I’m an artist working in the classical realist tradition that thrived from the Renaissance through the late 1800s, largely disappeared in the 20th century, and has recently been reborn and reinvigorated around the world through ateliers and schools training new generations of artists once again emphasizing the eternal values of skill and beauty.
Sometimes called “slow art,” this style seeks to capture and express beauty and truth about the human condition through reverence of nature, the human figure, and the grand ideals of the Age of Reason. It favors depth over shock, skill over novelty, and hope over nihilism. It is a movement I will always be proud to belong to.
The world needs all the beauty it can get.
I work very hard to make beautiful things.
My artistic path and lineage
Like all people, I was an artist as a child, before I learned how not to be.
From as early as I could remember until around age 13, I drew fiercely on every surface I could set a pencil to, filling the margins of my books (or sometimes their pages) with doodles and illustrations, making flip animations in my school textbooks, mazes and cartoons and copies of comic book characters all through grade school. Anyone with enthusiasm could easily become the “class artist,” which I did, and hoped at my young age to go to art school instead of college.
Despite my art teacher Bernard Pendleton’s loving efforts to instill me with confidence in my ability, I withered when I got to Brookline High School and its 2,000+ students, many of whom could really draw, and failing to find good fundamentals instruction on how to get better, I let my shrinking ego get the better of me, and I quit. Never quit loving art or wishing to be better, but quit trying.
25 years later, I realized that I was just going to die someday, and that there was no possible consequence of drawing badly that would be worse than not drawing at all.
So, at age 37, I picked up the pencils again and started over: still directionless, but with the fire of mortality at my back. I tried to self-teach from mediocre “how-to-draw” books, which didn’t get me far. I enrolled in a life-drawing class in the town I live in, then found a weekly group to draw from the figure from, made a little spurt of progress, but quickly hit the wall of not deeply understanding anatomy – the what of what I was drawing. Copying surface form was only getting me so far. I needed teaching.
I applied to and entered an MFA program for illustration, and spent a few years taking classes in the evenings and working towards a degree. It was much better than nothing – there are no classical fine art schools within 100 miles of where I live – but despite several very well-meaning teachers who did the best they could given their staggering courseload and the limitations of online communications, I couldn’t get my feet under me for the skills-based training I longed for.
Standing Female Nude by Graydon Parrish
I bought Juliette Aristides’s Classical Drawing Atelier as one of the dozens of books on drawing and art that I accumulated. I flipped through it, admiring the work, until I reached page 94, and then I skidded to a halt and the world tilted and stopped, as I saw a piece titled Standing Female Nude by an artist named Graydon Parrish.
It is easy to sound hyperbolic in moments of profound inspiration, but at this moment, my life changed forever. I changed forever, and things will never be the same for me again.
I felt crushed with a terrible, terrible guilt: I had not dared to dream or imagine anywhere near as much as I should have. I had no idea that humans were capable of creating such magnificent, quiet beauty. I had hoped to perhaps achieve mediocre, amuse-myself comic-book-illustrating skills. I thought that would be enough. Maybe I felt that was all I deserved, or all the Universe would grant.
Graydon Parrish made it clear that my burden, and my responsibility, was far heavier than that. Without a word, he chastised me for my weak and dim vision, and showed me how much it was possible to achieve – or at least, what I was morally obligated to reach for. Nothing short of that would do. Ever again.
I quit school, realizing it wasn’t leading where I needed to go.
The last class I took, around 1/3 of the way through the program, was Color Theory. Color had always terrified and mystified me, and the class didn’t help. Vague terms lacking definition and muddled instruction that led to mud most of the time had me ready to give up. I then discovered that Graydon ran a web forum titled Rational Painting, which was all about the scientific use of color in art, the Munsell color system, and other concepts around rationality and thought in art. I joined. I said hello to him and he said hello back. I learned that for many years, up until literally the week I learned of him, that he and I lived in the same town and never crossed paths or met. He then moved 2,000 miles away.
In an act of hubris that is pointless attempting to rationalize, I reached out to him for instruction, and through extraordinary fortune and generosity on his part, did begin studying with him. I mentally reset on everything I had ever learned – most of which was wrong – and absorbed everything I could in the relatively short windows I had available to me. Fast forwarding 6 or 7 years, we became great friends, collaborators, and even business partners at The Classical Lab, through which we teach color theory to artists, develop instructional materials, consult with industry, and do workshops and presentations around the country. It remains my great honor and privilege to associate with him: I believe he is the greatest and most important artist walking the earth today (his vehement, heated disagreement with me on this point – pretty much the only thing we disagree on – only a further credit to his character), and what he doesn’t know about art isn’t worth knowing.
My path is lit, and I follow as hard as I can.
I have had the pleasure and good fortune to study with other artists and teachers as well, as I continue the perpetual effort of furthering my own skill and knowledge.
I have studied human anatomy online with Scott Eaton, and online and in person with Andrew Cawrse. They are both masters beyond dispute of this critical discipline that all figurative artists must submerge themselves in. There is no escaping this: if you’re going to do figurative art, you must be a master of the figure, and understand both its mechanics and its grace. It is a bottomless area of study that I return to again and again.
In 2012, I brought my ongoing personal study of color science to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Short Courses program, for a few days of intensive instruction from professors and world-renowned color scientists Mark D. Fairchild, Roy Berns, James A. Ferwerda, and others. If you’re going to study color science, study from the people who write the textbooks. If I could split myself in half, I would send one half to the PhD program there. (I may still do that at some point.)
More recently, I’ve been doing a long-distance apprenticeship program at the Ani Academy, run by Anthony Waichulis and many of his former students. The focus of this program is the technical mastery of materials, beginning with charcoal and ending with oil paint. Look at Anthony’s incredible paintings and try to find a flaw. I cannot imagine that any painter who has ever lived could best his complete mastery of hyperrealism. His work will put your brain into shock with disbelief that such achievements are possible with brush and pigment. Development of this sort of skill comes at a great cost of time and practice, naturally, and there are no shortcuts to it. His student Rodney Davis has been my patient and encouraging guide so far, and will hand the reins to Phil Kidd as he departs to run the Ani Academy in Thailand.
And, of course, being an autodidact out of necessity, I continue to pursue my own study and practice in every way I can conceive of, on a path of learning and development that will end the day I take my last breath.
Until then, there is much to do.