Contemporary portrait paintings
Nick Gebhart, "Portrait of a Model," 2019, oil on linen, 30 x 27 in.

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

At first glance, the portraits of Nick Gebhart (b. 1988) advertise the merits of strict adherence to tradition and a skill-based technique. Despite his highly detailed finish and faithful representation, however, the 31-year-old artist does not just replicate what is in front of him.

Through his slow and meticulous process, he works to capture the nuances of reality while presenting viewers with unusual or uncanny observations that are open to interpretation.

Gebhart’s interest in art became apparent at an early age and was fostered by his mother, an artist herself.

In 2009, while he was pursuing a degree in art education at Rhode Island College, he took his first painting class and fell in love with oils. Four years later he earned his B.F.A. with a concentration in painting. He then pursued further studies in traditional figurative painting by earning an M.F.A. at the New York Academy of Art. There Gebhart discovered a great passion for painting portraits and exploring the endless possibilities of human expressions.

The artist developed an affinity for the Baroque period of art history and for painters who have used dramatic light and shadow to direct a viewer’s visual journey. “Light is the driving force behind most representational art, and it plays a principal role in my paintings,” Gebhart explains. “This key element of design was a focus of paintings during the 16th and 17th centuries, when artists such as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Vermeer used light to seduce the viewer and evoke an emotional response. Baroque art is characterized by contrast and rich shadows, and this has greatly influenced my own work.”

Whether Gebhart’s subjects are entirely in the dark with a streaming rake of light illuminating a particular section, or in full light with subtle shadows, he clearly enjoys observing and translating the close contrasts between these two worlds.

In his painting, “Portrait of a Model” (above), a young woman sits in a classical set-up, with the dark background and her dark hair becoming a unified back-drop highlighting the subdued softness of her expression and skin.

“’In Portrait of a Model,’ I used light to evoke feelings of mystery and curiosity,” Gebhart notes. “Through the light, viewers can step into the world I’ve created, where I’ve asked them to accept my perception of reality as their own. Here I’m presenting the subject in a more subtle cast of light, compared to my earlier pieces, which creates an even greater feeling of intrigue.”

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