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Nymphs and Satyr, by William Bouguereau (Detail)
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The Power of The Representational Art Conference of 2015 "TRAC"
by Sherry Ross


The 2015 Representational Art Conference, which was held this past November 1st through the 4th, is one of the most important events for the visual arts in our culture to come into existence. In only three years, its depth, scope and reach have grown with meaningful acceleration. It is because of its very "depth" that it is such a successful conference. It is a place to discover new ideas and new friends, a place to debate and enjoy the power of representational art. It is both an intellectual experience and a place of comradery. Not every artist who paints in the representational tradition agrees on everything, but at TRAC we are all there to support the ascendance of representational art. TRAC is about layers of meaning and the direction of culture itself...art's purpose, art's soul. In its four days of exceedingly well planned and insightful events, you will find the delivery of specialized talks, scientific papers, heart to heart dialogues from many of our admired artists, challenging panel discussions between scholars, artist demos, key note addresses and exhibitions, all showing, demonstrating and enlightening us on the power of representational art. It is a place for the exchange of ideas, to cross-pollinate thoughts and techniques, skills and themes. It is a time to hone one's intellectual skills so that we can all learn to fight the fight that is necessary to make "it" happen; to make sure that representational art once again becomes a primary force in the visual arts. And we do need to know how to fight that intellectual fight. TRAC is about communication, as much as it is about art. Because art is about visual communication and representational art communicates the best. With beautiful and meaningful paintings and sculptures being created once again, artists will be able to reach their audience with strength, grace and conviction, having faith in the knowledge that what they are accomplishing is universally important. There is nothing quite like TRAC. It should happen every year. It makes us united, even with all our differences. It makes us stronger, individually and as an artistic movement and community. The 2015 TRAC mission was to "explore the roots and principles of representation as they emerge after postmodernity. What are its guiding principles? Are there aesthetic themes that connect works of representational art? TRAC provides a platform for discussion. It does not aspire to establishing a single monolithic aesthetic for representational art, but to identify commonalities, to help to understand the unique possibilities of representational art, and perhaps provide some illumination about future directions."

Michael Pearce and Michael Adams founded the TRAC conference in 2011, and brought it into being. Thank you! They worked very hard, along with their dedicated team, to create and implement this year's exceptional event schedule and the increased turn-out. There were more than 400 in attendance this year. We are all very thankful to California Lutheran University's President Chris Kimball for his dedication to TRAC and to the university. Pearce and Adam's team went above and beyond duty, so a big thanks as well to Jeff Miller, Cindy Keitel, Rachel Schmid, Gerald Zwers, Carlos Velasquez, Shannon McMillan and Tony Pro. Additional thanks are also due to the many sponsors including: The Art Renewal Center, The Florence Academy, Keystone Galleries and The Coppini Academy of Art.

Fred Ross, The Art Renewal Center's Chairman, was very moved by The Representational Art Conference and considers it of integral importance to the realist movement. It was personally inspiring for him. In his keynote address he asserts, "Only realist imagery achieves the primary goal of fine art...to communicate with poetic beauty the ideas, thoughts, and passions of our shared humanity.... When you think about it, even our sub-conscious is made up of realistic images. Realist image are how our mind works, processes our experiences and creates universal meaning that can be shared." In this groundbreaking speech, Ross lays out one argument after another and demonstrates that the use of realistic imagery is truly the only way to create fine art. He states that art is a language, and like a written language it has vocabulary and grammar. The vocabulary is the realistic images and the grammar is the highly developed skills required to suspend disbelief and draw the viewer into the world, theme and narrative of the art. This is true of literature, music and theater. He asks us, "would you teach musical composition and ask the student to disregard the circle of fifths or only use three notes from which to compose everything? Would you expect the novelist to print meaningless squiggles on each page of their book?" Modernism, Ross reminds us, is obsessed with originality for its own sake, when for centuries, up until the early 20th century, art had always been about life. The ascending "art" of 20th century has intentionally destroyed and forbidden the use of all realistic images, narrative or universal themes. It removed all the tools from the proverbial toolbox. It is obsessed with the flatness of the canvas or the intensity of a single color, hence we get a red canvas with a black stripe. Brilliant? No, very simplistic and a mockery of fine art by skilled artists. If we look at the absurdity of installation art...smoke coming out of a box...we see the same thing...nothing...at the most we smile and then we forget. Modernism became obsessed with meaningless originality. But what is the purpose of originality if it leads to nothing? Just because something has never been done doesn't make it worthwhile. Who then is this absurd "art" intended for? Mr. Ross says that's obvious. It is for those who have learned the jargon of "art speak" and made their careers on doing so and who want to maintain the tremendous financial investment that has been placed on this nihilistic "non-art"; in other words the established art world of today. We, the contemporary realists are the new rebels. The artists at TRAC want to do the hard work and learn to draw, paint and create meaningful themes that will move people, inspire them or invoke compassion...for even a painting or sculpture of suffering, done with skill and empathy, can be sublime.

Let me give our readers, who may not be familiar with TRAC, or who could not attend, a summery of the keynote speeches, 43 educational papers and talks that occurred over the four day conference and a list of some of the artists offering demos and exhibiting in 8 separate art exhibitions, on campus and off.

Keynotes speeches:
  1. Elliot Bestwich Davis, John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas, present curator of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, (MFA) and author of the book Jamie Wyeth. Her keynote speech was on Jamie Wyeth: Loves and Obsessions. Davis joined MFA in 2001 and led the museum's curatorial staff in creating and installing the museums new wing for the Art of the Americas. Exhibitions to her credit have been, Sargent's Seven Sisters; Things I Love: The Many Collections of William I. Koch; Sargent, Chase, Cassatt: Master Paintings from a private Collection, AMERICA in 2007, the 1st 19th-Century American exhibit to be shown in Italy; Winslow Homer: American Scenes; and John Singer Sargent and Mural Decorations. Ms. Davis writes, co-authored the book Edward Hopper and lectures widely.
  2. Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroesthetics, University of London, Art and Beauty as Knowledge-Acquiring Systems, "The only truths that we can be certain of are subjective truths...I will explore the implications of this for studying the neurobiology of the aesthetic experience, concentrating on the experience of the sublime and the beautiful." Semir Zeki, FMedSci, FRS, is the founder of The Neuroesthetics Institute which studies the relationships between art and the human mind. His work will have a major impact in understanding the creative process and how we make art. He is specializing at this time in the organization of the visual brain and the neural mechanisms that allow us to experience love, desire and beauty. He work is pointing to the power of realistic images on our minds and the role that plays in making art. He has also authored several books including An Exploration of Art and the Brain.
  3. Fred Ross, Founder and the Chairman of the Art Renewal Center, Fred received his MA in art education from Columbia University, co-authored the Catalogue Raisonne of William Bouguereau: His Life and Works, and spoke at TRAC on What Is Fine Art and Why Realism? His speech received a standing ovation. Alexey Steele, in the active half hour discussion after Ross' speech, said that Fred's arguments were on the mark, every one of them, and that it should be read by art students all over the world. The description of some of Fred's ideas above is just a sampling of the depth of his paper which will be made available on ARC in the near future along with the video taken live at TRAC.
  4. Richard MacDonald, one of our greatest sculptors. Author Thomas Wolfe said of him, he "is one of those rare artists who can feel the body in motion from the inside out." MacDonald gave his speech on Figurative Sculpture in Post-Modernity: History, Education, Business and Practice. MacDonald's models have been some of the greatest dancers in the world. He has worked with The Royal Ballet and Cirque du Soleil. He has been honored by the US Olympic Committee, The Royal Ballet, and the Shanghai Institute of Art. He is presently creating a 16 foot statue, The Grand Coda, of Dame Ninette De Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet and Royal Ballet School in London.

Some of the Featured Papers, Speakers, Panels:
  1. F.Scott Hess, MFA, How Studies in Neuroscience, Technology and Understanding of Visual Perception Can Advance Representational Art Education, tremendously astute and supportive of representation realism.
  2. Artists Julio Reyes, BFA and Candice Bohannon, BFA, Authenticity and the Pursuit of Excellence. This inspiring paper, delivered in turns between Julio and Candice, was a work poetry. Each of these artists is also creating a body of work that will live on for all ages.
  3. Alexey Steele, Anacapa, My Father Leonid Steele: High Art and the Russian Tradition, given with all the passion Alexey is known for in his masterful and ambitious work and in his insightful conversations about art.
  4. Dr. Micheal Pearce, The Slow Death of the Avant Garde, a must read for understanding what has happened and where we are going.
  5. Felice House, Female Heroes: a Survey of Warrior Women in Painting and Sculpture...a beautiful and moving lecture.
  6. Mandy Hallenius BA, The Da Vinci Initiative: Changing the Culture of Art Education. The DVI is bringing skill-based training to our public school art teachers and classrooms and was founded by Mandy and Kara Lysandra Ross who is also the C.O.O. of the Art Renewal Center. This new non-profit, founded directly after the last TRAC Conference in March of 2014 is taking storm across the country and will bring visual literacy back to our children, working with over 2,500 K-12 art teachers in person this past year alone.
  7. Domenic Cretara, MFA, Drawing is Thinking
  8. Akira Takei and Lihting Li, MFA, MA, The Possibility of Cross-Cultural Aesthetic in Representational Art. Asian Artists & Cultural Perspectives. Another lecture that enlightens us from a different point of view and integrates with western ideas as well.
  9. John Rise, MFA, MA, Globalization, Cultural Change and the Representational Artist Today. So much to learn for this paper, another thought provoking work.
  10. Remembering Nelson Shanks, Lea Colie Wight, video presentation in his memory and panel discussion with Patrica Watwood, Alexander Shanks (Nelson's son), Michael Gormley, Lea Wight, Anne Hall. Our art community will miss him very much. He was one the greats and was a great teacher as well.
  11. Virgil Elliot, artist, The Role of Intuitive Perceptions in and on Art, a chance to enjoy Virgil's unique and compassionate perspectives and to enjoy a viewing of his wonderful work.
  12. Brian Curtis, MFA, The Bi-cameral Brain and the Primacy of Perception, another important scientific paper supporting the power of realistic imagery and another must read.
  13. Patrica Watwood, MFA, Post Contemporary Art and the Great Turning, once again another on target and intellectually challenging paper on where we've come from and where we're going. It's inspiring to hear all the facts put together in new persuasive arguments by so many deep thinking people.
  14. Max Ginsburg, artist, gave a talk on Social Realism and shared with the audience a fantastic slide show of his lifetime's work. He began with a piece done by his dad, also an artist, and moved through the process of his personal evolution, sharing his philosophy and compassion for all people.

This is only an example of the many papers and talks given...not even half. Forty-six papers were delivered over the four days. TRAC is making available a book on the papers given at this year's convention. It can be pre-ordered now and will be available at the end of the month.

A List of All Featured Speakers

The much admired artists: Candice Bohannon, Julio Reyes, Max Ginsburg, Alexey Steele and F. Scott Hess. Also Joseph Bravo, MA in Art History from the University of Texas, curator, presently working on research of the imagery and iconographic programs in the murals of Diego Rivera, and Peter Frank, former Senior Curator for Riverside Art Museum, curated "19 Artists, Emergent Americans" at the Guggenheim and presently the associate editor of Fabik magazine and critic for The Huffington Post.

Artist Demonstrations:
  1. Max Ginsburg
  2. David Jon Kassan
  3. Nan Lui
  4. Jeremy Lipking
  5. Alicia Nicole Ponzio, figurative sculpture
  6. Tony Pro
  7. Mario Andres Robinson
  8. Conor Walton
  9. Lea Colie Wight

Some of TRAC's additional featured Presenters and Panelists were:

Ruth Weisberg, who teaches drawing and print making at the USC Roski School of Fine Art. Her own work is widely exhibited and she has published more than 60 articles, reviews and essays on art and lectures regularly.

Michael Zakian, much admired art historian, curator, museum director, who has an equal interest in modern art and the realist tradition. His present initiative is at the Weisman Museum where he is dedicated to exploring the history of the current realist movement.

Dr. Vern S. Swanson, art historian, Phd from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, Director of the Springville Museum of Art, Utah, for 30 years, lecturer, author of many books on 19th century European art and Russian art through the 20th century and the Catalogue Raisonnes for Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema and John William Godward.

Eight Exhibitions:
  1. Showing at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Hotel:
    Michael Lynn Adams, Carlos Bautista, Kathiucia Dias, Felicia Forte, Tanja Gant, Max Ginsburg, Justin Hess, Paul Keysar, Scott Kiche, Ricky Mujica, Richard MacDonald, Anne Murphy-Robinson, Teresa Oaxaca, Deborah Paris, Michael Pearce, Janvier Rolland, Che Smith, Patricia Watwood, Lea Colie Wight, Pamela Wilson, Aihua Zhou.
  2. MUSEUM of Ventura County: "In Art We Trust"
    Alexey Steele, Joseph Todorovitch, Tony Pro, Jeremy Liking
  3. Richard MacDonald Sculpture Walk at Kingsmen Park, CLU
  4. Brad Kunkle, A Visit with Brad Kunkle, resident artist, Kwan Fong Gallery of Art & Culture
  5. TRANSMISSION, William Rolland Gallery of Fine Art, CLU:<
    Paintings and sculptures by past and living artists including, Jean-Leon Gerome, Jon Swihart, William Bouguereau, Odd Nerdrum, Luke Hillestad, David Molesky, Ruth Weisberg, Michael Pearce, Huicho Le, Richard MacDonald, Alicia Ponzio, Gary Weisman
  6. Subjective Truths, Contemporary Realism, at Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard, CA, TRAC 2015, hosted by the Arts Initiative of CLU:
    Paintings and sculptures by, Terry Arena, Jennifer Bain,Melissa Cooke, Nancy Seamons Crookston, Kathiucia Dias, Lani Emanuel, Laurie Hogin, Karen Kitchel, Elizabeth McGhee, Alenandra Manukyan, Bobbie Moline Kramer, Rachel Moseley, Courtney Murphy, Judy Nimtz, Gail Roberts, Kathryn Rohrbacher, Ruth Weisberg and Pamela Wilson
  7. Something to Cry About, Tool Room Gallery at the Belle Arts Center, Ventura: New Works by Pamela Wilson
  8. JOHN NAVA-New Works, Vita Art Center, Ventura

Only by listing and cataloging a sample of the wide range of programs, events, exhibitions, as well as the artists and scholars who attended and presented, can I possibly give the reader who has not been to TRAC or who has not heard of TRAC an idea of its immensity, breadth and impact and even begin to attempt to explain why so many people have been so moved by the experience and look forward to returning to it. I haven't even mentioned the wonderful and more intimate moments between artists, scholars and art lovers...over the buffet breakfasts, luncheons and after hours at the bars or café tables...or the wonderful grand reception and costume gala dinner at the Top of the Harbor Ballroom at Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach Hotel. TRAC must continue. We need this infusion of whole-hearted enthusiasm which we can give to each other every year at The Representational Art Conference. We hope to see you all in 2016!


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