Contemporary Realism

Strawberries, Red Pear, and Copper Box, oil, 16 x 16. painting, southwest art.
Strawberries, Red Pear, and Copper Box, oil, 16 x 16.

Jean Carruthers Wetta

Although she went to college at a time when “everyone was doing avant-garde art,” Jean Carruthers Wetta says she was fortunate to study with Paul Georges, whom she calls one of the “new realists.” Georges, Janet Fish, Jane Freilicher, and Wayne Thiebaud, among others, were members of the first generation of artists who broke away from abstract expressionism, says Wetta. They were also among the artists she brought to the College of the Mainland Art Gallery in Texas City, TX, when she served as its director. “I’d never thought about becoming a full-time artist until I met them and saw that they were doing it,” says Wetta. While she considers herself to be among the second generation of painters who rejected abstract expressionism, Wetta says that she thinks of herself as an abstract painter when it comes to composing her still-life works. “I set them up as combinations of shapes and color—some arrangement that speaks to my inner voice,” says Wetta. And although she says there’s no hidden meaning in her works, she does see “a sense of loneliness” in Strawberries, Red Pear, and Copper Box. “Sometimes I come across something that’s so beautiful,” Wetta explains, “and yet at the same time it’s so sad, because you can’t quite get ahold of it—its beauty is fleeting. That’s what I aspire to [convey] in my work.” Wetta is represented by McMurtrey Gallery, Hous-ton, TX, and Midtown Payson Galleries, Hobe Sound, FL. —KB

Accidental Stray, acrylic, 16 x 12. painting, southwest art.
Accidental Stray, acrylic, 16 x 12.

Jeff Faust

I’ve always deeply loved the work of master realists in portraying the images we are used to, whether a landscape or still life,” says California painter Jeff Faust. “But I feel a real need to turn that a little bit and create a visual that doesn’t actually exist but that I would like to see.” So Faust paints intriguing, dreamlike re-interpretations of reality, from a flying boat made of leaves to juxtapositions of fruit, stringed instruments, and clouds. “I have a fairly active day-dreaming mind,” he says. “I can pick up a stick and it will trigger a thought of an image that I want to see.” Faust says that an important aspect of his work is that he is self-taught. “My parents made it easy for me to pursue drawing or painting when I was young, giving me supplies and gentle encouragement,” he says. “Later, my style developed organically from within my own self and whatever influences I was taking in visually. No matter what the outcome is with the art, it is very much my own, and that originality is what I was striving for.” Faust’s work is on view at Phillips Gallery, Carmel, CA, and Kirkland, WA, and Ballantyne and Douglass Gallery, Cannon Beach, OR, and Bend, OR. —MB

David FeBland

Hypotenuse, oil, 20 x 24. painting, southwest art.
Hypotenuse, oil, 20 x 24.

David FeBland, who lives in New York City, is drawn to places with an active street life where crowds mingle and gather. “As a keen observer of all forms of public interaction, I remain particularly interested in portraying individuals of dissimilar backgrounds as they face off in crowded, contested spaces,” FeBland has written. One of his paintings includes a skateboarder, a bicyclist, and a man roller-blading while talking on a cellular phone; their paths cross on a helicopter launch pad. FeBland’s paintings might appear to capture events that the artist actually observed, but they do not. Instead they are inventions—“constructed realities,” as he calls them—produced entirely in his studio. “Rather than transcribe something that I actually witness,” he says, “I prefer to let an experience gestate until some fragment of that observation finds a place, often out of context, in a developing work.” FeBland calls his choice of a high-key color palette to depict what are often gritty urban subjects “a bold form of romance: [it is] an act of seducing the viewer’s eye into a more careful examination of these narrations.” He is represented by Valley House Gallery, Dallas, TX. —KB

Ocean Room, oil, 32 x 34. painting, southwest art.
Ocean Room, oil, 32 x 34.

Mark Beck

Mark Beck studied at the Portland School of Art in Maine, but today he lives in California not far from the Pacific Ocean. His simple landscapes and moody interiors are hauntingly beautiful whether they evoke the austerity of the Maine coast or the golden light of sunny California. “When you look at my paintings they tell you a story. It is not entirely the story of a beautiful sky or the sentimental idea of a home by the sea,” Beck says. “It is the story of you or your neighbor. It is the story of Everyman.” Beck’s paintings often invite the viewer into a scene to imagine what has just happened, or is about to happen, in the room or landscape. “It is most important to me to find a means of describing with paint the most personal reflection of my observations, memory, and invention,” he says. “It is with these and formal elements that I attempt to bring forth the most potent image possible according to the emotional and conceptual dictates of the piece.” Among the artists that have left the strongest impressions on him, Beck lists writer Flannery O’Connor, photographer Walker Evans, and painter Edward Hopper. He is represented by Peter Blake Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA; Vault Gallery, Cambria, CA; and J. Cacciola Galleries, New York, NY. —BG

Waiting for the Waves of Mara, oil, 28 1/2 x 40 1/4. painting, southwest art.
Waiting for the Waves of Mara, oil, 28 1/2 x 40 1/4.

Mark Bryce

I believe in the concept of painting for ideas and philosophy,” California painter Mark Bryce says. “Painting’s not about money. It’s about experiencing and investigating life.” For Bryce that often means using his paintings to explore his feelings about the shifting values of an increasingly homogenized global culture. Waiting for the Waves of Mara, one of his personal favorites, features the American icon Popeye standing at the top of a wave of sand, arms flexed as if preparing for a challenge. Bryce says the painting was inspired by the Buddhist tale of Buddha’s temptation at the hands of Mara; his refusal to give in to temptation led to his enlightenment. In the painting, a small statue of Buddha rests in the sand beneath Popeye, ready to witness Popeye’s challenge. “I think it’s a terrific commentary on America—it shows how we’re all connected,” Bryce explains. Born in San Francisco, Bryce says that his father—an art educator, painter, and writer—was his first teacher. After studying at the Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, he moved back to California in the 1980s. A follower of Eastern philosophy as well as an avid surfer, he frequently travels to Bali and Bangkok. “My goal is to keep painting for the long term,” he says. “I love painting, art, and living—to me, it’s all wrapped up in one.” He is represented by Patricia Hamilton Fine Art, Los Angeles, CA. —AH

Purple Iris, oil, 48 x 34. painting, southwest art.
Purple Iris, oil, 48 x 34.

Otto Duecker

Otto Duecker has never been intimidated by painting. At age 15 he decided that he might be able to paint, so his mother bought him a little set of oils and he started right in. In college, he planned on being a business major until a friend suggested that since he loved painting so much he should be an art teacher and paint during the summer. Duecker took that advice and after graduating taught a high school art class in Oklahoma for 12 years. Eventually his artwork began making him more money than teaching, so he launched into painting full time and now, two decades later, has never looked back. The challenge of following in a long tradition of realist painters doesn’t phase Duecker. “Even though a subject may have been done for a thousand years, you still have the opportunity to interpret it differently and maybe show a new side to it because you are seeing it from your own unique perspective,” he says. Duecker’s choice of subject matter is ever changing—“I never know what I’m going to be painting in six months,” he says. He began his career painting images of homeless men and most recently has been working on large, floral still lifes such as Purple Iris. Duecker’s paintings can be found at Robert Kidd Gallery, Birmingham, MI; J. Cacciola Galleries, New York, NY; Vanier Galleries, Scottsdale, AZ; and M.A. Doran Gallery, Tulsa, OK. —MB

Billboard With Real Lemons [1999], oil, 46 x 60. painting, southwest art.
Billboard With Real Lemons [1999], oil, 46 x 60.

Gary Faigin

In Gary Faigin’s imaginary City of Billboards, PA, businesses vie with each other to erect signs that are the biggest, most cryptic, or most interesting. This growing industrial center is proud of its reputation of having “more signs than sky.” Billboard With Real Lemons is part of this series of paintings, which Faigin says “studies the intersection between the public and the private, the corporate and the civic, the inner and the outer.” After many years of working en plein air, he continues to meticulously work from life for the foregrounds of his paintings, while relying soley on his imagination for the rest of the canvas. In his series of billboards, landscapes, still lifes, and houses, the artist explores his two favorite themes: altering the viewer’s perception of the commonplace and developing mood through intense contrasts of light and dark. Faigin is the artistic director and co-founder of the 12-year-old Seattle Academy of Fine Art as well as an art teacher and writer. His paintings are in private, corporate, and museum collections throughout the country. Faigin is represented by Woodside/Braseth Gallery, Seattle, WA, and Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, CA. —BD

Morning Watch, oil, 42 x 54. painting, southwest art.
Morning Watch, oil, 42 x 54.

Michael Chapman

There are no hidden stories in his paintings, Michael Chapman says. At least not conscious ones, the California-based painter explains. “But I do think my paintings lend themselves to a narrative and stir something that is already in the viewer,” he says. Indeed, Chapman’s uneasy and sometimes dreamlike beachscapes, interiors, and city streets evoke a sense of intrigue that invites viewers to speculate about what has unfolded or will unfold in a scene. While the light and, in particular, the architecture depicted in Chapman’s works at times seem uniquely derived from Southern California, the painter is also a master of creating a sense of place that represents no particular place at all. His paintings are both mysterious and even surreal with a wink and a nod to Edward Hopper and René Magritte, two of the most significant influences on his work. Chapman is fond of juxtaposing large- and small-scale objects—challenging the viewer to decide what is real and what is imaginary. He is equally fond of portraying windows that expose parking lots and train stations, often raising questions about what is actually inside the picture plane and what is beyond it. It’s no surprise Chapman is also a big fan of the cinema, in particular of mystery or film noir movies like The Maltese Falcon and The Postman Always Rings Twice. “My art is an expression and reaction to the world that surrounds me—everything that I have seen or learned or absorbed,” he says. Chapman is represented by Terrence Rogers Gallery, Santa Monica, CA.

Featured in “Portfolio: Contemporary Realism” March 2001