired, but the paintings stir no emotions in me, they shock me, make me cry, make me laugh, they are just....there, but they are superbly painted!


10-30-2010, 07:41 PM
Very very interesting - and, in their ways, quite inspiring... :thumbsup:
[yours too, Mr. Robertson]

10-30-2010, 08:30 PM
Hi Robert
I'm not critizining the quality and skill of their work, it just does not inspire me as abstraction does not either, maybe in my career I have been studying too many precise Engineering and Architectural drawings to get excited by realism, I have seen too much of it, and have been searching for an alternative :)

10-31-2010, 06:33 AM
Kathie & Robert: Glad you found the links interesting. Thanks be to the internet for its ability to take us into the portfolios of many artists who we may otherwise have never heard of.

Henry: Well, you have certainly found your alternative. I have mentioned before in these forums that I find your particular style and use of colour outstandingly good and I would be happy to hang any of your paintings on my wall.

However, I think that perhaps you may have missed the point that I have been trying to make. Leaving aside Ben Johnson who paints exactly what he sees, and James Naughton who doesn't, the thing that I find exciting about the others is that they are not strictly photo-realists (copying a photo pixel by pixel) but that they manipulate the space in their composition then paint the result in a highly realistic way. I alluded earlier in the thread to the fact that the end result can seem almost surreal, particularly to those viewers who are familiar with subject matter or the area being depicted. It is as though the artist has created an alternative reality and the effect is to draw the viewer into the painting to look around and assess the scene with new eyes. Painterly painters do much the same thing but the often beautiful end result is clearly a painting which perhaps lacks the mystery of a space manipulated realist painting. Part of the mystery is that the artists to whom I have referred can develop two (or more) sets of perspective rules within a single painting and they get away with it because it looks OK. Or they can paint a building which, on superficial examination, looks absolutely fine but which, under a critical view is unlikey to have been built because it lacks practicality. I find the approach of these artists to be endlessly fascinating and I think that there is a huge arena for experiment - painting scenes which are immediately recognisable but subtly different.

Incidentally, like you I have spent a sizeable chunk of my life creating and interpreting technical drawings. Sadly I've been unable to shake off the habit of precision. The devil is in the detail they say and, in my case, the devil seems set to stay!

10-31-2010, 01:03 PM
Hi Doug

I think I did miss the point slightly and I really do respect your point of view re these artists, I now understand your description about the manipulation of perspective