Portrait painting
"The Poet" portrait painting by John Varriano

The 2nd Annual Figurative Art Convention and Expo (FACE) is just around the corner. With that in mind, we invited FACE panelist and figurative artist John A. Varriano to share his thoughts on art as we know it today.

Cherie Dawn Haas: What’s a common question you hear about art?

John A. Varriano: A question or discussion that often comes up, and this is amongst fellow artists primarily, is the status of what I call ‘’straight representational painting” in the contemporary postmodern world of art. In recent years there has been an increase in the creation and acceptance of figurative art and that includes, promisingly, the acceptance of such work in the high-end market exemplified by the international fairs. That world does not, however, readily accept work that is not ironic, cynical, topical, socially relevant, pop referential, etc. A simple figurative composition, landscape or portrait, regardless of how well executed it may be, is often flatly ignored. In fact the well-crafted painting is often looked upon with derision if it does not exhibit content that is sufficiently in tune with the zeitgeist of the moment.

My answer is if postmodernism has allowed a more pluralistic approach to contemporary culture, then why are we not allowed, as individual artists, to draw from any period of 30,000 years of documented artistic production? Personal expression is just that. There are formal aspects of art that transcend intellectual dogma or stylistic trends. I believe art, in its purest sense, is a revelation of the human spirit through those formal means. Therefore, any art that can meet those standards is its own validation. It is true within itself, whether representational or non-objective, topical or not. The contemporary figurative movement is a diverse and lively one. Its intellectual justification is the paintings themselves.

Figurative art
John A. Varriano, “The Spiritualist,” oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

CDH: Please share a specific work of yours, and tell us about what it means to you.

JAV: The work I choose is “The Spiritualist” (above). It’s a piece that best illustrates my primary interests in recent years regarding painting. I’ve been trying to reconcile my love of baroque design and the flamboyance of 17th-century Flanders with my appreciation of the more modern evocations of the figurative and portrait traditions, exemplified by the work of Sargent, Zorn, and Sorolla. Especially Sorolla. His intoxicating blend of traditional western painting with Impressionist principles continues to guide my current thinking.

CDH: What will you be presenting at FACE 2018?

JAV: I was invited to participate in a panel discussion regarding the legacy of my teacher and mentor Frank Mason. The discussion will follow a screening of a documentary on Mason’s life, work, and activism regarding aggressive restoration practices by the museum establishment. He was an intense and passionate artist in the classical tradition, and an inspiring instructor to generations of students at the Art Students League of New York. I feel very privileged to have had a chance to study with him, and I’m honored that I was invited to offer my views of his distinguished contributions.

Portrait painting
“The Poet” portrait painting by John Varriano
Portrait painting
“Vicki” portrait painting by John Varriano
Portrait drawing
“Freddy” portrait drawing by John Varriano
Portrait painting
“Ira Vignette” portrait painting by John Varriano
Portrait painting
“Jose” portrait painting by John Varriano

Follow John A. Varriano’s Instagram feed at www.instagram.com/johnavarriano.

The 2nd Annual Figurative Art Convention & Expo is November 7–10, 2018, in Miami, Florida. It includes figurative art workshops and courses, panel discussions, live model painting sessions, and more. Register here today!

Sign up to receive Fine Art Today, the free weekly e-newsletter from
Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.


  1. Interesting article indeed… The difficulties I have with the increasing trend towards more abstract and contemporary art is the unrealistic price with respect to the effort involved and it’s definition as ‘Fine Art’. Whilst I also enjoy contemporary and modern art, I am not really one for shock and awe.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here