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Neo-Realism's Rising Stars
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Neo-Realism's Rising Stars

Art & Design

Neo-Realism's Rising Stars

Neo-Realism's Rising Stars
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Like many art movements before it, "neo-realism" has a manifesto and its own set of vociferous critics. Karen Michel reports on one of the movement's up-and-coming stars.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Now a story about a kind of counterculture trend in the art world. The slow art movement seeks to overthrow an art establishment that reveres the abstract and conceptual. Artists who call themselves neo-realists or neo-classicists say their work is an antidote to modernism. Reporter Karen Michel has this story about one of the slow art movement's up and coming stars.

KAREN MICHEL: Graydon Parrish is Texan, gay, handsome and recently completed a much talked about painting. The painting hangs in the New Britain, Connecticut Museum of American Art, where Douglas Hyland is the director.

Mr. DOUGLAS HYLAND (Director, New Britain Museum of American Art): We are in front of one of the great masterpieces of American painting of the 21st century, Graydon Parrish's extraordinary 9/11 painting, which is just eight by 18 feet and has 11 of the most powerful figures I've ever seen painted in any painting anywhere.

MICHEL: Graydon Parrish's painting "The Cycle of Terror" refers to 9/11. Douglas Hyland goes so far as to compare it with "Guernica," Picasso's epic painting of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Parrish's immense canvas was five years in the making. In the center, two buff young men wearing only sarongs and blindfolds represent the Trade Towers.

Mr. HYLAND: Caught in the throws of death and agony, and they are about to experience, or are experiencing, the horror of 9/11. So we have the entire range of the innocence of the three children on the left with the airplanes and we never thought that they would be used as weapons of mass destruction.

MICHEL: There are also charred bits of the Constitution, an old man, lots of roses, a misty Statue of Liberty, people in handcuffs - you get the idea. And in case you don't, should you go to the museum, a four-page handout explaining the painting comes with admission.

Mr. JAMES PANERO (Managing Editor, New Criterion): I've got to say, any work of art that requires a four-page explanation to get it is going to leave you pretty cold. And this one left me frozen.

MICHEL: New Criterion art critic and managing editor James Panero is generally a friend of realism, but not this painting.

Mr. PANERO: It is literal if not didactic; it's a machine for illustrating technical skill far more than it is, to me, a moving memorial to 9/11. I mean it's kind of awe-inspiring in its awfulness. Many of the classical realists today are motivated by a return for art for art's sake, to beauty, to myth, by a desire to escape from the ugliness of politics in the marketplace through pure art. And this I applaud.

But in Graydon Parrish, here we have classical realism employed for political ends. When you're work is about the attacks of September 11, your interests are suddenly far from art for art's sake.

MICHEL: Parrish may well disagree. His avowed goal, he says, is to compete with the old masters.

Mr. GRAYDON PARRISH (Artist): A movement for a century.

MICHEL: Parris reads a manifesto concocted and signed at a dinner party in January, 2005.

Mr. PARRISH: Our aim is not to duplicate the art of the past, nor to denigrate other forms of artist expression, but to create new artistic standards hitherto unimagined.

MICHEL: The manifesto refers to the movement as slow art, in reference to an approach that is painterly, requires considerable training and technical skill, and takes time to execute. James Cooper wasn't at the dinner party, though he says he would have signed the manifesto had he been asked. Cooper is the director of cultural studies of the Newington Cropsey Foundation. In the slow art/neo-classicist movement he says that he sees what he misses in most other art post-World War I.

Mr. JAMES COOPER (Newington Cropsey Foundation): Aesthetics, beauty, storytelling, sacred, context, and particularly the human figure.

MICHEL: Though for Cooper, even Graydon Parrish doesn't yet make the cut.

Mr. COOPER: Compared to artists like Raphael, well, there's a way to go yet.

MICHEL: Not that Graydon Parrish is worried about any of this. He'll continue to paint the buff and beautiful, depicting, as he says, the inner beauty, no matter what the subjects are going through. And it's not as if in his 30s he feels so underappreciated that he wishes he'd been born in a different artistic era.

Mr. PARRISH: Because there's a freedom as a classical artist that I don't know if you get being a contemporary artist, because it is a real vanguard, it's a real outside of the norm, it's an under the radar thing. And it's like the people at the bottom of the boat in "Titanic"; they were the ones that got to party. The ones up above were the ones that had to be proper and conform. But I can dance and drink and sing and really enjoy myself.

MICHEL: Except that most of those below decks hit the same iceberg as everyone else, and Parrish too. The art world and the art market are full of icebergs. For NPR News, I'm Karen Michel.

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