In painting, says artist and curator Quang Ho, there must always be a balance between “mastery and complete, mad freedom.” If anything, today’s art-making practices could be said to be heavy on the latter—rendering technologies and editing software like Photoshop have made generating lifelike images almost as simple as imagining them. But with “Contemporary Realism,” a show at the distinctly anti-establishment Gallery 1261, Ho and a handful of other artists are demonstrating the breadth of what’s possible today when painters dedicate themselves to mastering the form.
The show tackles a number of distinct visual styles within the genre of realism, from Scott Fraser’s photorealistic visual tricks—technical feats with touches of whimsy, as in his No Strings Attached (2014)—to the slightly impressionistic swaths of light in Greg Gandy’s magic-hour cityscapes. For L.A.-based Aaron Westerberg, paint is a way to express gentle and introspective human moments, as in his muted, maroon-washed Corrin in Red (2014); for Heather Neill, it’s a way to explore the angles and shadows of modern domestic objects, objects often assembled in surprising ways. Though all intended as recognizable snapshots of our world, each painting is run through its artist’s distinctive eye, creating representations no HD camera could ever capture.
Take the atmospheric, moody oil paintings of Henrik Aarrestad Uldalen, a Norwegian artist whose dreamy metaphysical works recall the chilly beauty of the still-emergent Nordic noir genre. Inspired in part by the foreboding films of David Lynch and Charlie Kaufman, Uldalen paints ethereal figures in muted tones, their bodies sometimes floating across winter landscapes as if caught unexpectedly in the middle of a dream.
Anthony Waichulis, whose works on display include three-dimensional trompe l'oeil illusions such as his Curious Connections (2014), says he sees a transformation occurring in realism, a progression from “a strict recording process to a more expressive means of communication.” If realistic painting was once a means of representing reality on a one-to-one ratio, today it is a chance to explore the subtleties of the painterly form, a form now inspired as much by an image-saturated culture as by the natural world around us.
“Contemporary Realism” is on view at Gallery 1261, Denver, Oct. 24–Nov. 29, 2014.