The real deal

Updated: 2012-09-21 09:18

By Zhang Zixuan (China Daily)

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The group exhibition Contemporary American Realism features 100 oil portraits, still lifes and landscapes from 51 contemporary American artists, providing Chinese audiences with a better understanding of all walks of American life.

"This is the first exhibition of contemporary American Realism ever held in China. Through this exhibition, Chinese audiences will observe contemporary American culture from a new angle, aside from typical cultural symbols such as McDonald's and KFC that are very familiar to Chinese people," says Wang Limei, director of Beijing World Art Museum.

The exhibition covers works from masters who struggled to preserve representational painting during the period dominated by abstract and conceptual art in the 20th century, to the middle generation - now in their 40s and 50s - who sought training and created schools; and to the younger generation in their 20s and 30s who are coming out of the new atelier movement.

The real deal

Joshua LaRock, 30, for example, presents three portraits and one still-life painting. His exquisite neoclassic strokes keep viewers transfixed.

The portrait of his beloved wife Laura attracts the most attention. Print copies of the work became the best-selling souvenir at the gallery entrance.

In the painting, the artist's wife wears a white shirt against a black background and leans to one side, turning her face to the viewer and showing the trace of a smile around her mouth corners.

"Some have commented that the loving relationship we share comes through in the portrait, which I am humbled by. That powerful, yet ineffable and illusive part to art making is part of what keeps me motivated as an artist," says LaRock, adding that this is the first portrait he made of his wife - and which he can't bear to sell.

"Realistic artists express their spiritual quest in a very clear way. What they reveal is not only a choice of art idea, but also a confirmation of value and the courage to criticize what is wrong and ugly," says Chinese Academy of Oil Painting's director and artist Yang Feiyun.

"Therefore, the achievement of Realistic artists does not only reflect on the technical profile of actual objects, but digging out the truth of real life through it, to acquire the permanent value of art."

"This is unquestionably an historic exhibition," says Paul McCormack, president of America China Oil Painting Artists League (ACOPAL), US co-organizer of the exhibition.

"In the minds of an international art audience, when thinking of what constitutes contemporary American art, Realism doesn't usually gain consideration - the assumption being that current American Realism is lackluster or simply non-existent," McCormack explains. "But it has always been a part of the landscape of American art, albeit in a less visible way."

"Everyone knows that there are vast differences between American and Chinese culture, politics and history. What we do not know enough about is what we have in common. What passions and tastes do we share. Through the quiet medium of paintings, we hope to cross over the bridge of mystery and unfamiliarity, to forge bonds of friendship through our shared passion for art," says ACOPAL's vice-president and artist Patricia Watwood.

The exhibition will tour in other cities including Tianjin and Shanghai.


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