Contemporary realism is rarely exhibited on these shores.
The perfect storm of the amateur embracing realism and the contemporary art establishment shunning it has resulted in a dearth of serious figurative painting exhibitions. But it’s big news in Spain with the Madrid Realists exhibition at the Thyssen Bornemisza museum. And these are real paintings, not that nonsense that passes for paintings, those made by projecting digital images on to a canvas and colouring in with paint. Not sure of the difference? You wouldn’t be alone in that. Here is a taste of the Spanish work, and yes, those are paintings on the right hand side, juxtaposed with film of the motif.
Realism has always been big in Spain, although like most of the contemporary art world there was a recent period where they tried to forget that they are really good at it. Ever since Velasquez (1599-1620), Spain has had a strong tradition of realism. There is something very spare, almost stark, a gravitas that inhabits a lot of Spanish painting. The sentiment is the polar opposite of that kind of realism popular in the USA epitomized by Thomas Kinkade. (You will need to click the link here, his website doesn’t share, purchase only).
If you can’t spot the difference between Thomas Kinkade and any of the Spanish painters featured above, you might as well live at McDonalds and start a swap card collection for all the taste you have developed. If you can feel the difference – even through these reproductions- you don’t need a captcha code, you are human.
The difficulty is that – if you will excuse the pun- it all gets tarred with the same brush. It’s all realism, and it’s all painting. But this is either just lazy thinking, or obfuscation by people trying to pretend that some media (usually digital) have an inherent power to speak to our times. If you can’t have new ideas, have new media, it might hide the gaps.
Realism never died. The twentieth century saw a period of abstraction, rare in the history of art, and there continues to be serious abstract painting produced today. But for most of human history (except the Neolithic period and epochs where religion forbade it), people have drawn and painted things. Imaginary things, real things, stories of things. We don’t need reasons to do this. It’s something humans do. And they are doing it really well in Madrid.
More when I return from Spain.