When one speaks about figurative art, what comes to mind? A portrait or a still-life? Figurative art is a type of art that is strongly based in the real world, so, think landscapes, animals and other realistic representations, with artists putting their own spin on these subjects.
Yet the most well-known type of figurative art in contemporary times is of the human figure, each artwork differentiated by the way each artist approaches their subject. Should you be interested to buy figurative art, look no further, as The Artling’s guide will walk you through the basics of collecting figurative art, and how you can score that perfect piece for your space!
Figurative art refers to artworks that make clear references to reality, no matter how the subject is presented. It is a term that is applied to paintings and sculptures created after the period of twentieth-century abstraction, pop art and minimalism, where artists made a return to explore elements of the human body, and to reinvigorate figurative art with themes relating to social-political issues at the time as well as personal struggles that could only be conveyed through art.
Figurative art typically comprises subjects from real life, such as objects, places and people – recognizable depictions that viewers can easily place in their mind. Despite this, figurative art is not to be confused with realism, which attempts to replicate nature as it is. What makes figurative art different from a realistic style of painting is it allows you to experience different perspectives on these subjects, as seen by the artist themselves.
If you’re wondering where to start when it comes to knowing some famous figurative artworks, Pablo Picasso is one to check out, as he’s considered one of the great masters of modern figurative art. For instance, Picasso’s Weeping Woman and Les Demoiselles d'Avignon are just some of the most famous artworks ever created, as they're characteristic of his groundbreaking Cubist style that defined and influenced early twentieth century art.
Pablo Picasso, "Weeping Woman", 1937.
Image courtesy of the Tate
Pablo Picasso, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", 1907.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
Francis Bacon, "Triptych August 1972", 1972.
Image courtesy of the Tate
These artworks soon paved the way for artists like Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, who burst onto the contemporary art scene with their equally individualistic take on figurative painting. With sombre colours and rough brushstrokes combined with their style of figurative realism, they portrayed strong emotions like fear and anger, which lifted the veil on society and changed the way that we perceive others (perhaps even ourselves)!
David Hockney, "Portrait of Nick Wilder", 1966.
Image courtesy of The David Hockney Foundation
Jenny Saville, "Odysseus I", 2020-21.
Image courtesy of Artforum
Today, these artists have continued to influence a generation of painters after them, like David Hockney of the pop art movement and Jenny Saville's blend of the figurative and abstract, and, not to mention, many of our artists here at The Artling have also cited these masters as key influences.
It’s clear that figurative art – no matter its permutation - has never, and will never go out of style. Whether it’s an abstract representation of the face, or a hyper-realistic exploration of the human body, figurative art is a great way to get familiar with experiments in colour, style and mediums, centered around this universal theme of what it means to be human. As such, investing in a piece of figurative art is a great choice not only because it is an integral part of the art ecosystem, but also because it heightens your perception of humanhood by challenging what is already familiar to us.
When starting a figurative art collection, it is best to expose yourself to many artworks as possible, so as to develop your tastes. In fact, you want to walk away with an artwork that feels special and which you have a strong connection with. This is why it’s important to understand what intrigues you about a piece and for what reason.
Firstly, know that there are many options to choose from, which will vary across styles and mediums. This could be anything from a mixed media artwork or a print, the choice of which will determine how much an artist can express. For instance, if you are interested in a figurative artwork that's more three-dimensional, you will want to consider the artist's use of texture, such as impasto, where paint is laid thickly on a surface to create a layered look.
You may also find yourself excited by the artist’s style such as their use of colours, as well as the way that they have portrayed everyday life with various artistic techniques. Is it that these are subjects you can recognize since they are rendered so true-to-life, or are you intrigued by these abstract perspectives of the human form that introduce you to more possibilities about what life can be about?
Depending on how you choose to display your figurative art, it can stand alone in a room, encased by a gorgeous frame, or as part of a salon-style hang that showcases all your artworks in the right lighting, to get the best out of your collection. Getting your display organized would require you to pay attention to colour and size, which is key when you are thinking of grouping multiple pieces together.
Image courtesy of Architectural Digest
However, with figurative art, keep in mind that the possibilities are endless - all it takes is a bit of creativity. Feel free to explore in a mix-and-match style such as using bright and bold artworks to decorate your child's bedroom, or by grouping artworks by the same artist to bring a punch of joy to your living room!
In the recent years, figurative art is making a comeback, with styles such as pop art and photorealism seeing a resurgence in our post-pandemic reality. It can be said that figurative art serves as a gesture to the real and palpable, especially with the rise of digital art and NFTs, making it a popular choice amongst collectors.
Here are some figurative artists at The Artling who tread the line between the real and the illusory, all while paying homage to the masters to deliver a multifaceted experience that will add colour and life to your space.
With a unique geometric style that boasts sharp lines and sleek figures, Alexander Trifonov's sensibilities for shape and form were strengthened by a background in design. Based in Moscow, the artist presents boundless landscapes and stark figures reminiscent of medieval life. Trifonov's artworks are thus memorialized in a moment in time through his use of colour motifs, building a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere characterized by natural tones.
A graduate of the esteemed Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Paris, Japanese artist Hiromi Sengoku's summer landscapes and scenes of sunbathers hark back to the likes of David Hockney with her keen attention to detail and inclination towards a more realistic abstraction of the natural world. Yet Sengoku's expert blend of warm and cool tones effectively blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. At once guileless and knowing, the artist's subjects point towards a distant universe where all is peaceful and joy is abundant.
Taking famous figures such as Marilyn Monroe as his beloved subjects, Dane Shue's artistic investigations lie in the sweet spot between pop culture and nostalgic rumination. Working with a variety of modes such as stenciling, printmaking and gestural (free) painting, Shue's vibrant creations are certainly not for the faint-hearted. In Shue's world, the wild and experimental prevail and celebrity culture - the beautiful and the mad - continues to be all the rage.
Victor Tkachenko's sombre impressions of human figures are a clear nod to the intensity of Francis Bacon's artworks, yet the former's choice of deep hues allow him to convey a strong sense of mood. With an eye for detail, Tkachenko’s subjects come alive on the canvas and exude a mysterious aura that intrigues the viewer. Ultimately, the artist portrays the various shades of the human condition through a unique visual language that offers something new to discover every day.
Elena Romanovskaya's whimsical artworks paint a picture of an imaginative mind that knows no bounds. Based in Nalchik, located in the South of Russia, Romanovskaya's striking use of colour and her evocative combinations of cool and warm tones bolster her artistic impressions of "archaic images" seen in a "naive" light. In addition, the artist's deft use of motifs from myths, folklore and legends invites you on a journey to enter a magical world, taking you back to the days of youth where things were much simpler and so much more fun.
Hailing from Kolkata, a city known for its colonial architecture, pop artist Abhijit Paul draws inspiration from its urban landscapes with its streets views and scenery, which he has superimposed onto the faceless subjects of his intriguing mixed media works. Choosing bright tones such as pink and teal as opposed to stronger reds and blues, Paul's characteristic style draws attention to the calm energy of Kolkata, as if to evoke the feeling of a wandering traveller who finds himself surrounded by the city at every turn. At once personal and universal, these artworks present a sense of nostalgia for a time past.
Now that you’ve been familiarized with how to collect figurative art, it’s time to start searching for the right artwork. While it may seem like a complex art genre, figurative art is not impossible to understand. Know what you’re looking for – be it something more abstract or true-to-life – and make a point to observe the details closely; that way, you’ll find something unique that feels like it truly belongs in your space!
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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