Living Masters — the top 13 realist painters working today

“I didn’t know people still painted like that.”

There has been a quiet return to an older way of painting. To standards from the past. To a time when drawing mattered. When shock value wasn’t so highly regarded. A time when art and craftsmanship were one and the same. The artists working in this way are called realist painters. Their work looks like the work of the old masters. They welcome the comparison. Here are the top 13 that I know of working today.

Roberto Ferri

Technically brilliant. Spooky disturbing. Roberto Ferri’s paintings are lovely to look at with inbuilt jolts as your eye travels around the canvas. This woman’s body becomes a snake. That man has horns. This Italian painter has been commissioned by the Vatican to paint the current pope twice. His themes are often mythic or catholic. His level of skill is breathtaking.

You can see more of his work here.

Casey Baugh

With a lot of rock star swagger Casey Baugh makes what he does look easy. His charcoal drawings have a contemporary feel to them and look like the sort of thing Michelangelo or Leonardo would be doing if they were working today.

His oil paintings have that indefinable quality of life. You begin to look at them like any other painting until you lock eyes with the subject and then you have the uneasy feeling that you, the viewer, are being viewed by a very real person looking back at you.

You can see more of his work here.

Jeremy Lipkin

If Kevin Costner’s character in, “Dances with wolves,” had been a painter, this is what his paintings would have looked like.

With a beautiful mixture of softness and story Jeremy Lipkin’s paintings make me feel calm just by looking at them. His paintings of his wife are particularly tender.

You can see more of his work here.

Francis O Toole

Francis O’Toole is intense, Irish and humble. He was the first realist painter I ever encountered. When I saw his work I had a strong physical reaction. It was a mix of awe and despair. Despair because prior to seeing this kind of painting the bar was low enough to feel attainable. Seeing his work made me realise what was possible as a painter. I’m very grateful to him.

You can see more of his work here.

Ali Cavanaugh

Ali Cavanaugh has managed to achieve the holy grail of creativity, she has taken something old and re imagined it in a fresh contemporary way. She paints in water colour on specially prepared clay board which makes her method of painting in effect, modern day frescoes. This approach, combined with her considerable skill and talent, create paintings that are truly unique.

I had a lovely chat with Ali on my podcast which you can listen to here.

You can see more of her work here.

Odd Nerdrum

There is so much mystique surrounding Odd Nerdrum that it’s hard to tell if he is really the caricature of the crazy artist the media projects or if he has encouraged this view of himself to protect his intimacy. Either way his paintings are powerful. This Norwegian painter stands apart among realist painters in that his paintings look so like Rembrandt‘s. This influence is something Odd freely admits as Rembrandt is for him, the ultimate painter.

I find Odd’s paintings arresting and haunting. I can only look at them for so long before I start to feel disturbed and look away, only to find myself returning to them minutes later to repeat the experience. I’ve never got to the end of one his paintings. They go on for me.

You can see more of his work here.

Stephen Bauman

Stephen Bauman exemplifies the best of modern realist panting. He manages to wrap a classical style around a contemporary flavour. You can tell he is a contemporary painter yet his paintings have an older quality.

I particularly like the way he gets the people in his paintings to glow.

You can see more of his work here.

Conor Walton

Realist painting was a kind of calling for Conor Walton because when this Irish painter was going through Art school, figure drawing and realist painting were completely out of fashion. He had to find his own way in the end and we are the richer for it.

I had a lovely chat with Conor on my podcast which you can listen to here.

You can see more of his work here.

Adam Miller

Adam Miller is a young American painter who discovered classical painting techniques almost by accident. Once he got started his talent became evident quickly going into formal academic training at age 16. He paints thematic sequences that combine modern culture and myth.

You can see more of his work here.

Alyssa Monks

American artist Alyssa Monk’s approach is intimate and intense. Her paintings are all we hope for in an image, the ability to get very close to a private moment and they there as long as we need to.

Here latest paintings manage to communicate an interior life with technical clarity of a master realist painter.

I had a lovely chat with Alyssa on my podcast which you can listen to here.

You can see more of her work here.

Jeremy Mann

Jeremy Mann’s paintings use paint in a way that combines an impressionistic look with classical focal points. The effect is like having your gaze corralled to the place he wants you to look. Which is usually directly at the person he is painting. I like the confidence.

The other thing I like about his paintings is the way I feel something, almost immediately, when I look at his paintings. With the people, I usually want to help them and with the cityscapes I feel a bit lonely and lost.

You can see more of his work here.

David Kassan

David Kassan paints pictures of modern life in a classical way. His paintings will be the Holbieins of our future. Unflinching, unromantic and very evocative. I almost feel like I am intruding by looking at his paintings.

I had a lovely chat with David on my podcast which you can listen to here.

You can see more of his work here.

Mario Robinson

The way Mario Robinson treats the people he paints reminds me of Vincent Van Gogh. He highlights the nobility of ordinary people. It’s as if he is saying, “Take a second look, take a third. Can you see how remarkable these people are?”

His mastery of water colour is for me a revelation. He manages to make it do things I didn’t think were possible with water colour.

You can see more of his work here.

I find the craftsmanship in this kind of painting inspiring. It’s remarkable in this age of camera phones that these artists grow in popularity. It bears out what David Hockney says about the difference between photography and painting. A photograph takes an instant to create, so if you look at it for longer than an instant you are giving it more time than it took to create it.

A painting on the other hand takes weeks or months to create. You will never give it the same amount of time as it took to create, no matter how long you look at it.

I think that time is the ineffable quality these masters get into their paintings. You can feel the years that went into gaining the skill in each brush stroke. I’m grateful to each one of them for showing what is possible and for demonstrating with such beauty a level of excellence to aim for.

If I’ve left out your favorite realist painter please let me know and add them in the comments below.

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