Category: Soapbox

Although I have to say that creating grass is the most boring thing in the world, I guess the patience that it requires pays off in the end and I like the way this is going. Doing this repetitive painting reminds me of the work on the Angel of Death when I painted skulls for months, going a little crazy in the process. Fortunately I won’t have to do this much longer, although I think I could use another strip of the leaves above what I’ve already done.

Shortly I’ll paint some colour over the whites, looking for a little texture and variation of hue to make the grass come to life a little. The deadline for the Carnegie show is looming, and I’m feeling the pressure to complete another big painting before the exhibit opens.

I heard some good news today: my paper about the identity of Bembo’s Visconti Sforza Magician has been accepted at the fourth International Conference on Esotericism, at University of California Davis, in July of this year. This will be the first test of material that I’ve been working on for my book on late medieval tarot cards.

Now I can reveal the big project that Mike Adams and I have been spending every available minute on this past couple of weeks.

A few months ago I began talking to friends like Alexey Steele, Mike Adams, Tony Pro and Peter Adams about the need for an academic and philosophical foundation for the revival of representational art, so I began working on what that would look like if my university was to get behind the project. Mike and I started talking to our colleagues there, sowing the seeds of the idea, then we began to put together a proposal with a budget, a structured timetable and researching a location for the event. Once we were well prepared we asked for a meeting with the CLU president Chris Kimball, who liked the project and gave us the underwriting we needed.


So it’s my great pleasure to announce that in October of 2012, in Ventura, California CLU is hosting The Representational Art Conference (TRAC2012), the first like it for a hundred years! I sincerely hope you’ll join us at the event.

There has been silence in the halls of academia regarding representational art in the new millennium. The success of the numerous ateliers now established in every major city in the United States indicates the depth of interest in representational art and traditional studio practices that has flourished without comment.

The Representational Art Conference, 2012, presented by California Lutheran University, offers three days of lively discussion in the delightful seaside city of Ventura, California, including keynote speakers, academic papers, panel discussions and exclusive demonstrations by prominent artists, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners who share an interest in the practice of the traditional studio techniques of sculpture, painting and drawing media in the 21st Century.

In the studio I’ve worked on the flesh of the hanged man a little more, adding whites into the highlights and blue into the shadows and the hair. I’ve scraped plenty of Cadmium Red into the lower arm, reasoning that because he’s hanging upside down his blood would have descended to the lowest parts of the body. When I move the platform over so I can reach the upper parts of the body I’ll paint the flesh of the leg much bluer, probably referring to Rubens’ Entombment of Jesus, where the dead Christ is profoundly blue and yellow over a grey underpainting.

The Los Angeles College Art Association meeting is coming up in a couple of weeks. I’ve looked over the offerings of papers and can’t find any mention of anything discussing the phenomenon of the emergence of ateliers in every US city, nor any mention of the work of countless extraordinary artists who use traditional studio techniques to create great representational art. That’s not right! We need to write about the movement, discuss the issues that face us and create a philosophical underpinning that will support studio practice.

Beside Donna’s portrait

We visited Donna Granata’s exhibit at the Ventura Government Centre to see the photo she took of me in the studio. It was a nice evening, with members of the Art community gathered together to enjoy Donna’s work and good company. I’m allowed to use the image in publicity materials and so forth, so I’ll post it on facebook pretty soon.


Peter Trippi posed some excellent questions to the panel that provoked some good discussion.

Still on my mind:

In the movie “Michael Collins” the leader of the revolutionaries says to the eponymous hero, “If we are to create the Republic, we must act as if it already exists”. I think this is true of the realist movement today. We need discussion and ideological debate to establish academic credibility. We must act as if this already exists, creating fora within which healthy discussion can flourish. We live within a post-modern world, so arguing with enthusiastic postmodernists is really not worth it; realism has been theorized out of existence long ago. we should be far more involved in regenerating critical discussion of the part of the art world that we inhabit. Obviously painters and sculptors are going to continue making figurative and realist art, so we would be well served by creating and recording our own discourses that engage the ideas that are of interest to us. Discussion of controversial ideas in realist art is a welcome sign of life within the realist community – the discussions should be published and made available. The ideology of millennial realism will emerge from discourse.

The phenomenon of the rise of the atelier movement will ultimately attract the attention of academic writers, simply by the fact that it exists and that it is supported by the population regardless of critical dismissal.


Traveler, trimmed at the top. Perhaps I'll take another couple of inches from the bottom.

Magician trimmed at the top and bottom. Much better!

After a few days of humming and hahing I’ve committed to editing the Traveler and Magician paintings from their earlier square composition. Now rectangles, the compositions look much better balanced, with the focus of attention moving down to the sun and the hand and face of the Traveler, while in the Magician the relationship of the sky to the land feels more compressed and dramatic. I’m looking forward to building the stretcher bars for these paintings now that I feel more certain of their shape.

We’ve rigged up a camera obscura in the studio. It makes beautiful softly focused images appear magically in the darkened room. I love the shallow focal length – it makes very specific areas of the image very crisp, but these quickly drop off into gently diffused areas of softness.

There’s a lot going on this week. Tomorrow I’m going to Ventura College to see an opening of figurative art, titled “Skin Deep: Artists Examine the Nude” including some work by John Nava, whose fabulous paintings were rendered as tapestries in the Los Angeles Cathedral. I’m looking forward to meeting him very much.

I’ll be at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Saturday at the Los Angeles Fine Art Show: Historic and Traditional, when I’m serving on a panel discussion titled Realism Today – Old Methods, New Visions

Saturday afternoon, January 21, 2012.  3.00-4.15 pm

Panelists [in alphabetical order]

  • Adrian Gottlieb, artist and atelier director
  • Michael Pearce, artist and chair of the art department at California Lutheran University
  • Kate Sammons, artist
  • Michael Zakian, art historian and director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University


Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine

I’ve just cracked open a collection of essays from a conference titled “Gnosis and Hermeticism” which looks promising, although I want to get through Dante’s Paradiso before I really get stuck in. There’s a passage in the introduction that I liked:

“…one openly fights an enemy as long as one fears that he still might win. In this respect as well, history seems to repeat itself. Like the Christian Church before it, modern rationalism, once safely consolidated, could afford itself the luxury of exchanging active combat for a more comfortable (and perhaps more effective) solution: silence. Believing in the inevitable progress of human rationality, one could simply ignore esotericism, in the confident expectation that its still surviving remnants would eventually wither and die by itself…  However… it is clear that the optimistic self-confidence of Enlightenment thinking is no longer widely shared. Together with growing doubts about the doctrine of human progress through science and rationality, we witness a new interest in historical alternatives to the dominant components of western culture.”

Preface ix. Ed. van den Broek, Roelof and Hangraaff, Wouter J. Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times. SUNY 1998.

I enjoyed this on two levels: first, because I agree with its sentiments. Mysticism is as real an experience as any and shouldn’t be discounted. Secondly, it amused me that the writer might have been describing the experiences of traditional painters with the same language!

Hello 21st century, we’re back.

There’s a hypnotic quality to painting the morning glory that is quite pleasant – time passes differently when the focus is so closely confined to a small area of canvas. Hours can pass by without mark, quietly slipping into the past, while leaves and flowers accumulate on the canvas, slowly building a mass of gradually crafted work that, when the painting is exhibited, will be glimpsed by visitors to the gallery in a momentary flash of vision, then perhaps studied by some with greater attention. I wonder if the amount of work will be understood, or if the work will simply stand on its own as a beautiful material artifact.

I’m perfectly content in the studio. It’s a haven. It’s a workplace and a cloister. The closest thing to it that I know is the garden, where the work of tilling the earth helps produce the beauty of life.

Plotinus said that “the world is the poetry of God” and I think that painting is very much inspired by paying attention to nature, whether that’s as simple as making pictures of people, or capturing short-lived morning glories. But I think art (obviously I’m particularly interested in the workings of paintings) improves upon nature by making possible things that have never actually been, creating worlds that we have never seen, and arranging the imagined landscape and the events captured in it for its audience, re-affirming their understanding of life or guiding them toward a new appreciation of it.

I want to look at a caveat from the great master painter William Bouguereau, who I regard with awe:

“I detest realism” he told us, “for it is nothing but photography, neither more nor less! Well, if you are a painter it is so that you can do better than photography, so that you can beautify nature! So you see, I soften angular gestures, I diminish foreshortenings that are too abrupt and I add beautiful colours. That’s our job!”

458, Bartoli, Damien, 2010. William Bouguereau, His Life and Works. Antique Collectors Club.

How does this comment read in the age of Photoshop? Everything Bouguereau talks about can now be achieved in the computer. Because in the 21st Century a photograph itself is endlessly manipulable, does this mean that the efforts of the painter are redundant? Is painting to be declared dead again, this time by the hand of technology?

No. If millennial painters work to produce images that demonstrate exceptional technique to the highest standards their works will transcend the everyday, emphasizing that individuals are capable of remarkable feats of connoisseurship and great mastery. Their paintings will be regarded among our highest cultural achievements. We celebrate extraordinary feats of human skill and ability; we will certainly rejoice when we see the delicate touch of a master painter whose trained hand has produced sublime beauty that uplifts the human spirit and tells the story of the people of the new millennium.

A great painting by a true master like Bouguereau still touches the soul because it possesses layers of glory – first the glory of the artist’s achievement in transcending ordinariness through magnificent technique, then the glory of an image that is contrived to lift us from the muddy tedium of everyday life.

I won’t dwell on this much longer, but I got interested in the death of Post-modernism after reading Docx’s article, and found another article with a different, rather bleak take on the whole thing which suggests that after post-modernism we are entering a cultural desert ruled by instant messaging and vote-driven reality tv shows. I suspect that the post-post-modernism the author calls “pseudo modernism” will be profoundly short lived, because it is so utterly superficial.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so proper craftsmanship and quality (for us, of course I’m refering to classical technique in painting) can rush into the space and return to it’s proper place in creative culture.

Back to the studio. Time to paint.

Death of Post-modernism redux

I’ve just finished reading this fascinating article about a retrospective of post modern art at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. My friend Michael Adams commented that the article really helps to put the New Romantic Figure exhibit into context.

From the end of the piece: “These three ideas, of specificity, of values and of authenticity, are at odds with postmodernism. We are entering a new age. Let’s call it the Age of Authenticism and see how we get on.”