The Artling's Top Figurative ArtistsByGrace Ignacia See
Figurative art is the art of realistic representation and has been the goal of art-making since ancient times. Traditionally, figurative artist strove to create works that were derived from real object sources and often depicted human figures. It is regarded as what contrasts abstract art - art that does not employ recognizable motifs - also known as non-representational art.
However, arguments have been made across the evolution of figurative art. Over some periods, there were some figurative artists who aimed to create images that extended from what was real, thereby inventing illusionary effects. Famous abstract expressionist artists such as Mark Rothko and Joan Miro also have contested that “any residual presence of the figure, no matter how abstracted, can be constituted as figuration”. These versatile illusionary characteristics, abstractive interpretation of figurative art, together with the invention of photography, has allowed for the genre to include multiplicities of definitions.
Fast-forwarding to art-making today, we notice that figurative works still have a stronghold in our contemporary sphere. Like many others in the contemporary art world, figurative art has teamed up with other genres such as abstract, cubist and even minimalist art whilst still withholding a strong sense of figuration.
Here on The Artling, we see how artists have successfully executed this, merging themes and techniques across a variety of ways to keep figurative art alive today:
Hailing from Daping Village in China, Xinnong Wang is a freelance artist who primarily works with painting. Adhering to traditional Chinese, he creates modern oil paintings that depict landscapes, still life, and people - strongly following the characteristics of figurative art.
His paintings, with their themes and techniques, evoke similar feelings to that of the iconic ‘Scream’ by Edvard Munch. Wang’s palette is dark with cool hues, and his painting techniques cause for smoother textures. His subjects are depicted against a backdrop of accounts of daily life as if to highlight the encounters that Wang experiences on a daily basis. These smooth terrains have quietness and stillness to them, exuding a sense of intimacy upon encounter.
Hong Kong-based artist Norris Yim combines abstraction and figuration in his stunning paintings. Whilst figurative art is of representation, Yim’s works are a means of self-presentation as he transforms his observations of others. Yim paints with a specific subject in mind, processing them through personal interpretations. He uses the medium of painting to record these personal feelings.
Yim has moved away from making portraits with distinguishable faces, saying that it has since allowed him to have more creative freedom. On why he’s merged figuration with abstraction in his practice, he states how “anyone can paint a likeness. While the human figure is there, the painter’s soul is missing. I don’t want to limit my own work to someone else’s standards.”
Contemporary painter Tomoya hails from Japan and has lived in Toronto and New York, accrediting his time away to strong exposures to art, photography, music, and more. Similar to Norris Yim, he does this by creating figurative pieces with a tinge of abstract techniques. He also revisits iconic portraiture and figuration from the canon of art history. Subjects such as Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’, and Eugène Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ are some of the examples that Tomoya has re-engaged in a contemporary sense.
Tomoya’s works can be found in private collections around the world, from the United States to China, Cyrus to Australia. His career has spanned painting set designs, making artworks for productions, as well as advertising.
Özlem Çetin works primarily with oil on canvas and paints dual-faced subjects that seek to expose the internal and external elements of the human psyche. Having taught art therapy to patients at a mental and nervous diseases hospital in Istanbul, Çetin has taken her experiences with this job, working off their feelings of humanity, confrontations with their inner worlds, and breakdowns of a human’s relationships with the outside world.
Çetin uses figurative art in her practice to express the struggles in life as a result of modernity and our global systems. She seeks to highlight how it is pertinent that we acknowledge our inner feelings in order to survive in society. Çetin joins the group of figurative artists who, over the course of evolution of figurative art, create works that extend from the real instead of depicting the real itself to create illusionary effects.
Kang Hyungkoo creates hyperrealistic paintings of historic icons, famous faces, as well as everyday people. When people first encounter images of Kang’s works, they often mistake it for a photograph instead of a large scale artwork. These works are created painstakingly by hand, down to the smallest detail. If viewers were to see these works up close, they would notice every strand of hair, every wrinkle, and every shadow in his subjects.
Like Tomoya, Kang’s works have a sense of fiction, taking his subjects beyond their original image. For example, his painting of Marilyn Monroe in her old age never existed in real life, and the painting is merely Kang’s imaginative interpretation. Kang’s incredible works are in international collections, and he has graced the pages of notable publications such as Dazed and Confused and Reuters.
With a loud palette and dynamic brushstrokes, Kos Cos paints bold characters that celebrate diversity. Born into an artistic Sri Lankan family, Cos began drawing and painting at a young age. Growing up in the golden age of hand-drawn advertising with a father in advertisement meant that his spare time comprised of studying and practicing brush strokes. This shows through his innate understanding of color, balance, and figures in his paintings.
Cos draws inspiration from both his subject matters and his materials. He pushes the limits of the materials he uses, experimenting with oils, acrylics, and charcoal to create harmony between mediums. Now based in Hong Kong, Cos has had numerous solo and group shows there and participates in fairs such as the Asia Contemporary Art Show. He has also been shortlisted for the 2018 Royal Arts Prize in London.
Many have blamed photography for the disappearance of figures in contemporary painting. However, popular discourse is that contemporary art is more experimental and self-expressive, rather than being bound to strict representation.
Vietnamese photographer Yatender switched her practice to photography after her career in graphic design. She was motivated to do this as she wanted to pursue experimental approaches to inquire and attune, both within and without, through the art of capturing images behind the lens.
The figures in her work are ephemeral and fleeting and are positioned in a stance that is both highly aesthetic and simple. This simplicity comes from how we as viewers are able to mentally allow ourselves to feel the textures that the subjects are feeling. The poses are strong yet delicate, and above all, timeless.
The subjects of Reggy (Tong) Liu’s dynamic prints are akin to the figurations of Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Like Picasso’s and Basquiat’s works, her series ‘African Inspiration’ takes its ingenuity from African masks. From Harbin in China, Liu now lives and works between London, Shanghai, and Beijing. This is reflected in her practice as she creates works that merge oriental and western cultures to create bright works that, in their own way, are layered to mimic masks themselves.
With ‘African Inspiration’, she seeks to reflect the issues of the social mask. They explore “the human condition in the contemporary world, and the dichotomy of authenticity and fiction”, easing viewers into a reflection of their self-journey and experiences. She accredits this trajectory of artistic exploration to her Asian descent, stating how her experiences away from home have made her question identities and environments.
Xian Tao’s is a multidisciplinary artist from China whose practice comprises of painting, photography, and prints. Her works are aimed towards how the technology and the digital world has transformed personal relationships with the world. Through her distorted, enigmatic and highly technical paintings, she brings together a sense of fragmentation that resembles that of computer glitches, uncovering themes of alienation that the digital has caused in our world.
Tao is a graduate of the highly notable Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, as well as Parsons School of Design in New York. She frequently exhibits in the United States, China, and Japan, and has shown her works at the Fukiage Museum of Art in Japan and the China Art Palace in Shanghai,
Nattawat Pansaing lives and works in Bangkok, Thailand, and works primarily with oil on canvas. Whilst thoroughly figurative, his works are just as geometric, smoothly merging figuration with that of cubism. Using such geometric characteristics along with other shapes, he creates characters pulled from his subconscious mind. Pansaing states how he derives inspiration from modernists such as Picasso, Mondrian, Miro, and Kandinsky.
These can be seen strongly in his quirky subjects that pull the artistic characteristics of these artists together. Their quizzical faces exude elements of fun and lightheartedness that makes us feel nostalgic adolescence.
Liu Feng’s figures exude the surrealist feels of Rene Magritte’s. Often shown with a coastal backdrop, his subjects are active, jovial and outgoing, yet with hardly any facial representation. His solo exhibition at Karin Weber Gallery entitled ‘Stalker’ highlights these works, showcasing Liu Feng’s world of prowlers and chance meetings that mingle with the aforementioned surrealist tendencies through the mundane and dreamscapes.
Fantastical and poetic with their evocative sceneries and objects, Liu Feng’s works are also highly figurative and personal. They force viewers to see them with a certain lightness. He fuses his subjects together in all their realities and his imaginations, positing memories and dreams as he constructs these landscapes.
Liu Feng graduated from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts with a Major in Oil Painting and has shown in Today Art Museum, OCT Art and Design Gallery, Luohu Art Museum. His works are in the collections of Today Art Museum, Beijing, Antaeus Group, and several domestic and oversea art institutions.
Initially trained in graphic design, Singaporean artist Simon Ng turned to paint at the age of 32. After graduating with a degree in Fine Arts from Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore, his stunning paintings would then pave the way for several grants, including the Winston Oh’s Postgraduate Fine Art Research Fund.
Ng’s works primarily with painting and emphasizes strongly on portraiture and figuration. He plucks personal references, experiences, and memories so as to create thoroughly his thoroughly expressive paintings. These paintings touch on themes of identity and urban alienation and are artistically reflected through a strong understanding of color and composition. Beautiful gradient hues contrast bold abstractions, reminiscent of the works by European existentialists.
A fan of figuration? Check out more figurative artworks on The Artling.
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