The Gowanus Ballroom

4 May 2011

The Gowanus Ballroom brought together installation
art, contemporary sculpture, and realist painting.
Every once in a while, I get to do something that is comes uniquely from the place where I’ve chosen to live—Brooklyn. My studio is in Gowanus, which is an industrial neighborhood along the canal it’s named for. The buildings are almost all commercial, and it’s one of the few remaining pockets of manufacturing in the city. There are metal shops, wood workers, signage companies, stonecutters, scrap yards, even coffee roasters.

Recently, the magical Gowanus Ballroom sprang into existence for a brief firework show of young artists called “Art + Architecture 2011: a diverse and multidisciplinary exhibition of emerging artists.” Each night, a sparkling array of bands, dancers, and performance artists performed, and the space was filled with paintings, sculpture, and installations. I had five oil paintings hanging in the show, along with some other friends of mine in the New York realist circle: Rob Zeller, Kristin Kunc, and Bennett Vadnais.

Our work was a little different than most of the other contemporary art in the show. And this is exactly why the curators were excited about having our oil painting art included. Often it seems that realist painting is segregated into galleries that only show that type of work or the audience that sees it is only interested in realism and representation alone.

Works by Patricia Watwood and Rob Zeller.
The Gowanus Ballroom is a
metalwork shop by day.
On the other hand, some galleries are not remotely interested in having anything vaguely academic (studied, trained) in their stable of artists. But a younger generation of curators and art viewers couldn’t care less about historical arguments on representational painting; they are completely open to anything that interests them. And the up and coming contemporary American artist is interested in artwork that is finely crafted, well designed, figurative, and narrative.

Pink Slip by Kristin Kunc.
The audience for realism may seem like it’s a conservative older generation—but tell that to the dozens of excellent artists under 30 who are just breaking onto the scene! A young generation of art makers is connecting to a young art audience eager to see beautifully made work. The mix of art is wide ranging as audiences enjoy different styles of work and types of expression. Diversity is the modality of our day.

I was happy to have an opportunity to showcase my work to an audience that otherwise might not be aware of the strong resurgence in classically trained painting. So, go out there and evangelize about great realist painting by winning over some young art viewers. As Margaret Mead said, “Do not doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”


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Kisu wrote
on 5 May 2011 9:41 AM

I think this is terrific, and I thank you for sharing it.  I do think that finely crafted, well designed, beautifully made art can be either representational or non-representational.  My own work is representational, I love it, but I've seen a lot of non-representational work that is EXTRAORDINARILY crafted, designed and executed.  Sure, there's non-representational work out there that isn't, but I've just seen some amazing things being done by non-representational artists and I have no idea how they're achieving their exquisite effects.  

sdaluz wrote
on 11 May 2011 7:23 AM

Thanks for the article, Patricia--I have been an admirer of your work for years. I think it's great that traditional realism was showing alongside installations and other "contemporary" work. While I personally respond to excellent representational work--I also deeply appreciate fantastic non-representational work.  The key is the connection with the work, and the personal aesthetic. I personally work both representational and abstractly.  That said, I often find that the work requiring that I plumb the depths of my imagination more challenging than rendering what I see before me.  Both approaches are relevant--and I am glad to see more young people gaining an appreciation for work that actually requires significant artistic skill and vision.