Beyond the Surface: The Power of Conceptual Realism

Principle Gallery in Alexandria delved into new territory in October, as for the first time, our October exhibition was curated by one of our long-standing artists, Rachel Constantine. A well-connected artist from Philadelphia, Rachel was able to bring together a dynamic and impressive group of artists to participate in this show, titled “Beyond the Surface.” The exhibition celebrated “Conceptual Realism”; for those unfamiliar with the term, it essentially describes pieces which, while executed in a Realist style, represent an inspiration and mesage which may not be obvious at first glance. The works each possess a back-story and thoughtful concept behind them which is not immediately apparent. “Man,” the piece which Rachel herself created for this show, is an excellent example of Conceptual Realism.

ImageRachel’s work, a large and striking piece at 66″x35″, is much more than just a rendering of a male nude figure. In describing her inspiration and aims for the piece, Rachel explained that the work is a new take on the reclining nude. Where art historical traditions have long provided viewers with the graceful, reclining “odalisque” images of nude females, this piece seeks to provide a thought-provoking counterpoint to those traditions.

“We are all familiar with the countless images throughout history of the reclining nude woman in repose,” comments Rachel. “This is understandably so, since this image provides an ideal subject through which to explore the ideas of beauty and sensuality, and when done well will result in an image universally deemed “beautiful”.  Most often the artist has posed the woman with her head facing away from the viewer to various degrees and draped languidly in a state of non-action, thus removing all personal identity from the woman and rendering her anonymous.  This depersonalization turns this woman into an “object” there solely to be looked at on the surface.   

“In ‘Man’,” Rachel explains, “my intention is to create an image of a nude male that is equally as beautiful and sensual, but moves beyond this tradition by forcing the viewer to look deeply into this man’s eyes, connecting to him personally. He is also in mid-action as opposed to complete repose, holding himself up on his elbows, head tilted slightly back, strong yet vulnerable, completely exposed as the viewer gazes down on him. My hope is to depict an image infused with true reverence for this man’s humanness as well as his physical beauty. This “Man” is alive and present, unguarded and real.”

“Man” is indeed unique and moving, as the grace and openness with which Rachel has portrayed the subject draws the viewer in, making him or her eager to know more about the meaning behind the work. Likewise, each piece included in October’s exhibition combines this notion of initial visual interest with a deeper, more profound meaning behind the piece which, when revealed, helps the viewer to better connect to both the image and to the intent of the artist. It is an important reminder that, more often than not, our appreciation for a work of art can be greatly heightened and developed once we stop to question the message that the piece contains “beyond the surface.”

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