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Francis Cunningham: Painting and Drawing

March 14 to April 5, 1989

Marsh Art Gallery


Realism is an attitude toward life that affirms the beauty and significance of the visible world. Realism starts outside with the surfaces of things and travels inward to their meaning. Everything in this process has to do with selection. What has the object told a particular artist about itself, about its relationship to other objects and to the surrounding space?

In life one takes in things at a glance, but the artist looks at an object for hours, weeks, months, even years. Premier coup painting is done in one sitting. It is comparable to haiku; it takes one aspect of nature, summarizes it and is done. Sometimes a landscape premier coup will call for the closest, most minute aspects of drawing and composition; sometimes only for the posture of a few large shapes. Sometimes the subject is instantly recognizable; sometimes, as in mossy places in deep woods, it is not.

Nature presents a variety of shapes for the artist to select, infinitely surprising and unexpected. Among them are landscape and still life objects which share many qualities of the human nude. Trees and rocks, gourds or a scythe--as with the nude--consist of shapes made up of arcs, angles and areas of color-value on the flat surface of the canvas. These shapes can be made to communicate properties of volume, weight, space, depth and movement. When this happens, the objects represented are no longer flat symbols of the visible world. One can feel their heft, their springiness or their repose. One is drawn outside oneself into experiencing the objects, and this shared vision unites the artist and his audience.

I regard the human nude as the most beautiful, various and fascinating instrument of expression. Among all the forms in nature we can identify most readily with the nude for it is us, our limbs, our movement, our energy.

Objects, and the nude, have a story to tell. Their stories are more basic than those of descriptive reporting, prose narration or the sung stories of opera. Their stories are pre-mythic, for the objects speak of themselves, free from the associations of other people, other things. Their meaning is determined by you, for you are the storyteller.

It seems a miracle so much can happen on the flat surface of the canvas. But this is only a shadow of the miracle of the forms as they exist in nature, or the significance you may bring to them out of your own life experience.

Francis Cunningham

January 1989

Publication Date



University of Richmond Museums


Richmond, VA


realism, Francis Cunningham, Ephraim Rubenstein, Reailism Today, painting, drawing


Art and Design | Fine Arts | Painting

Francis Cunningham: Painting and Drawing