It’s time to get real.
A New Realism presents nine practitioners whose work meets the present head-on, direct and immediate. They are “realists” in at least two senses: first, in a diverse art historical context; and second, as individualistic pragmatists.
We are interested in the range of historic resonances that the concept of ‘realism’ has for contemporary practice. In some cases, it is a form of social engagement – a position that can be traced all the way back to the “realism” of mid-19th century French painting (artists like Courbet), but has important connections to the polyphonic voices of contemporary activism. Realism can also be expressed in a less politicized way, through material indexicality that recalls the work of Rauschenberg; or by exploring the overlaps and divergences between representation and abstraction as means of responding to the real, with a sophistication that recalls historic African sculpture, or constructed textiles.
Underpinning all of these complex concerns is a fundamental personal capability. The makers in A New Realism are just that – makers – who draw on deep wells of artisanal skill. This affords them a certain autonomy, a carved-out space of self-reliance. Their works often realized through invented means, are thoroughly considered, from their base materiality to their eloquent surfaces. Yet they remain free of medium-specific narrowness. Indeed, all of these makers have experienced some disciplinary shifts and flexibility over the course of their careers. Having trained in industrial design or fine art, they have found their way to craft for its generative possibilities.
Together, these two aspects of realism are a potent combination: on the one hand, a registration of the times; on the other, an investment in embodied creativity. The works that inhabit this junction, where social awareness and interiority meet, are aesthetic and ethical guideposts. At a time when reality itself has come to seem worryingly malleable, they give us something to hold on to.
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