Figurative art has existed for thousands of years in cultures all around the world.
With a history as long as the history of representation itself, the earliest example is the carved mammoth ivory, sculptural figure (about 35,000 years old) of a woman discovered in a cave in southern Germany, while the cave paintings of Lascaux, France, depicting a variety of animals native to the region, date back 16,000 years.
Figurative art not only reflects the cultural values of the time in which it was made, it has the unique capability of alluding to intellectual concepts as well. Ancient Greek statuary depicted gods and goddesses in a way that also celebrated geometric precision, while portraiture of the 19th century, exemplified by Ingres, portrayed the likeness of the subject, but subtle stylization also conveyed the standards of beauty of the time.
Picasso’s distorted cubist figures, the elongated, surrealist sculptures of Giacometti, as well as the pop art Warhol made, are all examples of the genre, which possibly reached its pinnacle during the Italian Renaissance. A time when art was also a craft, with all levels of skill so well honed that the technical achievement of a Botticelli or Da Vinci, are from our vantage point, almost impossible to comprehend.
There is a profound difference between art rooted in craft, and art that has no interest in it. In this era art has left craft far behind, a process that began when Marcel Duchamp insisted that art should appeal only to the brain. These days painters who still know how to render and paint in a classical manner are relics from another world and sculpture no longer seems the right word for the objects many artists make.
Can the clock be turned back? Of course not. And yet there are many artists today who would claim their art is based in craft and the study of nature, and look at the conceptual art movement disdainfully, proclaiming the greatest art ever made is that of a Michelangelo or a Titian. If in fact that is true, how does the art they make, measure up?
A lot of figurative art being made today is both derivative and shallow and often the skills are just not up to par. For the death of craft is a reality; a consequence of the Industrial Revolution – and to restore the craftsmanship of the Renaissance giants, you’d have to put young artists into apprenticeships as children, with the greatest artists around. That’s how artists learned once upon a time.
Even that process is now seen as archaic, and interestingly, the fate of art appears to mirror the fate of industrial society itself; we are now on the verge of destroying the very nature the great artists painted so well. Art has always existed to tell the truth, but the truth of our time is more likely to be caught by a camera. A digital one at that. But shockingly, more recently, the art world has begun, once again, to focus on paintings of people, begging the question, why this sudden shift away from conceptualism?
Because the art world has a short memory, and what’s ‘new” and in “fashion” gets old fast, and as we collectively arrive at the conclusion that the only future, is a sustainable one, returning to the concept of “timelessness” begins to make more sense; Problem being, contemporary artists who can render without gimmicks and tricks like projection, are few and far between. But Anais Rumfelt is one of them.
Anais Rumfelt makes no apologies for her work, which is both figurative with a clear nod to her love and attention to craft; her drawings are the foundation of her extraordinary, representational paintings.
Layers of paint are meticulously applied in delicate washes of color, but the strong underlying line, gives form to her complex inner vision which addresses the disappearing natural world in subtle and nuanced ways; her painting of a woman covered in a swarm of bees, conveyed plenty of wordless meaning when it hung in a group show at Studio 107b. The crows that flew across Manzanita’s doorway, the Harwood’s wall (and a town lamp post), were almost like cries for help from unseen spirits. Caw Caw, their hollow call could eerily almost be heard, just looking at them soaring across the flat sheets of paper that contained their images.
Anais grew up in a family of artists. Her apprenticeship began in utero; her mother Katie Woodall is a painter, as is her Uncle, Pat. It was inevitable she would follow in their footsteps. When I met her, she was a complex, pensive and moody teenager with a gift for expressing herself both in poetry and conversation. She clearly had something to say. It would be years before I discovered she painted as well. And during those years, her output was sporadic at best. She was raising her son Jackson, with his father, her partner at the time.
“I couldn’t really find the time to make art in earnest while he was still young,” she told me, “I don’t know how some women artists who are also mothers, do it?” She shook her head. Jackson now 17, lives with his father in L.A. and Anais has turned her home into a live-in studio.
“I go home to work some more!” She noted wryly as we talked one day over lunch. “I don’t exactly relax at home. Especially since I’ve been painting for this show.” The show at MoMo, her first solo outing since the birds hung at the Harwood, was a long time coming.
“When I suggested it to Moriah, she reminded me that she had invited me to show there when she first opened.” She recalled. “But now it’s the right time, and I’ve had the time to make the work.” Showing at MoMo makes sense to her in more ways than one. “I think Moriah is really great at promoting the artists she shows,” she said. “And besides that she has really exceptional taste.”
It was a win win for them both. When I talked to Moriah recently at her gallery, she was excited about the opportunity to show Anais’ work in the space that once was Rebecca Strand’s studio. “I think her paintings will look beautiful in here.” She said.
Beauty loves beauty and so once the date had been set, Anais, who works full-time doing all the marketing for Twirl, got busy producing a new body of work. Working on several pieces at once was new for her, but she’s enjoyed the process and the way the pieces have evolved. “It certainly gives a cohesive feeling to the paintings as a whole,” she explained.
The paintings celebrate the human body in mythical and archetypal ways; at a time when humanity is possibly at its most vulnerable in its history on this planet, Anais has captured that fragility with these poignant paintings that in a sense, are celebrations of Life itself.
What’s next for this woman making unabashedly feminine and feminist work? She’s not telling, but you can be certain it will be both provocative and beautiful, with exquisite execution of tools and technique.
Anais Rumfelt will be at MoMo for the opening of her show of new work, this Saturday, October 19th from 5-7 pm.
For more information, please visit the site linked below
All images thanks to Anais Rumfelt
Photograph of Anais by Zoe Zimmerman