In November, the field of contemporary realism will take another big step forward when the Figurative Art Convention & Expo (FACE) draws people to Williamsburg, Virginia, for a lively celebration of art and ideas. Organized by Fine Art Connoisseur and hosted by publisher Eric Rhoads and myself, FACE offers a memorable combination of demonstrations by renowned masters, informal conversations among artists, and formal lectures by scholars.
Participants gain technical skills and philosophical insights, all while getting to know each other personally in a friendly, un-stuffy atmosphere. Eric and I have long envisioned a forum like FACE: As we hoped, when like-minded people get together in person to share techniques and information, their sense of community and their passionate determination to excel grow exponentially. We all rely on social media and videoconferencing, but nothing can ever replace meeting face to face.
Following is a recap of the first Figurative Art Convention & Expo.
The event opened on November 7–8 with three pre-convention experiences: Jordan Sokol of the Florence Academy of Art (U.S.) taught a two-day course on the basics of drawing a live model; Daniel Gerhartz spent two days focused on painting a live model; and Graydon Parrish offered a one-day program introducing the Munsell color system.
FACE kicked into high gear with an opening ceremony during which Eric extended a warm welcome to the registrants, who came from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Australia. He was joined onstage by California Lutheran University (CLU) professor Michael J. Pearce, who officially launched the fourth edition of The Representational Art Conference (TRAC), which had occurred three times at CLU.
Following a talk by Prof. Donald Kuspit (Stony Brook University), the artists Daniel Graves, Graydon Parrish, and Patricia Watwood chatted about the future of contemporary figuration while I posed questions.
Eric returned to the podium to announce that an anonymous donor had generously underwritten registration, travel, accommodation, and spending money for seven scholarship recipients, including one in his 60s: William Blake of Pennsylvania, Cynthia Celone of Connecticut, Cesare Giuffredi of Florida, Kai Lun Qu of Maryland, Robert Schefman of California, and Stephanie Paige Thomson of Indiana.
Last but not least among them was FACE’s youngest attendee, Fina Mooney, a 13-year-old currently studying part-time at the Art Academy in Minneapolis. Fina gave an inspiring talk about why figurative art matters to young people like herself, bringing the entire audience to their feet. This led in perfectly to a full demo by our oldest attendee, the realist master Max Ginsburg (b. 1931).
The day closed with a festive cocktail reception in the Expo Hall, which remained open throughout FACE. Coordinated by Richard Lindenberg, it featured 13 exhibitors who serve the figurative art community well: Rosemary & Co., Winsor & Newton, Princeton Artist Brush Co., Raymar, Blick/Utrecht, Savoir Faire, Michael Harding, Gamblin, Jack Richeson & Co., Natural Pigments, Allman Ricks, and Royal Talens. Also hosting stands there were the Florida art ateliers Chiaroscuro and Protégé.
Max Ginsburg offered the first of FACE’s seven demos by world-class artists. In the three days to come, Juliette Aristides, Daniel Gerhartz, John Coleman, Michael Mentler, David A. Leffel, and Sherrie McGraw inspired participants to paint, draw, and sculpt better, demonstrating distinctive approaches from which registrants could pick and choose.
Complementing these practical experiences were eloquent one-hour talks delivered by three other masters: Steven Assael, Jacob Collins, and Daniel Graves. One highlight of FACE was the evening dedicated to David A. Leffel — on his 86th birthday, no less — a lively conversation about “what makes a painting a work of art,” featuring Leffel, Aristides, and Collins, followed by a screening of George Gallo’s magnificent documentary film, David A. Leffel: An American Master.
Watching demos often makes you want to try out what you’ve learned right away, so FACE offered an optional hands-on studio experience. For two nights in a row, 125 registrants filled a gigantic ballroom as they drew, painted, and sculpted from nine live models. On hand to provide them with tips and wisdom were mentors Ryan S. Brown, Michael Mentler, Gregory Mortenson, Graydon Parrish, and Patricia Watwood.
As suggested by John Coleman’s presence on the demo faculty, sculpture was not ignored at FACE. To make a good situation even better, National Sculpture Society executive director Gwen Pier coordinated a table and demo area in the Expo Hall: Registrants enjoyed watching and chatting with NSS fellows Nilda Comas and Lee Hutt as they worked on their projects there.
Chaired by Michael Pearce, TRAC 4 offered stimulating events that were presented on FACE’s main stage and also in TRAC’s own room. These included a lecture by curator Elliot Bostwick Davis about recent acquisitions of American figurative art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where she has worked since 2001; Prof. Stephen Hicks (Rockford University) on modern artists’ “flight from the figure” and their gradual return; and Joseph Bravo’s provocative talk about art institutions’ reluctance to embrace contemporary realism. The need for artists to understand commercial matters was not overlooked: Shannon Robinson (Collectors for Connoisseurship) spoke on the changing global art market, and Eric Rhoads answered questions about how to market one’s art more effectively.
Pearce chaired the formal presenting of 20 different papers, delivered by a mix of artists, educators, scholars, and critics: Brian Curtis, Virgil Elliott, Saskia Eubanks, Drake Gómez, Suzy Hart, Justin Kunz, David Molesky, William Oberst, Amanda Theis, Randall Van Schepen, and Aihua Zhou. On Friday night, I moderated a conversation about where the field is going, featuring the artists Garin Baker, Daniel Gerhartz, and Adrienne Stein.
Just over 20 attendees opted to register as VIPs, which allowed them to enjoy reserved seating, a private dinner with Eric Rhoads, myself, and various faculty members, and a cocktail reception in an enormous 14th-floor suite that gangster Al Capone used regularly.
FACE could not have been the success it was without the extraordinary dedication of the staff of Streamline Publishing, which produces Fine Art Connoisseur, including Ali Cruickshank, ably assisted by Christina Angelo, Tom Elmo, Nic Kuper, Jaime Osetek, Nia Raeford, Kari Stober, and Sarah Webb. Many of these professionals have been involved in running the annual Plein Air Convention & Expo launched by Streamline in 2012.
A post-event survey of FACE participants revealed that while most had initially been attracted by opportunities to meet and observe world-class artists, they especially relished getting to know other artists, thus anchoring themselves within a supportive community.
Join us at FACE 2020 — register by October 31 and save $500!