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The Figurative Art Revival

Updated: Apr 24

Figurative artist, Jenny Saville. Stare. 2005.
Jenny Saville. Stare. 2005.

Today, I want to discuss an exciting trend that has been making waves in the art world: the figurative art revival. As someone who has always been captivated by the power of the human form in art, I couldn't be more thrilled to see this resurgence. So, let's explore what figurative art is, why it's making a comeback, and how contemporary artists are putting their own spin on this timeless genre.

First, let's define figurative art. In simple terms, it's art that represents the human form, whether through painting, sculpture, or other media. Figurative art has been around for millennia, from ancient Greek and Roman statues to Renaissance masterpieces like Michelangelo's David. However, with the rise of abstract and conceptual art in the 20th century, figurative art took a backseat. But now, it's back!

So, why the sudden resurgence? One is the desire for a more direct connection to the human experience in an increasingly digital and disconnected world. Figurative art allows us to see ourselves reflected in the work, to empathize with the subjects, and to feel a sense of shared humanity. It's a powerful antidote to the isolation and alienation that many of us feel in modern life.

Another factor is the social and political climate of our times. With movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo shining a light on issues of identity, representation, and social justice, many artists are turning to figurative art as a way to explore these themes. By depicting diverse bodies and experiences, figurative artists are challenging traditional notions of beauty, power, and privilege, and giving voice to marginalized communities.

Figurative painter, AMY SHERALD Saint Woman  2015 Oil on canvas
AMY SHERALD. Saint Woman. 2015. Oil on canvas.

But it's not just about politics – figurative art is also evolving in exciting new ways. Contemporary artists are blending classical techniques with modern styles, creating hybrid works that are both timeless and cutting-edge. Some are incorporating mixed media, such as collage or digital elements, into their figurative pieces, while others are playing with scale and perspective to create immersive, larger-than-life installations.

One artist who exemplifies this new approach is Kehinde Wiley, best known for his portraits of African American subjects in heroic poses, often set against intricate, decorative backgrounds. Wiley's work challenges traditional power dynamics and celebrates Black identity and beauty. Another artist to watch is Jenny Saville, whose monumental, fleshy paintings of women's bodies are both confrontational and vulnerable, inviting us to confront our own assumptions about gender, beauty, and the human form.

Interestingly, the figurative art revival isn't just happening in painting and sculpture – it's also making waves in the world of fashion. Many fashion designers are incorporating figurative elements into their collections, from prints featuring human faces and bodies to sculptural garments that exaggerate or distort the human form. This crossover between art and fashion is a testament to the enduring power and versatility of figurative art.

I also find it worth noting the growing role of artificial intelligence (AI) in this genre of art. While some may see AI as a threat to traditional artmaking, many figurative artists are embracing this technology as a tool to push their work in new and exciting directions. For example, some artists are using AI algorithms to generate new compositions or to manipulate digital images of the human form in ways that would be impossible with traditional media. Others are collaborating with AI systems to create hybrid works that blend human and machine creativity. While the use of AI in figurative art is still a relatively new phenomenon, it's clear that this technology is opening up new possibilities for artists and challenging us to rethink what it means to create art in the 21st century. Below you will find an artpiece by Mario Klingemann, a.k.a. "Quasimondo." Quasimodo is a German artist who uses AI to create haunting, distorted portraits that challenge traditional notions of the human form. He trains neural networks on vast datasets of images to generate new, unsettling visions of the human face.

Figurative AI artist. My Artificial Muse by Quasimondo June 13, 2017
My Artificial Muse by Quasimondo. June 13, 2017.

Of course, as with any trend, there are skeptics who question whether the figurative art revival is just a passing fad. But I believe that this renewed interest in the human form is more than just a fleeting moment – it's a reflection of our deep-seated need for connection, empathy, and understanding in a world that can often feel fragmented and isolating. By celebrating the beauty and complexity of the human experience, figurative art has the power to bring us closer together and remind us of our shared humanity.

So, whether you're a lifelong art lover or just discovering the joys of figurative art for the first time, I encourage you to seek out some of the incredible artists and exhibitions that are driving this revival. From emerging talents to established masters, there's never been a more exciting time to explore the enduring power of the human form in art.

You might just find a new favorite artist or a new perspective on the world around you.



P.S. Here are some artist you should lookup to further your interest in figurative art: Jenny Saville, Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Salman Toor. These artists were known for their innovative approaches to figurative art and their ability to use the human form to explore complex themes and ideas.

Also, check out the "All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life" exhibition at Tate Britain. It happened in 2018 and showcased the work of prominent figurative painters from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Three Figures and Portrait 1975, Francis Bacon
Three Figures and Portrait 1975, Francis Bacon. Exhibited at Tate Britain.