Realism, Really? Press Release

Media Contact:
Maggie Sowell
707-939-7862 x14
Realism, Really?
Today’s Contemporary Realists
August 9th through October 26th
What is a "realistic" picture?  When does a painting seem deeply resonant of the real world, one that taps into our sense of lived reality?  These questions, which artists have long grappled with, continue to drive the explorations of many painters today. Realism, Really? presents a selection of California artists who focus on diverse aspects of realism in their work: Chester Arnold, Guy Diehl, F. Scott Hess, Marina Moevs, Douglas Fenn Wilson, and Jeong Im Yi.  Guest curated by Jennifer Bethke, lecturer in Art History at Sonoma State University, the exhibition explores the expansive boundaries of realism today, through this collection of powerful contemporary painters. 
“I am tremendously excited to bring together this group of contemporary California painters,” says Bethke. “All these artists demonstrate a strong commitment to craft.  But when it comes to questions of how paintings should reflect the world, they each tackle things very differently.  It's fascinating for me to see such different approaches to realism, hanging right next to each other.”

Based in Sonoma County, narrative painter Chester Arnold offers up rich and forthright depictions of human experience and the natural landscape.  He often explores the interaction between humans and wild spaces, bearing witness to this complex reality with metaphor, melancholy, and humor.  Arnold is acutely tuned in to the traditions of nineteenth-century European art, such as Realism and Romantic landscape painting.  But his subject matter is frankly contemporary.  He explores subjects in loose series, drawing on themes such as mining and logging operations, industry, and waste.  As Arnold puts it, "How we live in the world, and how that experience is transformed into imagery, is the core of all that I make." 

Guy Diehl's still life paintings are both homages to earlier artists, and also witty reflections on art's traditions and techniques.  The Bay Area based Diehl can easily be compared to the still life masters of the Dutch seventeenth century.  His careful, precise presentations of objects, textures, light and shadow mirror the Dutch Baroque obsession with optical accuracy.  But in addition, since Diehl often presents some of Modernism's most famous abstract artists in his paintings, he is also musing on questions of illusionism, realism and abstraction.

A narrative painter based in Los Angeles, F. Scott Hess explores and questions wide-ranging themes in his work, including family, identity, aging, sex, and popular culture.  His paintings often nimbly reach in several different directions at once.  Many of his works deeply engage with art's history, for instance, while also dealing with psychologically charged, sometimes controversial, subject matter. 

Also from Los Angeles is Marina Moevs. Moevs might be described as a landscape painter, but she conjures a world far from the idyllic and pastoral.  Viewing her pictures may begin with a feeling of peacefulness, but this slides into a sensation of eerie, unsettling calm as we become aware that we are gazing at scenes that show the aftermath of natural disasters.  The terrible forces of nature act as an echo in Moevs' works.  Disaster is not directly shown: it is rather alluded to. 

Jeong Im Yi grew up in South Korea, and has been based in the Bay Area for many years.  As a painter, Yi demonstrates a faithfulness to illusionistic skills and trompe l'oeil technique, but her canvases are much more than simple replications of the visual world.  As Yi puts it, her pictures record "small histories."  She is interested in intensely focusing on what we regularly overlook - the blank wall, the worn cushion, the passing cloud.  As Yi herself says, these things are fascinating not so much as objects in and of themselves, but as "signs of other things."

Artist Douglas Fenn Wilson, also based in Sonoma County, chooses terms like sculptural, layered, and constructed to describe his paintings.  His works are in part based in the straightforward realism of recording and reflecting the visual world.  City scenes, building facades, and landscapes are regular subjects of his art.  But Wilson adds to these images a practice based in collage and even architectural construction. As Wilson puts it, his focus is less on what he chooses to paint, and more on how he shows it.

Kate Eilertsen, Director for Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, says, “We are so fortunate to be able to present a ground breaking exhibition of painters working in the arena we call “realism”.  Highly regarded guest curator, Jenifer Bethke, has assembled a group of six, phenomenal artists whose work presents realism from six very different perspectives.  What is realism, really?“

About the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art:

Established in 1998, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is a membership supported 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that provides seasonal exhibitions of contemporary and modern art and educational and public programming for children, youth and adults. Its mission is to be, “a magnet of creative energy and cultural inspiration with exhibitions and educational programs that engage the community in the art and ideas of our time, encouraging curiosity and innovation.”

The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art is located at 551 Broadway, one half block up from Sonoma’s historic Plaza. Regular Museum hours are 11am–5pm Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults. Children k–12 are admitted free, as are SVMA members. Additional information is available at or by calling (707) 939-7862.

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