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Obviously, this is the point where I need to start telling you about the art I love. And then you'll either not care at all, or go to the websites I'm about to point out and really enjoy the art, or go look at the art and sneer, "So that's the trash that Card likes."
If you don't care, we're fine. If you enjoy it, then aren't you glad I told you about it? And if you despise it and look down on me, then you've just played into my hand, because I have already proven myself superior to all the people who feel superior to other people because of their taste in art.
OK, all infinitely-recursive irony aside, let me steer you to some artists that satisfy some of the things I search for in art.
Let's start with a return to the Art Renewal Center. This is an organization that began by celebrating academic artists like Bouguereau and grew to be a center for encouraging representational art.
I have ordered canvases and prints from the Art Renewal Center, and the quality has generally been high. But I must confess I don't come to ARC for the old masters – I come for the new artists they discover.
They run an annual contest that gets some amazing submissions; the winners blow me away.
Even though there's a definite art ideology involved, the artists are self-selected – if they don't love the kind of art that ARC sponsors, they wouldn't have submitted entries to the contest.
You'll see what I mean when you go to the ARC site: http://sn.im/arc-winners
Some of the artists I already knew from their work as illustrators: Notably Howard Lyon, Don Maitz and Donato Giancola.
Just as composers who want to create beautiful, powerful, intelligible music have been forced to work on film scores, because the CST music establishment only rewards unlistenable noise, so also many artists who want to create new works using traditional techniques have no choice but to work in illustration, since there is not going to be any grant money or institutional commissions for them.
I'm always amused when "serious artists" look down on illustrators. Especially since I've known few "serious artists" who weren't happy to accept commissions. Everybody likes to get paid; if an artist can find a steady income from publishers for the kind of work he loves to do, who cares if the work is "illustration"?
The contest winners are wonderful, but I got even more pleasure from searching down the list of Finalists to see some wonderful works that almost won. This website is like a collection of the finest work being done today.
In the Figurative Finalists category, here are some of my favorites: Favorites of mine include Katherine Stone ("Lucie and the Wind"), Hans Guerin ("Mother Earth"), Richard Scott ("The Sophist"), Aron Wiesenfeld ("Winter Cabin"), Mikel Olazabel ("Andromeda in the Cliff"), Angel Ramiro Sanchez ("I want to be at your side"), Gregory Mortenson ("Platinum"), David Bowers ("Family Tree"), Ron Cheek ("Woman with a Burden"), Joshua Langstaff (The Young Architect"), and Niki Covington ("Help Thou Mine Unbelief").
You just have to go see what I mean.
One category of contemporary art that is every bit as creative as – and, in my view, far more interesting than – the work of most of the IAs is surrealism. Surrealists are generally expected to master all the techniques of realism, but then apply them to depictions of people and things that could never exist.
The images can be thrilling, but some can also be so disturbing that, as with horror movie teasers, they leave me with a determination never to look at them again. It makes the study of contemporary surrealism a rather dangerous pastime. But let me point out some that I have found well worth the risk.
Years ago I found a book of paintings by Odd Nerdrum – as compelling and scary a surrealist as you're going to find. Few artists are in his league, but for years one artist has moved me, and won my admiration, even more than Nerdrum, and that is John Jude Palencar. http://sn.im/palencar
Palencar's website by no means shows all his work, but I urge you to look at "Insomnia Sleeper" and perhaps his most Nerdrum-like painting, "A Ghost in the Hills." Meanwhile, the appalling "Terror in the Year AD 1000" is full of images that, like a train wreck, I can't stop looking at.
Aleksander Balos is best known for a series of warm-toned human figures in various aspects of community life and struggle. One thing is clear, even in the midst of depictions of real suffering: Balos loves people and is filled with compassion for them: http://sn.im/balos-art
Roberto Ferri's work is just as warm, but far crueler. There are images here that haunt me, but also some real beauty in the midst of terror and pain. Ferri makes no attempt to fig-leaf his nudes, so if that bothers you, stay away: http://sn.im/ferri-art
. I carry several of his images as wallpaper on my Android phone and my Nexus. I literally cannot get enough.
David Ligare's work is bright and beautiful, yet conceptually rich and rewarding. Simple pieces of cloth being carried on the wind bring new perspectives to the old tradition of draping in art, but he is as illuminating when he paints landscapes, herbs and still lifes: http://sn.im/ligare-art
When you go to Spanish surrealist Alex Alemany's site, click on "galeria." Some of his work has a too-pretty feel to it, but there is much excellent surrealism. My favorite is "Entorno privado," a shadowbox with a human in one jar, a storm in another, and bowl of water with waves crashing: http://sn.im/alemanyart
Perhaps the most wide-ranging of these artists is Stanislav Plutenko, a Russian who seems determined never to allow himself to get in a rut: http://sn.im/plutenkoart
. Click on the year, and you'll see the great variety of his work, from contemporary social satire to magic realism, from humor to fantastical arabesque.
But another Russian, Peter Gric, offers the opposite: a consistent, strange vision of a future that is both beautiful and terrifying. Human figures are most frequent when they are deeply involved in stone and concrete. His Russian website is http://petergric.ru/
; to see English-language titles, go to http://www.gric.at/home.htm
. The Russian site is organized by year.
He also has a book, Peter Gric: Paintings from the First Decade of the New Millennium, which you can order from his site (but not from Amazon). I look at image after image and want to write stories that explain and fulfil his visions.
Let me close with a couple of collectives where many artists come together to offer glimpses of their work. The surrealist site "Beinart International Surreal Art Collective" is somewhat perilous. While there is some absolutely brilliant, illuminating work, the quality is not even, and some of the images are unbearably disturbing: http://sn.im/surrealcoll
Moving away from surrealism now, the Academy of Arts Foundation in St. Petersburg, Russia, has created an absolutely gorgeous gallery of the works of three dozen artists. All of them are at least interesting and fall well within the realistic/surrealist continuum: http://academart.com/index.htm
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