Kloosterboer on TRAC 2018
Kloosterboer on TRAC 2018
A movement is sweeping the art world
The Representational Art Conference of 2018—also known as TRAC2018—was held from the first through the fourth of May in the city of Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. TRAC’s motto ‘A movement is sweeping the art world’ welcomes the dialogue of exciting ideas and new developments in 21st Century representational art. The comprehensive term ‘representational art’ is defined by TRAC as including a wide variety of skill-based work in a broad range of techniques based upon recognizable expressions of reality, which—despite being declared dead and irrelevant by the ‘art police’—is obviously experiencing a slow but steady renaissance. TRAC is one among several important movements and institutions that is currently addressing the neglect of critical appreciation regarding representational art and promoting its quality, significance, and academic standards through its non-doctrinaire events.
Artists, scholars, writers, educators, lecturers, historians, philosophers, critics, museum and gallery professionals, and collectors gathered from all over the world to attend panel discussions, discourses, paper presentations, exhibitions, and demonstrations. Special importance was given to the exchange of ideas regarding the assessment of artistic quality with special focus on the value and reach of skill-based art education. Art schools from around the world were invited with an eye on bringing them together in an international league. One of the many interesting subjects posed at TRAC was regarding the role of the representational artist in the 21st Century and how skill-based art should progress in order to reclaim its relevance in this new era.
Mostly taking place within the WTC Leeuwarden’s conference facilities, the activities often overlapped each other in time which meant attendees had to choose which topics most spoke to them—on several occasions I felt torn between attending separate events, wishing I could be in two places simultaneously. The calendar offered a treasure trove of fascinating topics presented by prominent speakers, distinguished philosophers, and world-famous artists—it is a rarity to encounter so many exceptionally erudite people in one location and it felt as a gift to be able to engage and socialize with them.
Luckily the Dutch weather cooperated by not raining for a change, as not all activities took place indoors. There were outings too, such as a quaint excursion through the canals of Leeuwarden on barges that took us to attend the opening of the Classical Art Exhibition at the Frisian Gallery Zaailand, inaugurated by Peter Trippi, very close to the Fries Museum where an exhibition of M.C. Escher is being held. On the last day we also visited three museums, but more about that later.
As a result of this stirring experience, I felt inspired to write about it—to, in a sense, relive it. The thing is, I cannot possibly do justice within this limited space to adequately describe these four splendid days so I’ve resigned myself to writing a curtailed overview in the hope it will inspire readers to attend the next TRAC. A special thank you goes out to Annelies Meester for her hard work and friendly hospitality during the conference. I ask forgiveness from those whom I neglect to mention by name but who contributed to this conference with their sheer hard work, intelligent insights, powerful dialogs, beautiful art, and warm camaraderie.
From the moment I arrived there was a palpable excitement in the air, probably partly due to the fact that this conference was a safe haven for representational artists who could fully focus on important matters at hand instead of having to defend their stylistic choices. TRAC2018 created a sense of community, identification, and inclusion, which is not only emotionally important but also highly energizing for realist artists like me who spent most of their time working behind closed doors.
As expected within group dynamics, there were clashes of egos and, more importantly, collisions between contrasting ideas which in turn flamed intense debates that made participation so much more stimulating and thought-provoking. Obviously, there wouldn’t be a need to get together if everybody happily agreed on everything from the start. Mostly there was abundant openness and willingness to understand each other and put new ideas into action. This, to me, is what TRAC is about. But don’t take my word for it—I’ll let others speak about their TRAC2018 experience.
Michael Pearce, co-founder of TRAC and passionate driving force behind this movement told me, “TRAC is fantastic—it’s where you will find other people who understand why you’re so excited about moving paint and clay into beautiful forms. It’s a community. It’s challenging, exciting, and wonderful. I love meeting new people who bring new ideas to the conversation about how representational art is changing 21st Century culture.” Pearce is especially pleased with the results of this year’s summit, stating, “There was a real power in the conference—a magical sense of transformation. We’ve turned a corner. There is a new sense of freedom awakening in our art-making.”
Corinna Wagner, Associate Professor in Literatures and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter as well as a Photographer, gave a fascinating keynote lecture entitled ‘The Anatomical Eye: Realism and the Body in Visual Culture’ accompanied by a mesmerizing slideshow. Wagner enthusiastically described her experience, saying, “I have attended many, many conferences and symposia and meetings, and never have I encountered such a sense of community and collegiality as I did at TRAC 2018. The wonderful thing about it is that everyone shares a love of representational art, but there is much debate and healthy disagreement about everything else including what exactly that is. We debated about the differences between figurative art and modern (and/or postmodern) art, and the philosophies behind them. We disagreed, too, on the histories and new directions of realism. But those debates were wonderfully exciting and lively and also filled with laughter and negotiation.”
Renowned philosopher Stephen Hicks gave a keynote lecture in which he spoke about the negative language of postmodern writers. Regarding his experience at TRAC he said, “I found especially rewarding my interactions with philosophical artists such as Odd Nerdrum and Michael Pearce and the others who joined us in impromptu round table discussions—and, of course, the friendly arguments over drinks late at night.”
Artist Virgil Elliott said, “I was very happy to be part of TRAC 2018 and to have two of my paintings accepted for exhibit there and at the Frisian Gallery afterward. My talk on Vermeer was well attended and apparently well received despite being delivered while I was still in a state of jet lag. I now have many new friends in The Netherlands and elsewhere as a result of my participation in this very well-planned event. I tip my hat in appreciation to the organizers, Tom Hageman, Peter Trippi, Annelies Meester, Michael Pearce, and to California Lutheran University for providing the funding. Thank you all for a wonderful experience!”
Artist Erica Hyatt said, “I was struck by how specific talks really compelled me to think much more about our responsibilities as representational artists in a larger cultural and societal context. I was surprised by how academic the conference was and found the co-mingling of scholars and artists creates a sort of incubator for inspiration and learning. These few days together with artists and academics from around the globe acted as a catalyst; exposing me to new ideas that have me thinking about my own artwork in a much broader societal context. Not to mention I had an absolute blast, reconnected with old friends, met in person with people I’d only corresponded with, and have formed new friendships. I was disabused of old notions, lost respect for one of my heroes, but found more real and substantive replacements.”
Curator and Fine Art Consultant Joseph Bravo has made it his life’s pursuit to share the intrinsic value and illuminating power of fine art. After burning the midnight oil with him engaged in a stimulating and enlightening conversation about world politics and the meaning of life as an artist, he told me, “TRAC always presents opportunities for artists to share ideas, learn new techniques or approaches to their own practices and to make new friends that will be with them for life. This conference in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, was no exception. As always, I met some extraordinarily talented and brilliant people, made important professional contacts and initiated some exciting projects that will be coming to fruition in the next few years. TRAC provides its attendees with the confidence and comradeship to realize their artistic career goals and achieve their creative potential.”
Elina Cerla, a young artist who studied Philosophy and Cultural Theory and who impressed us with her articulate viewpoints, gave a talk about the construction of figurative language through form, content, and process. She described her experience as, “The week at TRAC has been such a positive, affirmative, and enriching experience. I feel like I found myself in a space for ideas related to painting where suddenly my passions as a painter and researcher fell into place—I felt at home. I am not a representational painter in the narrow sense often associated with realism so I tend to fall between the cracks. But at TRAC I felt that everyone there was critically engaged with either their own work or the ideas that underpin painting, and often both. It was wonderful to be surrounded by such a large group of passionate and deeply knowledgeable painters. It isn’t at all a clan but a community, one which is open to questioning limits and constant redefinition. For me this is at the core of painting as a manifestation of human existence. I came home with such a renewed sense of energy and desire to get back to my brushes but never too far from the lure of books. It was great to have been able to present my paper within this context and I hope that my way of approaching painting might have triggered some new discussions to be developed and continued in the future.”
Artist Conor Walton, whose painting The Key recently won 1st Prize at the prestigious ModPortrait Competition in Spain, which will join the permanent collection of the European Museum of Modern Art (MEAM) in Barcelona, gave a live demonstration painting a portrait of Joseph Bravo in two sessions. Afterwards Walton told me, “There’s a unique conversation going on at TRAC about the nature and future of contemporary figurative art. Guided by the generous spirit of its founder, Michael Pearce, it is wonderfully open to diverse viewpoints: all voices are welcome and everyone gets a hearing. And there is so much passion! Sharing the company of people who care so deeply about what they do creates an infectious enthusiasm. I think everyone comes away stimulated, energized, and having forged the sort of friendships that last a lifetime.”
Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur, dynamic participant in conversations, panel discussions, and a powerhouse full of ideas for future projects, told me, “As helpful as Facebook and other social media can be, there is nothing quite like being gathered, under one roof, to make a field of colleagues feel truly together. I departed from Leeuwarden feeling stimulated and connected with kindred spirits known for years and also newly met, just as I have from two previous editions of TRAC. I am already looking forward to the next go-round!”
Artist Joke Frima, who won third place with her beautiful painting Rainy Day Lotus at the TRAC exhibition, gave an impassioned lecture about the life and teaching methods of Nerina Simi with whom she studied in Florence. She said, “TRAC2018 was an overwhelming experience. A huge number of lectures and insights were released upon us; about political influences on art, Dewy, Roosevelt, Hitler, and Stalin. Surprisingly, Nixon was one of the greatest promoters of modern art, pumping enormous amounts of money into modernism. Kant and Hegel were frequently mentioned. Discussions about the truth in beauty, the lack of theory for realism, Duchamp’s conceptual art, artificial intelligence, the so-called crocodile pond created by the art police… It was dizzying and very inspiring. I now joyfully return to the silence of my studio.”
Both Frima and I were impressed by the eloquent dissertation given by Mandy Theis Hallenius about her proactive efforts to support and disseminate skill-based art learning to new generations, and the powerful treatise by Jennifer Sendall on how to strengthen the case for representational art as a tool to construct a more creative, ecological, and mutually beneficial society.
José Manuel Infiesta, Director of the European Museum of Modern Art or MEAM in Barcelona, Spain, participated in an interesting panel discussion together with Michael Pearce, Jorge Egea, Peter Trippi, and Virgil Elliott. They spoke about the assessment of art, the values and criteria of quality, art criticism, promotion, and ways to restore the public respect for skill-based art. Infiesta is an influential advocate for figurative artists, distinguishing his museum from all others by exclusively collecting figurative work by living realist artists.
In regards to the conference he said, “TRAC intends, in some way, to give a theoretical background, or more intellectual consistency, to the growing trend in the contemporary art world to recover tradition, to discard the ravages generated by the abstraction of the 20th century, in order to recapture a figurative model for artistic expression. Thus, along with various workshops by established artists, such as Conor Walton, we attended highly interesting talks by painters such as Odd Nerdrum. We also debated on the direction of 21st century figurative art. It was, without doubt, an exciting opportunity to compare points of view, encounter new ones, and think about future avenues.” Infiesta added, “And, finally, it is necessary to note the highly interesting contrast in points of view and sensibilities between Americans and Europeans—two continents with similar levels of education and culture but with sufficiently differentiated artistic traditions to generate completely unique sensitivities, that in turn provoke very different perspectives on the future of contemporary art.”
Jorge Egea, Sculptor and Researcher, presented a paper about the European Museum of Modern Art (MEAM). Having previously attended TRAC2015 in Ventura, California, he knows the importance of meeting and exchanging ideas with fellow artists face to face, beyond social media. He stated, “The movement initiated by Michael Pearce and the coming together of artists, academics, curators, and art critics has come to fill a gap for contemporary figurative art. TRAC is a space where we can reflect on and create new theories based on the work of 21st century representational artists. Here we theorize on the making of figurative art and formulate philosophical-aesthetic ideas that sustain the meaning of representation. This allows us to see different perspectives or approaches to a phenomenon common to all participants.”
Enthusiastically he added, “If the first success of TRAC is to address the broad field of representational art, its second success is the great connection established among the participants through social networks, creating a community. My experience in TRAC2018 has been very positive since it has allowed me to strengthen personal ties with some of the people I met three years ago and meeting new people working in the same field here in Europe. The importance lies in the tangible knowledge through which new projects, new collaborations, and new ideas for future TRAC editions arise.”
I want to shine a spotlight on artist Gezien van de Riet who kindly invited me to attend TRAC2018 and whose ready smile and quick mind light up any room. After attending two previous TRAC summits and seeing the significance of an international movement reinforcing and enriching contemporary classical art, van de Riet presented the idea of having this conference in Europe to Tom Hageman, artist and founder of the Classical Academy of Fine Art in Groningen. They were instrumental in bringing TRAC to the city of Leeuwarden, the European Cultural Capital of 2018.
Hageman’s passion lies in the worldwide revival of classical, figurative, skill-based art education. He states, “The final goal is the formation of an International League of Fine Art Schools or ILFAS, starting as a digital platform to promote skill-based art training through summer schools, master classes, and post graduate education. We will be working closely together with the American Da Vinci Initiative, which operates successfully at secondary schools across the United States.”
Gezien van de Riet held a joint keynote lecture with artist, author, and the world’s foremost authority on Rembrandt, Ernst van de Wetering. In their presentation, van de Riet passionately contested the persistent notion that naturalistic realism is nothing but unimaginative imitation, after which van de Wetering underpinned the aforementioned thesis by presenting Rembrandt as a rational artist who made clear choices in regards to his painting methods, style, and use of light and shadow.
Asking van de Riet about her TRAC2018 experience, she said, “Exquisite realist art is created worldwide but it generally doesn’t enjoy the attention and respect from the media nor art institutions—this has to change. As one of the international platforms for artists and art lovers, TRAC is committed to bring about change. It’s a platform where we exchange thoughts and ideas about, for example, how to connect with younger generations, the usefulness of criticizing the art establishment, the strengthening and promotion of realist art, and finding a balance regarding all of these important matters.”
She continues enthusiastically, “TRAC is an inspiring platform where top artists give demonstrations, where cooperation arises, experiences are exchanged and friendships are established. And all that with a heartwarming enthusiasm. Every TRAC has a snowball effect. Sometimes it just takes one person to push a new idea into concrete actions to start the ball rolling. I’m so happy and proud this year’s TRAC was held in the Netherlands! TRAC—for the first time in Europe!”
We began the final day of TRAC with an engrossing keynote lecture by Joseph Bravo, which turned into an active and passionate group discussion thanks to his talent for including others in the conversation. Unfortunately, the discussion had to end after an hour because we needed to catch a bus tour that took us to three museum exhibitions. We visited the exhibition Romanticism in the North at the Groninger Museum, and then went on to see American Dream—a delightful survey of American realism and photorealism for which Peter Trippi had been advisor to the curators—jointly held at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands and Kunsthalle Emden in Germany.
That evening TRAC2018 ended with a closing dinner hosted by the Municipality of Leeuwarden at the WTC Hotel where tables filled with animated attendees shared their thoughts and impression of four wonderful days, exchanging hugs and contact information, and promising to stay in touch. Dinner was briefly interrupted by observing two minutes of silence held annually on May 4th for the Dutch Remembrance of the Dead (Dodenherdenking) honoring our war casualties.
TRAC2018 in a nutshell
Real life friendships made, projects planned, ideas exchanged, minds fed, brains stretched, mental and creative batteries recharged—it was truly a meaningful, energizing, and inspiring experience. I strongly urge all artists to attend the next TRAC—whenever and wherever it may take place in future. See you there!
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Written by Lorena Kloosterboer, realist artist & author © Antwerp, May 2018
TRAC2018 was sponsored by California Lutheran University President Dr. Chris Kimball's Arts Initiative, the Art Renewal Center, the Classical Academy of Fine Arts, the City of Leeuwarden, Classical Salon, Grafisch Atelier Friesland, The Fine Art Collective, Bekking & Blitz Publishers, Achmea Centrale Dienstverlening, and Stichting Beringer Hazewinkel.