Living Masters – the top realist painters working today
“I didn’t know people still painted like that.”
There has been a quiet return to an older way of painting. To standards from the past. To a time when drawing mattered. When shock value wasn’t so highly regarded. A time when art and craftsmanship were one and the same. The artists working in this way are called realist painters. Their work looks like the work of the old masters. They welcome the comparison. Here are the top realist painters that I know of working today.
Ali Cavanaugh has managed to achieve the holy grail of creativity, she has taken something old and re imagined it in a fresh contemporary way. She paints in water colour on specially prepared clay board which makes her method of painting in effect, modern day frescoes. This approach, combined with her considerable skill and talent, create paintings that are truly unique.
I had a lovely chat with Ali on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of her work here. http://www.alicavanaugh.com/
I had a lovely chat with Ali on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of her work here. http://www.alicavanaugh.com/
American artist Alyssa Monk’s approach is intimate and intense. Her paintings are all we hope for in an image, the ability to get very close to a private moment and they there as long as we need to.
Her latest paintings manage to communicate an interior life with technical clarity of a master realist painter.
I had a lovely chat with Alyssa on my podcast which you can listen to here.
You can see more of her work here. http://www.alyssamonks.com/
I particularly like the way he gets the people in his paintings to glow. I had a lovely chat with Stephen on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of his work here. http://www.stephenbaumanart.com/
I had a lovely chat with Conor on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of his work here. http://www.conorwalton.com/
Technically brilliant. Spooky disturbing. Roberto Ferri’s paintings are lovely to look at with inbuilt jolts as your eye travels around the canvas. This woman’s body becomes a snake. That man has horns. This Italian painter has been commissioned by the Vatican to paint the current pope twice. His themes are often mythic or catholic. His level of skill is breathtaking.
You can see more of his work here. http://www.robertoferri.net/
There is so much mystique surrounding Odd Nerdrum that it’s hard to tell if he is really the caricature of the crazy artist the media projects or if he has encouraged this view of himself to protect his intimacy. Either way his paintings are powerful. This Norwegian painter stands apart among realist painters in that his paintings look so like Rembrandt‘s. This influence is something Odd freely admits as Rembrandt is for him, the ultimate painter.
I find Odd’s paintings arresting and haunting. I can only look at them for so long before I start to feel disturbed and look away, only to find myself returning to them minutes later to repeat the experience. I’ve never got to the end of one his paintings. They go on for me. You can see more of his work here. http://nerdrummuseum.com/
With a lot of rock star swagger Casey Baugh makes what he does look easy. His charcoal drawings have a contemporary feel to them and look like the sort of thing Michelangelo or Leonardo would be doing if they were working today.
His oil paintings have that indefinable quality of life. You begin to look at them like any other painting until you lock eyes with the subject and then you have the uneasy feeling that you, the viewer, are being viewed by a very real person looking back at you. You can see more of his work here. http://www.caseybaughfineart.com/
If Kevin Costner’s character in, “Dances with wolves,” had been a painter, this is what his paintings would have looked like.
With a beautiful mixture of softness and story Jeremy Lipkin’s paintings make me feel calm just by looking at them. His paintings of his wife are particularly tender. You can see more of his work here. http://www.lipking.com/
I had a lovely chat with adam on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of his work here. http://www.adammillerart.com/
David Kassan paints pictures of modern life in a classical way. His paintings will be the Holbieins of our future. Unflinching, unromantic and very evocative. I almost feel like I am intruding by looking at his paintings. I had a lovely chat with David on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of his work here. http://www.davidkassan.com/
The way Mario Robinson treats the people he paints reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh. He highlights the nobility of ordinary people. It’s as if he is saying, “Take a second look, take a third. Can you see how remarkable these people are?” His mastery of water colour is for me a revelation. He manages to make it do things I didn’t think were possible with water colour. I had a lovely chat with Mario on my podcast which you can listen to here. You can see more of his work here. http://marioarobinson.com/ I find the craftsmanship in this kind of painting inspiring. It’s remarkable in this age of camera phones that these artists grow in popularity. It bears out what David Hockney says about the difference between photography and painting. A photograph takes an instant to create, so if you look at it for longer than an instant you are giving it more time than it took to create it. A painting on the other hand takes weeks or months to create. You will never give it the same amount of time as it took to create, no matter how long you look at it. I think that time is the ineffable quality these masters get into their paintings. You can feel the years that went into gaining the skill in each brush stroke. I’m grateful to each one of them for showing what is possible and for demonstrating with such beauty a level of excellence to aim for. If I’ve left out your favorite realist painter please let me know and add them in the comments below. Save Save Save Save Save Save
Virgil Elliott should be included.
Thankful to have found your site and this post through a Google search of Realist painters this morning. I love this lineup and of artists and works and appreciate the inclusion and diversity of people. Agree with your comments on the selected images. The only thing that might have made it better would be to see the title under each, but it was an opportunity to imagine my own, and I respect if that choice was intentional so I can discover it when diving deeper into each. Looking forward to listening to your podcasts. And approach my next painting with a fresh eye and inspiration… Have a blessed week!
Thank you for your kind words and suggestion Melanie.
Jenny Saville I think.
what’s the piece by Roberto Ferri titled?
I think it is called, “Succubus.”
Very nice choice of artists John, and loving the podcasts as well. Keep up the good work! Vincent
You are most welcome John, and sorry for the slight delay in responding. For some reason I only saw your two messages of thanks today. Hope the support on Patreon is also picking up, as you definitely deserve it to.
All the best! Vincent
Well this was great….but you missed some amazing painters (I am sure it was hard to select just a few outstanding examples…as there are now so many talented examples).
I am suggesting Paul Fenniak from Montreal, Canada. He shows at the Forum Gallery in NYC.
Take a good look at this amazing painter.
Thanks for the suggestion James. I had a quick look at Paul’s work and you’re right it’s brilliant.
Paul Fenniak is right. So original and thought provoking. I find myself getting lost.
Wow, thanks for sharing James 🙂 Paul Fenniak, is a great artist.
Pleas have a look at my painting on f b.
I work by observation.
Please look into: Andrea Kowch, Pamela Wilson, Katherine Stone, Alexandra Manukyan, and Katie O’Hagen ~ These women Artists are killing it!
Love your podcast ~
Thanks Laura, I’m glad you are enjoying the podcast. I will look at the artists you suggest.
Thank you, John. Great reference. But I agree with Laura that in your list of 14, you’ve only mentioned 2 women. That’s less than 20%. Are we really lacking women realist painters? (What gives, girls?) Also, I hope you have a chance to see Kehende Wiley’s traveling exhibition “New Republic”. His breadth of skill is impressive and can’t be garnered from just seeing a few of his more popular paintings. Huge portrait paintings (not just of African Americans he is so famous for) outrageously living and sensitive bronzes, intimate medieval-style icons. Truly mind blowing to see so much of his work at once. It just left Richmond, Virginia and is now in Seattle, Washington. I know some of his large individual paintings are in museums all over the world, but you’ve got to see this large show to appreciate what this young man is accomplishing.
Actually, Kehende Wiley show is about to open in Phoenix, Arizona. (Seattle was earlier.)
I am suggesting Steven Scott Young, who I believe to be one of the best painters alive today. Love the podcasts-keep up the good work!
Hi — nice list, some new names in there for me. Note that it’s Jeremy Lipking, not Lipkin. He’s a big hero of mine.
John, this is an excellent list; thanks for sharing. I especially appreciate that not all come from or represent the atelier world. Though, my background is there, I’m always happy to be directed to other artists outside of it. I also really appreciate how you’ve managed to have conversations with so many of these artist.
Im probably going to get the ax for saying so..but theres just too much “sensationalism” in much of this New,realistic art..Realism for the sake of shock value,or no special meaning,or portraits of models who appear cold,or “dead..doing nothing and lacking in a story telling quality..Also Realism too real(why not just take a photo!?) this isnt what true Realism is all about..also because of the Atliers and schools today..there is a “clone” effect,where everyone sort of looks the same.
Absolutely. This has nothing to do with painting. Most of them look alike as they cannot get away from their photographic images. Modern day connoisseurship is non existent and unsophisticated. We are still at the wow this is so real school of appreciation. No Manets, Cezannes or Matisse’s here.
This is the NEW REALISM…done when technological advances are accessible to everyone! These artist’s we’re and still are on the cutting edge of this new way! Impressionism had it’s day.
I agree absolutely. Too many realists exhibit a lack of understanding about what the medium is all about. I appreciate the technical ability of these artists, but Painting is much more than “Look how well I can paint from a photograph.”
Absolutely true! I work SO hard to capture my own view of my portrait subjects. What does photorealism add…?
steven assael, vincent desiderio, david leffel, Richard Schmid (Who is Baughs teacher), Jenny Saville, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Cesar Santos, John Michael Angel, Jacob Collins.
Yes! These artists belong on the list, especially David Leffel.
Melvin Toledo of Atlanta (exhibits at Gallery 202 in Franklin Tennessee), a Nicaraguan with great finesse and humor.
Please consider Sandi Gagon of Salt Lake City. Unique subjects, including whimsical, religious. impressive in photos but the real impact is on the wall, in person.
Interesting to see how difficult it is to escape photography and photographic conventions, even when trying to paint like the old masters. Tim Lowly is also worth considering.
yes from above mentioned artists only jeremy lipking, and odd nerdrum have that tangible sens of colour, and space. Other artists who are on the same level,or actually bit better imo are: ann gale, fred cummings, daniel enkanoua, joseph zbukvic, fungwei liu, hu jondi…and many more
I stumble upon your site and was so pleased to have found it.
Thank you so very much for sharing all these beautiful artist.
I would be so delighted to introduce to you and Artist that you might want to interview!
Thank you Francine. Let me know who you have in mind.
Hi John. I hope to cover this artists current work in 2018 (painters Tubes magazine)- He is an Artist whom I’ve known for 20 years or so. He first came to my attention when seeking (excellent) paintings for an exhibition I curated in Stockholm – 1998-2002.
His name is Gabrielle Grun (Argentine) now living and working Italy.
You may find his work a little disturbing at first, but his creative abilities are quite astounding, coupled with an intelligent and considered conceptual subject matter. all the best.
Your site is so interesting. I particularly empathised with the advice to artists by Alyssa Monks.
Some very nice choices. Do look at Joseph McGurl and also Dominic Avant. Look at Repose by Dominic. And I am not sure why you selected mostly male painters that paint people. Perhaps look a little deeper. I can’t believe I have to bring that up in 2018, but oh well…just keep going.
I started Light Chasers with 5 plein air painters and grew it in under a decade to the largest plein air painting group in the world with over 670 painters. I wasn’t going for big actually, I was going for community, education, and a bigger seat at the economic table for representational painters. McGurl and Avant are two of my Featured Artists. Each of our 10 featured artists do a free demo followed by some sort of workshop every year. We have a Quick Draw, Paint Out, Member’s Show and the Featured Artists Show. You would see articles on us in American Art Collector in the Dec and March issue this last season. Over 4000 people came to our shows last year. I was just nominated one of Sarasota’s most “Amazing Women” for the work that I did for the Light Chasers.
No one, of course, does volunteer work like this for fame or anything else but love. I have done volunteer work since I was 9. I chose ART as a present to myself for the work I had done in AIDS, Hospice, and you know….all the ones most folks don’t like to do. If you do service for fame, you lose your way. I actually did Light Chasers, initially, because Joe McGurl dared me to go make a difference for the representational painters on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I would like to think that I met that challenge….or as I said to Joe…Never dare a girl who swam the Nantucket Bay in Feb for 5 bucks…..you will lose!”
Thank you for all you do for artists in the world. It was great fun learning about some artists I did not know and now I do! A true gift.
Daniel Sprick and Ron Hicks
William Sculthorpe, a british painter, a painterly realism, more in the tradition of Velazquez, Rembrandt or Chardin, not like many contemporary photo-realists. http://www.williamsculthorpe.co.uk
William Sculthorpe, a british painter, painterly rather than photorealist.
Realism today in general is not a true Realism,and does not compare to Realism of say 100 years ago,or older. Today’s Artist lack important elements,making much of it “dry and meaningless”..(Even much of portraiture has lost something and has ended up as a kind of “still life” in appearance) One of the problems is trying to get camera like accuracy and photo realism..the “painterly look” and technique is missing..Sensationalism is another problem..trying to become original,may artists try to be different with gimmick and the bizarre..True Realism has MEANING ,of human stories,and the human spirit..Much of the problem lies in the Atliers,where instead of teaching the true spirit of artistic creation..a generation of clones,,has been created. (There are a handful of Artists who are very close to True Realism..but the majority have not.. These kinds of posts are purely subjective,and actually hurt Artists in my opinion..
Realism today in general is not a true Realism,and does not compare to Realism of say 100 years ago,or older. Today’s Artist lack important elements,making much of it “dry and meaningless”..(Even much of portraiture has lost something and has ended up as a kind of “still life” in appearance)Olden artists had a sense of beauty and flair,also technique ,which is rarely seen today One of the problems is trying to get camera like accuracy and photo realism..the “painterly look” and technique is missing..Sensationalism is another problem..trying to become original,may artists try to be different with gimmick and the bizarre..True Realism has MEANING ,of human stories,and the human spirit..Part of the problem lies in the Atliers,where instead of teaching the true spirit of artistic creation..a generation of clones,has been created.Another problem is our Society itself,lacking in many values and emotional feelings of people long ago.. (There ARE a handful of Artists who are very close to True Realism..but the majority have not.. These kinds of posts are purely subjective,and actually hurt Artists in my opinion..Its a kind of defining Art and Artists..
Thank you for a great review by some brilliant artists – Lipking etc.
Thank you for this list and all the names given in the comments. I was beginning to think that there was no real talent left in the art community …. It’s almost like if your name is known then you could spill paint on a canvas or piece of wood and it’s somehow called art.it takes no skill to balloon paint and or pour. I am appalled at much of the art today it’s redicolous.
I admire photorealism because of the time and talent needed for such realism, but I feel it takes the creative aspect away from a painting, and we do have cameras that can capture reality as it is.
I find dramatic-realistic abstraction to be something that needs the the talent but keeps the creativity intact. Yes, I am a Van Goph fan because he painted the world as he saw it, his work was thought provoking, realistic enough to recognize and see what he saw but unattainable with a lense or another eye. It saddens me that a painting that takes no time, talent or real thought sells for millions while we have tallented people doing real art and who actually have a view to share go unrecognized. Thank you for this
Brava! Terry! I wholeheartedly agree that to only include two female painters in this day and age is disconcerting. I aplaud the work you describe! I visit my parents in Florida a couple times a year and am currently looking for a retirement home to purchase in Sarasota area. I will look up your group and hopefully be able to join in a plein air excursion!
Many of these painters work from life. I don’t think a term of photorealism applies here! its a completely different form and midset to realism or imaginative realism. Lipking and Baugh always work from the model that’s even before we get on to David kassan. People like to bash realist painters especially those coming from a modern art perspective. But painting is more than just painting thinks to look like cubes and abstract shapes or using fancy brush marks to hide a lack of skill and frankly everyone is getting sick of it.. Good selection of painters who may use the odd reference or two! but we live in a digital age, therefore, using all the tools and technology around us and letting it influence the work is how we build something contemporary, if they didn’t use modern aesthetics then I’m sure your all moan that it is old fashioned and stuffy looking.. I mean how many modern artist have rehashed the same old crap for the last hundred years.. I would also like to disagree that modern realist cant capture the soul of a sitter many i gues are going by what they see on flattend computer screens rather then the real painting. I have seen davids work up close and its certainly got soul thats for sure and realism is about creating a essence in time thats always moving photography flattens images and stops them dead.
It doesn’t matter whether its from life or not,the end result today is STILL a photolike end product..as I said before,something is missing today from Realism..and it is highly probable,artists use photos,even though they say they paint from life. I see good technicality, but art today lacks in the true spirit of the subject..Contemporary doesn’t always end up as Great Art..as for seeing paintings in person..I have and many are awful..you want to see some really Great Art? go to the Huntington Galleries in San Marino,Ca. It will be a good refresher course in what great Art is..then you will know what I’m talking about!
What a great guide on the old masters style of paintings. Absolutely beautiful paintings on this page and I’m very glad I stumbled upon it. Lots to learn from it too. Thanks for the effort.