Keeping the Faith
Leonardo Da Vince had been painting The Mona Lisa for more than ten years until he died. Even though it remained unfinished, the secret of its enigmatic beauty was in the innovative oil painting technique which
required four layers of oil paint known as sfumato (from the Italian word fumo which means “vanishing” or “evaporating” similar to smoke). Defying the standard tradition, Sfumato diffused harsh outlines that were popular
during the Renaissance by blending dark and light with one another through miniscule brushstrokes—how The Mona Lisa’s face glows and the luminescence of her skin in an ethereal almost magical quality. To achieve a more believable image it was situated on an aerial perspective in a forsaken landscape, it continues to enthrall viewers including visual artists to this day.
In these age of digital technology, the blending of colors and tones in subtle manner with no perceptible transitions–blurring reality and illusion—is still timely honored in the contemporary art practice. Sfumato is even more popular among the current younger painters.
It is in an assortment of paints mixed on top of one another that Realism is reclaimed gaining momentum back to its true state. Comprised of sixteen artists, the group exhibition Sfumato is more evident by the predominant metaphors reflected in the experimental yet distinct, confident yet sensitive brushstrokes of these emerging art practitioners. Some are mid-career artists, others are newly initiated in the art scene yet they all continue the cause of realism for their promising visual language and in finding novel approaches around it in painting.
Although well-versed in the figurative representation, they are also confident in photo-realism and engaged in multi-layered canvases. Themes are easily recognizable where content is the focus. Such are ecological decay caused by prevalent pollution and dismal plight of endangered species. Some
appropriate masterpieces in western art history to present-day relevance while others stuck to the personal and emotional issues like alienation and unrequited love, lost of a loved one or in search of a new one in a more
convincing painterly manner.
Sfumato weaves all these assumptions not merely as a conscious interlude of colors, illustrations and other media but something that is originally perceived in their fragile/fertile imagination. Unlike a movement or a school
of art, it is with a sense of self these manifestations confront validation as their own inherent artistic intents and permutations stressing the value of spontaneity, appropriation and relevance. Establishing tension, solitude or equilibrium, their spatial yet lyrical pieces may be subtle or harsh yet both convey the sense of delight in the painters’ free reign of imagery and artistic application. Depending how one would come to view the collective significance of these artists, their individual to randomly induced varied outputs are promising and more revealing.
Sfumato seeks to answer an inquiry whose time has come–why the concentration involving the visual, realism evidently remains the preferred imagery. It surveys the wide range of visual style, the deep breath of current
themes and contemporary concerns in art. Cultural critic Boris Groys says “we discover reality as a sum of necessitates and constraints that do not allow us to do what we would like to do or to live as we would like to live.” For these realists, painting has become a revenge against circumstances that persists in their everyday undertakings, be it intimate, peculiar or communal. It has become their natural creative response making something out of nothing, that you are no longer beaten black and blue by life’s constant beatings. Preferred in the personal, longing for identity and eliciting memory, Sfumato is depicted as a brewing melting pot prodding artists to
visualize from the surreal evocations of man’s folly to playful festivities of the sublime.
Unfazed by the possibilities of media, mixing three or more coats of paint is still the proposed materiality, be it done in reverse or even traversing the production process. Sfumato’s brand of realism has always constricted and countered the traditional genres for it to redefine itself into new actualities in its own right. Often rejecting the banal and sacred, it defies fixation with the tested norm. In its proximity to the art center these artists may be hinted with copying established painters as frames of reference for commercial or aesthetic purposes yet practicing in the peripheries have taught them new and fresh perspectives they have conceptualized their own distinct and evocative expressions.
Sfumato is a critical resistance between the discriminating tastes of the patronizing public with the lofty artistic ambitions of the contemporary. Even as they are open to more raw approaches to art, they still value that
paintings should be embodied for its social function and not lost in their painting for painting sake.
Sfumato is striking for its diversity and richness. It has no shared style or desired intentions yet a common thread persists that individually they are capable of imagination and commitment to the craft. Collectively they
advance the cause what and how Realism must be push forward.