MOCA-J’s ‘Get Real’ Exhibit Captures Contemporary Trend

September 10, 2014 7 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville, Florida — A selection of contemporary painters from across the country—Haley Hasler, Jason John, Andrea Kowch, Bryan LeBoeuf, Jenny Morgan, Kevin Muente, Frank Oriti and Kevin Peterson—provides a snapshot of the current landscape of realist painting in the United States. The heavily figurative focus of “Get Real: New American Paiting” explores themes that have persisted throughout the recent history of American realist painting such as narrative portraiture and social, psychological and magical realism.

Get Real: New American Painting
A preview reception is 6-7 p.m. Sept. 12, 2014, for patrons, and 7-9 p.m. for members. Sip specialty cocktails, taste real American cuisine, and visit with several exhibition artists in the galleries. The exhibition opens to the general public Sept. 13 and continues through Jan. 4, 2015.

Bryan LeBoeuf: Trois Bateaux, 2004. Oil on linen. 66 x 96 inches. Collection of Christopher Forbes, New York, New York.

The eight artists present a multifaceted view of the American experience, contrasting the historic and the contemporary, pastoral and urban landscapes, the personal and the universal, the immanent and the transcendent. Through the eyes of these artists, the viewer may travel between the magical depictions of a distant American heartland in work of Kowch or Muente to the hardscrabble, urban worlds of Oriti or Peterson. Whether their inspiration is drawn from memory or reality, the artists strike a balance between the everyday and the epic as seen in LeBoeuf’s tightly controlled theatrical compositions or John’s surreal scenes that seem to be in a state of perpetual motion. Aspects of identity and relationships, as well as issues of sexuality and femininity, are best explored through the in the works of Hasler and Morgan.

The products of diverse educational and geographic roots, these young painters, mostly under the age of 40, are charting a path for contemporary American realist painting. Although rooted in a strong tradition of realist painting, they are also very much products of the modern world and the global information age.  

Haley Hasler
Portrait as Palomino, 2011. 52 x 42 inches. Oil on canvas (unframed). Courtesy of the artist and the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery, Sag Harbor, New York.

Born in 1971, Colorado native Haley Hasler studied painting at Indiana University and earned an MFA from Boston University. Hasler has received numerous grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant, and is a three-time winner of the Elizabeth Greenshields Award.

Hasler uses the self-portrait—a practical and economic solution to the need for a model—as a way to access the personal within the archetypal heroine. Through these iconic forms, she investigates artifice versus reality, interior versus exterior, and creator versus creation. The faces of her portraits convey the bewilderment and fatigue of young motherhood in turbulent surroundings elaborately and fastidiously executed.

“The self-portrait as a character introduces a further element,” Hasler wrote in her artist statement. “While the self-portrait implies that the artist is showing us the truth, a representation of the exterior in disguise conveys the impossibility and doubleness of this endeavor.”

Jason John
Fierce, 2013. Oil on canvas. 30x40 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Born in 1980 in Detroit, Michigan, Jason John grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  He received a BFA in painting from Kutztown University and an MFA in painting and drawing from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He also studied at The Waichulis Studio (now called Ani Art Academies) in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. He is an assistant professor of painting at University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

John’s paintings contain bizarre and beguiling landscapes that could be real—or projected from the minds of his figures. In these mystical, surrealist scenes, floating fruit and flowers or abstract shapes might only exist in the subjects’ subconscious. Many figures wear masks or headpieces constructed of cardboard packaging or craft paper.

“As a painter, I represent figures trapped in an environment of uneasiness and flux,” John said in his artist statement. “Partially concealing the identity of an individual removes the personal relationship viewers would expect to feel for those represented. Each character in my paintings has become one with their environment and can evolve toward empowerment or devolve into personal displacement and loss of identity.”

Andrea Kowch
The Feast, 2010-11. Acrylic on canvas. 60 x 84 inches. Collection of John and Suzanne Hooker, Sag Harbor, New York.

Born in Michigan in 1986, Andrea Kowch graduated from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 2009 with a BFA degree in illustration. Her work reflects a wealth of influences from Northern Renaissance and American art to the rural landscapes and architecture of her native Michigan.

Kowch’s paintings feature three friends who model for her allegorial scenes using the palette and metaphors of autumn. The women’s inscrutable expressions hide their true emotions, while their windswept hair hints at feelings that might be surging underneath the controlled exterior. The desolate American landscape surrounding the paintings’ subjects explores nature as a reflection of the human soul—powerful, fragile, and eternal. The haunting, dreamlike scenarios evoke both melancholy and nostalgia, giving the work an ambiguous and suspenseful edge.

“What some may see in my work as ‘intense’ or ‘disturbing,’ others may see as beautiful and liberating,” Kowch told Deanna Elaine Piowaty in an interview for Combustus.

Bryan LeBoeuf
Mosh Pit, 2003. Oil on linen. 60 x 48 inches. Collection of Peter N. Geisler Jr., West Palm Beach, Florida.

After growing up on the Gulf Coast of rural Louisiana, Bryan LeBoeuf earned a BFA at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, in 1998 and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2000.

Informed by European masters, his careful compositions incorporate beautifully painted surfaces and almost baroque lighting effects. His tightly controlled technique, representational subject matter, and subtly manipulated compositions are meant to create a through-the-looking-glass illusion, removing barriers between viewers and the images. Through his cropping, positioning, and modeling of figures, LeBoeuf creates the impression of unseen space, asking viewers to imagine the focus of the attention of a figure who gazes into space, beyond the confines of the canvas.

“If all we had to do was manage craft! Look at the French Academy. My God! Every student in an atelier—they’re all extraordinary!” LeBoeuf told Morris Museum of Art Curator Jay Williams in an interview. “But their technique is like a camera could do it .… Technique in picture-making won’t save the work; but without it, it will probably die.”

Jenny Morgan
Syrie and the Cat, 2013. Oil on canvas. 76 x 54 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York City, New York.

Born in 1982 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jenny Morgan now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She holds a BA from the Rocky Mountain College School of Design in Lakewood, Colorado, and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.

Technically intricate with a haunting quality, Morgan’s paintings experiment with psychological visual realism, obscuring the physical to expose the spiritual. She obfuscates the portraits’ meticulous details by annihilating their identities, sanding and stripping away layers like physical and spiritual wounds while retaining a striking intimacy. Morgan depicts people she knows well, creating renderings that are sensitive and compassionate, and sometimes brutally perceptive.

“I feel like I am still searching for the spirit within all my subjects,” Morgan told Whitewall magazine. “The work is all about finding and bringing to life that invisible force in people.”

Kevin Muente
American Gothic, 2013. Oil on canvas. 48 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery, Sag Harbor, New York.

Born in 1971 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kevin Muente received his BFA in drawing and painting from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1994 and his MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati in 1999.

His paintings explore the human experience through the metaphor of landscape by featuring archetypal figures within idealized rural surroundings. The emotions portrayed in these small moments of human action tap into universal themes.

“On reflection, I realize that these cinematic paintings depict people facing the most elemental conflict in nature—life and death—and they ask more questions than they answer,” Muente wrote in his artist statement.

Frank Oriti
I’d Rather Sink, 2013. Oil and acrylic on canvas. 48 x 35 inches. Courtesy of the artist and the Richard J. Demato Fine Arts Gallery, Sag Harbor, New York.

Born in 1983 and raised in Parma, Ohio, outside of Cleveland, Frank Oriti earned his BFA in two-dimensional studies from Bowling Green State University in 2006. He returned to his hometown and worked at a Cleveland steel mill while painting in his spare time. He earned an MFA in painting from Ohio University in 2011 and won the Cleveland Arts Prize Emerging Artist Award in 2013.

Oriti’s detailed portraits depict the people he’s known since childhood as blue-collar protagonists, gazing stoically or perhaps with a hint of aggression. Suburban houses appear faintly in the background—often the subjects’ childhood homes—a visualization of the attempt to “whiteout” their longing to achieve the American Dream after failing to escape their hometown.

“It’s hard being in the world and going back to a place with so many childhood memories, when as a person you’ve matured,” Oriti told The New York Times. “You get this effect of this fading memory of a place they once knew.”

Kevin Peterson
Street Light, 2012. Oil on panel with metal. 46.5 x 71 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Thinkspace Gallery, Culver City, California.

Born in 1979 in Elko, Nevada, Kevin Peterson’s childhood included stints in Michigan and Washington before arriving in Texas in 1996. He attended Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where he received degrees in fine art and psychology in 2001.

While working as a probation officer in Austin, difficulties with drugs and alcohol led to an arrest and the loss of his job. During treatment, he rediscovered his passion for creating art. Peterson has been sober since July 30, 2005, and has pursued an art career ever since.

His paintings depict the strength required to survive and thrive in a world of trauma, fear and loneliness. His recent work portrays issues of race and the division of wealth. His hyper-realistic style contrasts the young and innocent against gritty, urban backgrounds, yet evidence of the painter’s brush adds warmth and hope.

“My work is about the varied journeys we take through life,” Peterson wrote in his artist statement. “It’s about growing up and living in a world that is broken.”

Jason John Studio Experience, schedule to be announced: Experience the process of realism paintings in the “Get Real” exhibition by watching featured regional artist Jason John create a painting in a specially created studio space on our third floor. This area will be open for the duration of the exhibition and will provide guests an opportunity to see a working artist space and perhaps catch the artist himself working. John is an assistant professor of painting at University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Portraiture Through Time: A MOCA-Cummer Museum Tour, Sunday, October 5 • 1-4 p.m.: MOCA and The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens team up for an experience inspired by “Get Real.” Museum staff will take you on a journey through time, starting with the Cummer’s permanent collection portraits from the past, then travelling to the present by charter bus and viewing the contemporary American portraits fo “Get Real.”  

Women Painting Women, Thursday, October 23 • 7 p.m.: A discussion with “Get Real” featured artists Haley Hasler, Andrea Kowch, and Jenny Morgan about their roles in the art world, the women in their artwork, and why they paint them.  A members’ reception will be held at 6 p.m. A three-course prix fixe dinner for Avant Garde and Collectors’ Circle members will take place at 8:30 p.m. in Café Nola ($49 per person, includes tax and tip; wine pairings and full bar available for additional charge, payable the night of the dinner; reservations required).

MOCA Book Club, Thursday, December 11 • 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.: “Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life” delves into the story of one of the best-known realist painters of our age. Wyeth’s influence can be seen throughout the artwork featured in “Get Real.” This book helps us understand the dynamic subtleties portrayed in otherwise calm canvases. MOCA offers a guided book club discussion and interactive hour-long tour at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Please join us at Café Nola for a meal before or after the discussion time of your choosing. Reservations are encouraged.

Register in advance at or call 904-366-1214.