Figuratively Speaking | January 12th - February 10th The human figure is, has been, and forever will be, a subject that fascinates artists. Whether the artwork was fashioned to tell a story, to capture a likeness, or to create as a universal glorification of organic beauty, the human form is eternally a subject which the viewer can relate to, and often find solace in. In 1908, archaeologists uncovered a small figurine carved from limestone, known today asThe Venus of Willendorf. The 11.1-centimeter statuehas been dated to the Old Stone Age, over 30,000 years ago, perhaps the first representational human form ever made. Since then, anthropomorphic iconography has remained a popular focus for artisans and academicians alike. The depiction of the human figure in art has evolved over time, and its changing again. From stick figures on the wall of a cave, to flat, 2-dimensional characters illuminating a narrative. Artists began to cultivate their craft in academies, art salons and ateliers, translating the human form from actuality onto canvas. Then, at the beginning of the 20thCentury, artists began to step away from realist representation. Artists like Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp took their knowledge of the human form, and broke down anthropomorphic features into shapes, lines and colors. Modernist tradition began, and outrage as an inspiration overtook beauty and balance found in the academy. Abstraction took charge of the art world by Mid-Century. There was a considerable period marked by the absence of the figure, and any representational work in general. Pop art in the 60’s and 70’s initiated a slow swerve back to representational work, though figurative work was often sexualized as it had become in popular media. In the 1970s and 80’s, disputes arose between art-scholars and lawmakers, what discerned the difference between art and pornography (i.e.: Jeff Koons, Robert Mapplethorpe, or Marlene Dumas) So where does that leave our figurative painters today? Has the world seen enough figurative paintings? We don’t think so. We believe that after 100 years of modernism, abstraction, and conceptualism, it is time to return to reality. At Grenning Gallery, we are interested in the artists that are delving into a humanist tradition that looks at the human figure with awe and curiosity, creating their works with a deep respect for the sanctity of the human subject. And although our painters do maintain their individual styles, all of our artists’ figurative work shares one main theme: Beauty. Ben Fenske(b. 1978), one of the most prolific and individualistic painters in the Grenning Gallery, stands out for his loose and expressionist brushwork – yet his classical training is evident in the accuracy of his draftsmanship and tones. Although his landscapes are hugely popular, it is actually his figurative work that resonates especially. “Floral Sheets” is one of those important paintings, and hints at the influence of Lucian Freud, but with one major difference. Fenske is presenting to us beauty, a woman reclined in a state of relaxation. Surrounded by fabrics filled with color and playful prints. Lucian Freud has presented to us ugliness; a distorted body painted thickly with pale oranges and sickly-green undertones. She is wide awake, her face bright red. Freud has also placed her in a plain and sterile environment; a white blanket, or perhaps a rug, a single beige pillow flushed left and unused. Another fabulous figurative work from Fenske is “Light Through the Window”. In this work, a woman sits at the edge of a bed, fixing up her hair (a timeless subject that can be found in the oeuvre’s of famous artists Degas, Manet, or Morisot). Prominently outlined, in a break from classical illusionistic tradition, her form is distinguished from the color-drenched room she sits in. The tone of her skin is not just depicted with a literal peach, or tan paint. Instead, shades of pale blue represent her illuminated torso. Dark greens and purples indicate where her body is concealed from light, expertly indicating the beautiful twist of her midsection, in a riot of color. This is again, another example of Fenske’s mission to document beauty, through light, color and of course the female form. Marc Dalessio(b. 1972) is well known for his plein-air paintings of destinations around the world. However, in 2015 he crafted a masterful figurative work, depicting his muse, and wife, Tina. “Tina Backlit” was painted from life, true to Dalessio’s plein-air philosophy, directly on-site at a beach in Croatia. A beautiful blue sea reflects the strong sunlight from above, and centrally placed in the canvas’s frame is Tina. She emerges from the sea with grace; goddess-like due to the strong light from behind and above. Iconic images like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus come to mind. Yet, her form is nearly a silhouette against the strong landscape behind. She is glowing from her hair to her shoulders to the separation of her legs. A fabulous fascination of beauty and light. Stephen Bauman(b. 1980) is a commanding figurative painter, whose works are both stylistically realistic and technically expressive. Bauman’s work excites both the technical enthusiast as well as the contemporary need for impact with his two viewpoints. On one level his work makes a big impression across the room, and on another level, up close, reveals abstract markings which convey an intense observation of the details found in nature. In “New Town”, we see a young woman heroically posed against the backdrop of a miniscule New York. Here Bauman uses his highly refined figurative painting technique to convey a narrative. In this case, a 21stcentury 20-something thoughtfully facing the challenges of the big city. A contemporary painting is always up to interpretation, whether she is confident and ready for the challenge or fed up and moving on, is up to the viewer. New Townis subtle yet direct, grabbing one’s attention with bright colors and an intense gaze, yet leaving us with questions about who she really is. Bauman is a gifted draftsman searching for a way to express beauty through these simple materials. In a step outside of our normal fare, the Grenning Gallery will be showing several very important drawings from Bauman in this show. Bauman claims that “people are not familiar of drawing as a fine-art form”, so he began exploring painting techniques through drawing. The same way painters use impasto or a palette knife, Bauman uses drawing materials like charcoal and graphite to an expressive end; for instance: he modulates the heaviness of markings, creates depth through layers, and accentuates highlights via an eraser. The medium’s capabilities are infinite. Bauman’s drawings are deeply crafted, and time consuming. These drawings are clear depictions of beauty, yet unlike a typical “cover-girl” picture, there is emotional content within her. What that emotion is, is again up to the viewer’s interpretation. The strong, glaring eye contact the subject forces onto the viewer is mesmerizing and thought-provoking. Director of the Advance Painting Program at The Florence Academy of art, Ramiro (b. 1974),is known for his romantic and academic approach to depicting the human figure. Not only does Ramiro produce an anatomically correct figure, but there is often underlying symbolism in his work. He infuses his narrative compositions with mystery that allows the paintings to endure the critical test of time. “Spring” symbolizes the start of a new effort, which is made despite risk, seen in the hornet, which is hovering around her head. Rather than fear, her face emits hope and positive energy as the figure looks as if this pale waif is going to step out of her pale world. A translucent bubble barely supports her, as she rests a foot on a hint of a step, atop a sand colored world with hints of a warm sunset. A classically trained musician, Ramiro produced a lyrical series of spiritual figurative paintings in 2016. “Hymn” is an homage to the way one expresses their spiritual elations through song. The young woman’s face belies ecstasy as she levitates above the Earth into the abstract realm of spirituality. Red and yellow hues streak the atmosphere below, depicting her passion and complete envelopment in the musical manifestation of a higher power. This breakthrough work by Ramiro merges his highly refined classical figurative narrative with an abstract background, creating a 21st century religious painting. It also recalls the sculpture “Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” by Bernini in Rome, which portrays the intense joy of spiritual elation, attainable only when one relinquishes the worldly plane. Also technically, “Hymn” is a virtuosic work with the foreshortened legs and face. “Allegory of Chopin (Nocturne)” is as simple and pure as it sounds. Ramiro has used the subject of a rapturous beautiful young women to convey the emotions he feels when listening to the Chopin nocturnes, which are classically inspired but very experimental and unresolved. Again, he finds a way to paint his soul’s reaction to beauty. This figurative work is every bit as much about the atmosphere as it is about the figure. She is free in a dark, vast space. The storyline is out of frame; it’s as though we are allotted just one portion of a larger story. Imagine a Peter Paul Reubens image: figures writhing and stirring about in an array of bodies reaching towards a focal point. (as can be seen in “The Feast of Venus” - 1636) I like to think that a figure by Ramiro is reaching towards a focal point as well, however, we cannot see what the fundamental target is. He has zoomed in on one figure, given her space, and we get to experience her emotions vigorously. Another artist who’s cropped the figure from storyline is Alyssa Monks(b. 1977), one of the most prolific painters to come out of the New York Academy of Art in the last ten years. Alyssa’s work began to garner great attention with a series of large-scale paintings of herself in the bathtub/shower. Laura Grenning describes the painting as: “Cindy Shermanmeets Classical Painting.” With “Tonic”, Alyssa Monks has created a thing of beauty, while pushing the boundaries on what most classical realists are doing. The viewer is intrigued by the artistic effect of wet skin and hair immersed in water. Monks says: “My intention is to transfer the intimacy and vulnerability of my human experience into a painted surface. I like mine to be as intimate as possible, each brush stroke like a fossil, recordingevery gesture and decision.” More wholesome than emotionally investigative is the figurative work of Kelly Carmody (b.1977). Her recent work of 2018 strikes us as a fresh look at domestic American life, paralleling Mary Cassatt’s poignant paintings, but 100 years later. Carmody, although new to the Grenning Gallery, is an internationally acclaimed figurative painter who was selected 2015 BP Portrait Award Show at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the 2016 Outwin Boochever Award at the National Portrait Gallery in DC. She paints from life, real people, in their own homes. Carmody captures the simple pleasures in life that will never go out of style, for example: a mother reading to her daughter. In an age of technology and human disconnect, she is able to document the timeless ideal of families caring for each other, spending time together. Compare Mary Cassatt’s 1910 painting “Auguste Reading to her Daughter” with Carmody’s 2018 “Solitaire”; In these two paintings, we see the same intimate moment 108 years later. The Grenning Gallery is impassioned by an artist’s ability to leverage great historical technique and vision to create groundbreaking contemporary art.Anthony Ackrill and Maryann Lucas step away from an ordinary figurative painting and use their jovial sense-of-humors to literally personify objects. Maryann Lucas(b.1959)appropriates John Singer Sargent’s Madame X into a new configuration entitled Madame Eggplant. She adopts Sargent’s famous composition and palette and resettles them within a portrait of an Eggplant. Her concept and overall execution is exceedingly sharpened to 21st Century tastes. Lucas’s elevation of a single, mundane object to almost heroic status, is a mark of modernism. The irony of comparing an eggplant to Madame X is specific to Lucas’s great sense of humor. Anthony Ackrill(b.1958)was the instructor of Anatomy at The Florence Academy of Art from 1995-2000, so he is therefore no amateur when it comes to academic executions of the human form. However, in recent years, Ackrill has applied his high level of craft and knowledge of the human body to Pop-art subjects. “Stars Fell on Lane 7” is a super-sized (80-inch-tall) bowling pin painted beautifully. A voluptuous form, unafraid to fill the frame, stands central and tall against a desert landscape. Adorned with red within the slender section of the Pin’s neck. Ackrill continues to take this well refined painting technique and meld it with his ironic Magritte like sensibility. Ackrill’s “Twenty-four inches” a five and half foot-tall diptych of foreshortened feet, which stand alone as fun and funny; he has cropped the figure, leaving the feet a sort of “item to popularize.” However, the deeper implication is that it recalls a famous painting from Florence Italy during the Renaissance, Andrea Mantegna’s “Dead Christ” which was a ground-breaking painting with gritty realism which humanized Christ’s passing in a near blasphemous way. Finally, Figuratively Speaking, will feature works that represent the absence of the Figure. John Morfis (b. 1976),paints hyper-realistic items which are drenched with human sentiment. Old tools from his Grandfather’s toolbox, or fishing lures from his childhood. Objects that mean something to him, and are recognizable by all humans. Carl Bretzke(b. 1954), an award winning Plein-air painter, captures landscapes and urban scenes which specify the presence of man, however unseen within the frame. In Stall 36CBretzke shows us a wet, quiet fragment of a parking garage; a structure created to maintain the massive amounts of cars the human populace has individually acquired and utilize every day. In this particular scene, the automobile is covered by a tarpaulin, idle, awaiting its owners return for in-season drives. Nelson H. White’s(b. 1932) umbrella paintings are known for their bold contrasting colors and thick, palette knife applications of paint. What’s interesting about them is that they depict scenes that are ready for human use. Empty beach chairs set up under umbrellas await people to use for rest. Figures are either completely absent from the image or they are represented by small but thick dashes of paint, along the shoreline. A depiction of a distant figure in motion doesn’t take much detail. Especially when the figure is not the focal point.