Portfolio | Classical Realism

Steven J. Levin

Ushers, oil, 14 x 18.
Ushers, oil, 14 x 18

Steven Levin considers himself fortunate to have grown up in Minneapolis, MN, which is home to two renowned ateliers—intensive studio programs for drawing and painting instruction in the classical realist manner. Levin attended one of these, Atelier Le Sueur, where he trained for five years in the traditional method: After an entire year of black-and-white drawing, students then learn to paint the figure in black and white and finally proceed to the use of color in still-life and figurative painting. Levin remained at the atelier for an additional year, completing a graduate class in “imaginative painting” with well-known artist and educator Richard Lack. The experience—and Levin’s focus on interiors, still lifes, and portraits—connects him with a venerable tradition in art history, an association he deeply values. “I love being part of a tradition of painters from the past that you look up to, who had similar experiences and were moved by similar things,” he says. Levin’s powerfully composed slice-of-life interior or genre scenes offer a nod to the old masters by incorporating deep, soft shadows and featuring figures involved in everyday activities.

While much of his painting career has been spent in Minneapolis, Levin also has had studios in London, Russia, and San Francisco. He is represented by John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, CA, and White Oak Gallery, Minneapolis, MN.

Louis Tedesco

Apples & Snapdragons, oil, 30 x 30
Apples & Snapdragons, oil, 30 x 30

A major turning point in Louis Tedesco’s approach to painting took place in the 1980s, when he was exposed to the teaching methods and concepts of painter David Leffel. Prior to that, Tedesco’s art education had been fairly general, including studies at Ithaca College and at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. With Leffel, however, he began to understand the primacy of light and shadow and their ability to produce a sense of realism in paintings. Tedesco, who now lives in Taos, NM, employs these principles to create an exquisitely touchable quality in his still-life compositions of vessels, flowers, and fruit. Yet, like many of the old masters, he never disguises the presence of the paint, keeping his brushwork relatively loose. It is the accuracy of light and shadow which provides the strong impression of realism, he explains. This approach allows the viewer to see objects half-hidden, yet still visible, in the shadows. “I call it ‘light in the shadow.’ It’s a magical, mysterious look, where it’s not all out in the open,” he says. “If shadows are done correctly they’re like the bass notes in music—you don’t really notice them—and the light is like the melody.”

Tedesco is represented by Nichols’ Taos Fine Art Gallery, Taos, NM; WIP Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ; Gallerie Amsterdam, Carmel, CA; and Alexandra Stevens Gallery, Santa Fe, NM.

Mark Thompson
Mango with Marbles, egg tempera, 16 1/2 x 14
Mango with Marbles, egg tempera, 16 1/2 x

Colorado artist Mark Thompson once calculated that he used about 1.5 million tiny brush strokes on a particular 20-by-30-inch painting, a still life with details such as lace, fur, and folds of cloth. (He came to this figure by timing the work that went into the piece.) Thompson paints in the pre- and early-Renaissance medium of egg tempera. He produces the paint himself, mixing dry pigment with egg yolk as a binder and water as a thinner. Because the paint dries extremely quickly, Thompson blends colors by applying layer upon layer in small, cross-hatched brush strokes. Tiny amounts of underpainted colors are visible through the cross-hatching, adding depth and vibrancy to the finished work. Thompson, who lives in the mountains west of Boulder, taught himself to make and use egg tempera in the early 1970s after several years of working in Chicago and Colorado as a commercial illustrator and art teacher. He was passionate about pencil drawing in a tight, realistic style, and today his painting method employs a very similar technique using layers of paint. “I love the connection with time-honored techniques,” he says. “But more than that, it just fits the way I like to work.”

Thompson is represented by Knox Galleries, Denver, Vail, and Beaver Creek, CO, and Naples, FL; Pam Driscol Gallery, Aspen, CO; and Ann Hughes Fine Art, Dallas, TX.

Featured in March 2002