A new group show at Rehs Con­tem­po­rary in New York asks view­ers to un­leash their imag­i­na­tions.

American Art Collector - - Contents - By Michael Claw­son

The real world has an end­less sup­ply of sub­ject mat­ter, from the most crowded Man­hat­tan street cor­ner to the most des­o­late Hi­malayan peak, where the near­est hu­man is not only far from view, but be­yond the cur­va­ture of the earth. Sub­jects can be peo­ple in an artist’s life, fruit from their lo­cal gro­cery store, or the store it­self, its flu­o­res­cent aisles lined with stacked food items. They can be ab­stract ideas ren­dered into blocks of color, or hy­per-detailed pho­to­re­al­ism, in which paint is ap­plied with al­most mi­cro­scopic ac­cu­racy. The one con­stant, though, is re­al­ity—sub­jects are drawn from the real world, an ob­serv­able place gov­erned by fixed sys­tems that an­swer to bi­ol­ogy, chem­istry, physics, grav­ity and other as­pects of the phys­i­cal world.

But re­al­ity has its lim­i­ta­tions. Its bor­ders don’t just have edges, but also im­per­me­able bar­ri­ers, and rules don’t break eas­ily, if at all. To tran­scend be­yond these bar­ri­ers artists have for cen­turies turned to their imag­i­na­tions to trans­port them and their work be­yond the realm of the real, into a

di­men­sion of fairy­tale and fan­tasy. On April 28, Rehs Con­tem­po­rary in New York City will dive deep into the genre of con­tem­po­rary imag­i­na­tive real­ism with Imag­ine, a new group exhibition that will present works that stray far from the world we in­habit.

Artists in the Rehs show in­clude ma­jor in­no­va­tors of con­tem­po­rary imag­i­na­tive real­ism, in­clud­ing Boris Vallejo and his wife, Julie Bell, both of whom are wellestab­lished artists in fine art and il­lus­tra­tion for their fan­tasy scenes that of­ten in­clude myth­i­cal mon­sters, nude war­riors and ex­otic set­tings in oth­er­worldly lo­ca­tions. Join­ing them is an in­cred­i­ble ros­ter of tal­ented artists, many of whom have ex­cep­tional ca­reers fo­cus­ing purely on works that re­veal their deep and mul­ti­fac­eted imag­i­na­tions: Ti­mothy Jahn, Te­naya Sims, Eric Vel­ha­gen, Ed­ward Dil­lon, Kevin Moore, He­len Crispino, Alex Jove and many oth­ers.

Imag­ine will also fea­ture work from stu­dents, alumni and in­struc­tors of the Ani Art Academy, a non­profit art or­ga­ni­za­tion that trains as­pir­ing artists all around the world, es­pe­cially in less-de­vel­oped ar­eas. Cur­rently the or­ga­ni­za­tion has ate­liers in An­guilla in the Caribbean, Sri Lanka, the Do­mini­can Repub­lic and Thailand, as well as two lo­ca­tions in the United States in Red Bank, New Jersey, and Bear Creek Town­ship, Penn­syl­va­nia. Painter An­thony Waichulis, who will also be show­ing in the exhibition, founded Ani Art Academy and says the schools “al­low for ex­plo­ration within as well as out­side of our­selves,” all in­side the frame­work of highly skilled, tech­ni­cally pro­fi­cient real­ism. “When de­vel­op­ing our cur­ricu­lum, we sought to min­i­mize par­tic­u­lar aes­thetic in­flu­ences so as to pur­pose­fully cre­ate a deficit that would be filled by the per­sonal pref­er­ences, in­ter­ests and cul­tural per­spec­tives swirling within the in­di­vid­ual,” Waichulis says. “I be­lieve this strat­egy pro­motes cre­ative de­vel­op­ment along­side the more con­ven­tional (technical) skillset that will even­tu­ally need to draw from it.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, for Imag­ine, Rehs has teamed up with Pat Wil­shire, founder of Il­lux­con, the world’s largest an­nual show­case of con­tem­po­rary imag­i­na­tive real­ism, to bring to­gether this in­flu­en­tial group of artists, many of them younger artists with their en­tire ca­reers still ahead of them. “This fresh in­sight is nowhere more preva­lent than in the younger generation of artists,” Wil­shire says. “Raised with this foun­da­tion of the fantastic, it is a nat­u­ral, ob­vi­ous pro­gres­sion for young artists to want to share their own ‘vi­sion of never,’ uti­liz­ing their highly pro­fi­cient, skills-based train­ing to il­lu­mi­nate their deep­est in­ner vi­sion.”

With Ani Art Academy and Il­lux­con play­ing prom­i­nent roles in the show, gallery di­rec­tor Lance Rehs iden­ti­fies a third im­por­tant el­e­ment worth men­tion­ing—il­lus­tra­tion. From Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth to Frank Frazetta and Vallejo, il­lus­tra­tion has re­mained a sig­nif­i­cant force within the more fan­tas­ti­cal realms of art. And even though the in­ter­est in tra­di­tional il­lus­tra­tion has dipped in re­cent decades with the preva­lence of pho­tog­ra­phy and dig­i­tal de­sign, il­lus­tra­tors should not be counted out. “It’s re­mark­able how much il­lus­tra­tion is still a tra­di­tional medium for these artists. Even the ones that have gone par­tially dig­i­tal, what they’re do­ing still looks like paint­ing— they’re not us­ing a mouse and key­board, but in­stead are us­ing tablets,” Rehs says. “The artists that have al­ways grav­i­tated to­ward the il­lus­tra­tion side of things are start­ing to see more gallery rep­re­sen­ta­tion, even some re­ally great cut­ting-edge gal­leries. So it’s ex­cit­ing to see il­lus­tra­tors pro­duc­ing amaz­ing new work and stay­ing rel­e­vant.”

One the artists whose work is ex­pand­ing out­ward on both fronts, il­lus­tra­tion and fine art, is David Palumbo, who will be pre­sent­ing Septem­ber Moon, an im­age of a robed fe­male fig­ure with large ram- or goat-like horns. “I’ve been work­ing on a se­ries of works for two or three years now that gen­er­ally take place in sim­i­lar set­tings to this, with an al­most swampi­ness to it in this dark, woodsy scene. I wanted to have this lit­eral con­nec­tion to the for­est so I made the horns al­most snail-like in tex­ture and had them merge with the fig­ure,” Palumbo says of the work that fea­tures a cres­cent moon over the fig­ure’s fore­head, as if it were part of a sa­cred, or evil, cer­e­mony. “The peo­ple are in these rit­u­al­is­tic cer­e­monies. I’m not re­ally sure where it’s all go­ing yet, but that’s OK be­cause I’ve been hav­ing fun dis­cov­er­ing it all and let­ting it guide me from place to place in this

con­tin­u­a­tion of this unknown story.”

Palumbo will be show­ing with his mother, Julie Bell, who will be pre­sent­ing Alde­baran, an im­age of a nude fig­ure kneel­ing next to a large buf­falo-like crea­ture that is her pro­tec­tor. Palumbo doesn’t hide the fact his mother is fa­mous in the art world, nor does he broad­cast it—she doesn’t ap­pear in his bio online, and he doesn’t ap­pear in hers—only be­cause he’s largely wanted to be con­sid­ered his own artist, with his own ca­reer and in­ter­ests, some­thing that he has achieved with his com­plex fig­ures and moody at­mos­pheres. “When I was first con­tacted by the gallery, Howard [Rehs] didn’t know we were re­lated,” he says. “It was only later, fur­ther down the road, that he found out and it was a sur­prise to him. We don’t of­ten show to­gether in group shows like this, so I’m ex­cited we’ll be show­ing to­gether for this one.”

Donato Gian­cola will ex­hibit Life Seeker, fea­tur­ing an as­tro­naut amid a sur­real space-scape tagged with graf­fiti em­bel­lish­ments as hands reach through the clouds to­ward the ob­jects in or­bit. “Life Seeker is a re­flec­tion on the dis­cov­ery of life be­yond our earthly shell. De­scend­ing from the heav­ens and bear­ing the news as a flam­ing, as­tral comet the as­tro­naut mes­sen­ger re­turns to Earth as Mer­cury, the Greek god, and is greeted by a cel­e­bra­tory pop­u­lous,” Gian­cola says. “The an­i­mated forms speak to the con­cept that ideas and ab­stract thought are a driv­ing force in how we pro­ceed forward with de­vel­op­ments and tech­nol­ogy. Bound and heav­ily re­stricted by our worldly

bod­ies, it is our ro­bots and science which will reach out be­yond the stars to ex­tract the great­est of com­ing dis­cov­er­ies.”

Waichulis, who has ties to many of the other artists through the Ani Art Academy, will be of­fer­ing Dragon­slayer, a Trompe l’Oeil of a small box con­tain­ing var­i­ous fan­tasy-based items, in­clud­ing two drag­ons, a 12-sided die, a knight fig­urine and a bat­tle of mys­te­ri­ous red flakes. “I very much en­joy be­ing able to ex­plore very large, com­plex top­ics with small, play­ful com­po­si­tions—and Dragon­slayer is just that,” Waichulis says. “While the con­tent of the piece was in­deed in­spired by im­agery that quickly came to mind when con­sid­er­ing the po­ten­tial fan­tasy com­po­nent of the exhibition—im­agery built from a child­hood rid­dled with Dun­geons & Drag­ons ad­ven­tures, vis­its to the Zork uni­verse, and a host of other books/ games—it was my aim to use this spe­cific com­po­si­tion to ex­plore a con­cept that is not nec­es­sar­ily lim­ited to it. More specif­i­cally, with Dragon­slayer, I aimed to ex­plore just how in­flu­en­tial our bi­ases and heuris­tics are in shap­ing the con­text of what­ever we are eval­u­at­ing—a con­text that, in turn, tends to fun­da­men­tally de­ter­mine the role or na­ture of each com­po­nent. For ex­am­ple, when you first view this com­po­si­tion, how do you view the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the drag­ons and the knight? Who do you per­ceive to be the hero? Who is the vil­lain? Is there even a con­flict? How might such as­sign­ments be swayed by the ti­tle? It is my hope that the more one in­ves­ti­gates the re­la­tion­ships through­out, the more the viewer may re­al­ize that our ini­tial con­clu­sions may not be as clear-cut as we may have thought. And at the risk of sound­ing rather cheesy, per­haps it is the im­pulse to di­min­ish the in­flu­ence of ir­ra­tional bias and naïve intuition in our search for mean­ing that is the real ‘Dragon­slayer’ here.”

In Swan Mist, Tony Lom­bardo paints four fig­ures row­ing out to a misty shape over a lake. The omi­nous shape sug­gest a sense of dread over the scene, yet the light­ness and peace­ful­ness of the en­velop­ing mist cre­ates a more ethe­real mood, one that hardly feels dan­ger­ous at all. “I was in­spired by the idea that there can be magic and won­der out in the world if we are open and will­ing to look for it. The mist is meant to con­vey that it’s not al­ways easy to see. Some peo­ple don’t even no­tice the swan right away,” he says. “It’s part of a se­ries of paint­ings I’m work­ing on that uses the Lewis and Clark ex­pe­di­tion as an al­le­gory for seek­ing in­spi­ra­tion be­yond our known en­vi­ron­ment and pur­pose­fully set­ting out into the world with­out pre­con­ceived ideas or in­flu­ences. I thought that hav­ing his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters would echo the idea of the world be­ing new and largely undis­cov­ered, home to great things we could only imag­ine.”

Other works in­clude Michael C. Hayes’ Faun, fea­tur­ing a horned fe­male fig­ure in an or­nate carved frame; Vic­to­ria Steel’s Fa­mil­iar­ity Breeds Con­tempt, show­ing two fig­ures fac­ing each other with a bird­sand but­ter­flies be­tween them cre­at­ing a Rorschach-like ef­fect of shapes; and Vallejo’s Morn­ing En­voy, a quin­tes­sen­tial Vallejo im­age with a bikini-clad and sword­wield­ing war­rior (likely his wife, Bell), a fal­con land­ing on her arm and roar­ing di­nosaur at her side. It could eas­ily be the poster for the show, not only be­cause it ties Imag­ine to a long legacy of fan­tasy im­agery, but also be­cause it shows how an artist’s imag­i­na­tion can un­tether a paint­ing from the nat­u­ral world and send it ca­reen­ing off into a beau­ti­ful, un­ex­plored space.


Tony Lom­bardo, Swan Mist, oil on panel, 18 x 24"


Vic­to­ria Steel, Fa­mil­iar­ity Breeds Con­tempt, oil on panel, 18 x 20"


An­thony Waichulis,

Dragon­slayer, oil on

panel, 7 x 5"


Michael C. Hayes, Faun, oil on panel


Donato Gian­cola, Life Seeker, oil on panel, 40 x 30"


David Palumbo, Septem­ber Moon, oil on panel, 20 x 16"

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