Figure painting has been in a long decline
By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic.
Figure painting has been in a long decline. It’s as though everyone finally paid attention to Alfred Stieglitz’s 1922 diatribe on its downfall at the hands of fine art photography. It’s not as if figurative art hasn’t been taught at the three main Northeast Ohio art schools: Cleveland Institute of Art, Kent State University and the University of Akron Myers School of Art. A check of the course descriptions at each school reveals at least one course each semester devoted to life drawing, life modeling or figure drawing, although none offers a course in portraiture, which at one time was a core curriculum subject.
There are signs on the horizon that that decline could be about to reverse. Lately, a strong contingent of figure painters has emerged on the national and international scene, with artists like Iona Rozeal Brown, Nick Cave, John Currin, Peter Doig, Dana Schutz, Yinka Shonibare (image above), Mickalene Thomas, Luc Tuymans and Kehinde Wiley leading the way.
Nonetheless, it’s often difficult to find artists who specialize in the figure, a fact that Joan Colbert discovered when she began to organize Figuratively Speaking, held at Summit Artspace last July. Of the four artists – Rachel Gentner, Bonnie Stipe, Charles Szabla and Ron White – in this show, probably only Stipe and Szabla are even aware of the new wave of figuration.