Click image below for more "still life"

Click image below for more "still life"
Francis Cunningham "Three Baldwin Apples" (1964) Oil on linen 5'' x 16''

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Video section is back! Francis Cunningham about his Century Masters show.

Francis Cunningham's Century Masters show ended yesterday. With more free time back at the studio, we've just completed and are now sharing a video made in the gallery. We think it complements the earlier video by Jon Peters, showing the work and the space while also letting artist speak. 

An accompanying essay by John Walsh, former director of the Getty Museum:


In this exhibition, Francis Cunningham shows some of his well-known landscapes and still lifes—each laid out broadly but exactly, and subtly painted—and also a half-dozen seldom-seen life size nudes, all revealing un-idealized physiques and complex states of mind.  The exhibition invites us to slow down, look with care, and let the paintings reveal themselves. 

Cunningham has said that these nudes are  “both anatomically functional and abstracted from particular human beings.... Compared with the nudes of the Hellenized past, a past that ended with Renoir, they are confrontationally present...  They are anatomically functional, meaning they can get up, leave the canvas, and enter the room with you. They are certainly not in a style one finds in the Museum of Modern Art. Yet when seen alongside the old, they appear modern and contemporary.”  

He goes on: “I look at the forthcoming Century show with more than a little trepidation.  It isn’t that viewers won’t see or don’t want to see—it is more that we are conditioned to see only what we expect to see.  How to get past this state of affairs?”  

Trepidation is not what you imagine Cunningham feels very often.  He is a sturdy ex-Marine, straightforward, blunt, and, when his well-considered beliefs are challenged, fierce.  (He is also a clear, forceful writer about his own motives and methods, so I quote him copiously in this essay; some passages are from his forthcoming book, Unframing the Nude.)  Cunningham says he wants it understood that “by integrating the nudes with landscape and still life, one may see them as part of a complete and consistent viewpoint, the product of a lifetime of work, not tangential but in fact at the center of the enterprise.”

His enterprise began at the Art Students League.  Cunningham arrived there in 1955 after graduating from Harvard (where he wrote an honors thesis on Van Dyck’s English period) and serving for two years in the Marine Corps.  The League’s alumni included the major figures of the Abstract Expressionist generation--Pollock, Rothko, Newman, and Guston among others—who were then reaching the peak of their fame, as well as Cunningham’s near contemporaries Rauschenberg, Twombly, and Smithson, whose paths diverged dramatically from his own.  Cunningham studied drawing and painting with Edwin Dickinson and anatomy with Robert Beverly Hale.  Dickinson’s ideas had a lasting influence on him, reinforcing his commitment to unprejudiced vision and supplying the tools he needed.

“Dickinson’s teaching vocabulary was perceptual,” Cunningham writes.  “With us, he stayed clear of all subjects—perspective, anatomy, composition theory, color theory and the like—that might function as ‘preconceptions’ and distract us from what the eye sees.  He wanted us to record in paint or charcoal the shapes of ‘color-value’ we saw in nature from our ‘station-point,’ without interference from conceptual theories or concern for the ‘what-it-is’ of the objects or shapes before us.  To a painter, a mud puddle is as interesting and demanding as a human figure; to paint either requires the same detachment from expectations such as ‘the human being is “beautiful” and the mud puddle “ugly.”’

Dickinson’s working methods came from his teacher Charles Hawthorne, a landscape and portrait painter, who based them in part on his experience at the Art Students League under the brilliant turn-of-the-century painter William Merritt Chase. Hawthorne went beyond Chase and developed a method of observing and putting down broad patches of color and tone that he called “color spots.”  The idea was to try to ignore what they represented and simply see what they presented to the eye when juxtaposed with other color patches.  Dickinson taught Cunningham that once he had observed the main elements of a composition, he might paint rapidly and decisively.  He advocated an exercise he called “premier coup,” making a completed painting fit for a museum wall in a single session, usually of two to four hours, not belaboring or correcting but trying for a maximum of freshness. Dickinson’s methods became those of Cunningham, who, having become a teacher himself, transmitted them during the 1960s, 70s and 80s to several generations of younger artists.

His lifelong application of these principles of composition and color are readily apparent in his landscapes and still lifes.  He looks for large forms and renders them in broad areas of mostly modulated tone and quiet color.  There are no attention-getting brushstrokes, no show of virtuosity.  Despite the convincing illusion of deep space he creates, a strong abstract pattern underlies his flat surfaces.
Cunningham has painted countless landscapes during the past fifty years, and a good many still lifes, that have been bought by collectors and museums.  Another artist would have been satisfied.  But the urge to paint the nude has never left him.  In the early 1970s, while teaching figure drawing and painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, he took up the challenge of painting life size figures.  “Like an unexpected shaft of light, the naked human being became the subject of the nude. I saw it happen. The jockstraps came off the male models. That was the physical manifestation of a changing outlook, and one that happened everywhere and seemingly all at once... With the removal of the cover-up, the models, women as well as men, ceased being studio props. The models now could be seen for who they were, human beings existing in their own right, needing no excuse or purpose other than being themselves in order to be drawn, painted or sculpted. That was a revolution in attitude.”  
He and his collaborator Barney Hodes accepted the models as they were.  “Our concept of the nude didn't celebrate youth over age or ‘beauty’ over imperfection. We weren't looking for a prototype because we knew firsthand that no two people are alike. The idealized view of the body that governs advertising and the fashion industry, while useful for commercial purposes, for us seemed debased...The idea embodied in the nude we undertook is that the individual human being is inherently beautiful in never-ending and surprising ways.” 
Cunningham came to believe that the more his viewers can imagine these figures free to move about, the more credible they will be.  He calls them “anatomically functional.”  By this he means that the model is not seen and proportioned from a single vantage point, and thus fixed in place.  Instead, they appear “capable of moving out of their painted position on the canvas to take another pose,” which requires the artist to observe the model from many different points of view, as though from a great distance, thereby removing the optical distortion produced in a single close-up view.  

I spent time recently in Cunningham’s studio looking at Reaching, (Peter).  We gave it what I think of as a Kandinsky test.  (Kandinsky wrote that when he was a young landscape painter, he came upon one of his own pictures on its side in the studio and didn’t recognize it—he could see only forms and colors, a revelation.)  We stood his nude on each of its four sides.  I saw a great deal that I had missed when it was conventionally upright picture of a nude man in an unusual pose.  I saw strong abstract patterns in his back, delicate shapes in the shadows behind one knee, subtle patterns even on the sole of a foot.  These are the product of the painter’s curious, patient observation of “wondrous and unexpected shapes,” and their “occasional ‘marriages’ with adjacent shapes within the body or background.”  He reveals his motives when he writes, “these designs within the body open up the range of human emotion—not a symbolic ‘mad, sad, glad’—but all the myriad, infinite shades of emotion that the range and variety of individuals can produce.”  

It is not just emotion that Cunningham’s models express.  They display their youth by their taut physiques and their infirm old age by their sagging shapes, and they invite us to speculate on what their bodies may reveal about their life histories (which in every case Cunningham knows thoroughly).  In a few instances his vividly particular models embody saints, and even Christ.  His world-weary Christ ascending from limbo, he says, was Tom Johnson, now dead. The figure is “in the process of returning from hell... emaciated; he has added thirty years to his thirty-three in his descent to hell.”
Cunningham asks his viewers to confront their own mortality in these fellow human beings.  What’s more, he invites viewers to ponder our differences. “Why the nude today?” he asks.  “Stripped of every mark of rank and distinction, the nude presents us with our shared humanity. Something so simple as this can direct us past differences of a kind that lead to prejudice, injustice, and violence. As an embodiment of our shared humanity, the painted or sculpted nude carries us beyond the parochial differences of class, creed, and nation. I think of it as art for life's sake.”  
With conviction and hope, Cunningham has carried forward several long traditions in painting.  His work continues not only the Renaissance humanistic practice of depicting the natural world and living men and women, but also the modern practice of discerning abstract forms in those things and letting those forms determine how they are painted. 

Among his hopes has been that his figure painting might prompt young artists, if not inspire them, to turn to the human being as a subject.  Despite a brief vogue for figural painting in the 1980s, the nude has remained out of fashion.  Now that critical consensus on what constitutes artistic progress has dissolved, however, and more pluralistic views about artistic merit prevail, Cunningham’s paintings may gain an audience of people, including artists, who are willing to look patiently, attentively, with open minds, to discern beauty in unexpected places.   

                                                                       John Walsh

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Short documentary about Francis Cunningham by Jon Peters

Last week we posted a video by Jon Peters about my country barn studio, today we have more to share from the same trip. Please comment and share.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On my Massachusetts barn / art studio, by Jon Peters.

Few weeks ago Jon Peters and I went to my Berkshires studio to shoot material for his YouTube series. Here is one video result of that trip.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Next Best Thing

Francis Cunningham's Masters Exhibit at the Century Association - Video

If you are not able to get to New York City by November 20, to see the Exhibition in person fear not, we have for you the next best thing. 

Please enjoy this video presentation of the Exhibit. 

Click to Virtually Visit the Exhibition

Monday, September 30, 2013

Masters Exhibition and Opening Reception

The Masters Exhibition at the Century Association is currently ongoing and includes 23 original works of art and can be seen from October 2 through November 20, 2013.  

The Century Association is located at  7 West 43rd St,  NYC.

If you wish to view exhibition, see the address above and request to see the Francis Cunningham exhibition.  Hours are Monday thru Saturday, 9-3pm.

The opening reception was held on Wednesday, October 2 from 5pm - 7pm.

Francis is also be debuting his new book "Unframing the Nude". A labor of love that was 10 years in the making. 

From inside the front cover, "Francis Cunningham caught the attention of Ben Shahn at a Boston Museum summer school session in 1947, Cunningham was sixteen. Now, after a lifetime of painting, teaching and co-founding two New York art schools, he summarizes his experience in "Unframing the Nude". This book is about ways of seeing and the craft of painting; its focus is on transforming the naked human body into a nude.

"Unframing the Nude" is an incisive and personal account of a lifetime's work, an ardent sharing of accumulated knowledge that speaks to artists and viewers alike."

"With conviction and hope Cunningham has carried forward several long traditions in painting. His work continues not only the Renaissance humanistic practice of depicting the natural world and living men and women, but also the modern practice of discovering abstract forms in those things and letting those forms determine how they are painted"

- John Walsh, Director Emeritus, J. Paul Getty Museum

"Unframing the Nude" is available for pre-order. Please email for details and to reserve your copy today.

 We hope to see you at the Opening!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Behind the Scenes with a Pair of Paintings
Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter)

This week we will begin exploring a pair of paintings, Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter).  As we have already explored the behind the scenes of Reaching (Regina), this week we will begin with Reaching (Peter). In following weeks we will take an in depth look at the role anatomy plays when painting figures.

They were not planned to be a pair of paintings.  Francis recalls being in his studio working on Reaching (Regina). When Peter saw the nearly finished painting, he laid down on the floor and took the pose you see in the painting. He took this pose as a natural response to the pose Regina was in.

Knowing the background on Peter may help to understand the acting out of his response to the painting as contrasted to a verbal description of what he was experiencing when he saw the painting.  In his younger years, Peter was an athlete. When he was in his early thirties he had a stroke that left him almost entirely paralyzed on his right side. If you look closely at his right arm and his right leg in the painting , you can see that they are not quite normal.  What you are seeing is not a mistake in the painting, it is capturing the truth of a particular model.

The stroke also affected Peter’s speech. He could no longer talk in words, he could only make guttural sounds to indicate yes, no or maybe.  These sounds are how Francis and Peter communicated. Peter is a very intelligent man and during his posing Francis conversed with him on a variety of subjects from philosophy to politics, literature and other subjects.  Francis continues to be amazed at the depth of the conversations they had with Peter’s limited means of conversation.  There was, in fact, much he could say with the expressions of his face and body and the inflections he would impose on the sounds he made to express his meaning.

One of the most important observations about Peter is that he is, like Regina, an anatomically functional nude.  Both figures appear able to get up and change pose. They are not locked into their position on the canvas. In general and in most paintings you will find that the figure is fixed in its position by gravity. For example, this may happen because the painting makes clear that the body is standing on the floor or seated in a chair or that an arm rests on a piece of furniture.

In Reaching (Regina), the figure is seen from above and is more directly lying flat on the floor than is Peter in his pose. He is in an unusual position. He is not positioned fully on his side - there are rotations. There is no definitive point where the disposition of his pose has been fixed. Taking this into consideration, you can turn the painting upside down or on   it’s edges and make an entirely different observation about what the subject is doing within the painting.

When John Walsh, former Director of the Getty Museum, first viewed Reaching (Peter), Francis turned the painting on it’s four  edges. Walsh was amazed at the impact he felt seeing the figure in a different position. 

When the painting was turned 90 degrees so  Peter's back faced up, Walsh remarked, "he’s just flying through the space!"  In this position you are no longer viewing a man lying on the ground, partially crippled, reaching out. Walsh remarked how his attention was drawn to the designs and shapes that occur at the back of Peter's right knee and on his left leg, to the shapes on the sole of the foot.

"How often do you stop to look at the sole of a foot?", Walsh asked. The anatomically functional nude is able to accomplish these different things but a painting or sculpture is of course static, so viewers will have to use their imagination empathetically to identify with the figure's immediate presence and with its ability to change positions.

With most of Francis’ paintings the figure is to some degree anchored by the nature of the pose. If a figure standing on the floor is turned upside down there still will be this figure standing on the floor, but seen upside down. With Peter, as you turn the painting, you will notice how completely he changes.  You see him first in his reaching pose and then as you turn him, so his back is facing up, he seems to be flying and what is a purple drapery on the floor becomes a cape. Turning the painting once again, he seems to be plunging with velocity downward.

The notion of asking the viewer to empathetically allow an anatomically functional figure to get up and move around was not a part of the requirements for a nude figure in classical art. The Greeks who could make the gods take human form were not concerned with this concept nor was it a concern in the Renaissance, where figures are designed to take their place on the canvas in an idealized form.

Francis regards these two paintings of Reaching (Regina) and Reaching (Peter) as expressions of what the anatomically functional bodies of a particular man and woman can accomplish today.  They bring an immediacy to the body and the human figure because of their potential for changing position and so Francis suggests they are not separated and apart from our space. They are in the room with you. While the viewer always seeks to bring a painted or sculpted figure to life, this particular kind of presence would not happen if these figures were not anatomically functional.

Next week, we will begin to delve into anatomy and the role it plays when painting figures. 

Come meet Francis in person at the Masters Exhibition Opening Reception, at the Century Association on October 2, from 5pm - 7pm. Just email to receive a personal invitation from Francis.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield 

Oil on Canvas, 29“x40“, Painted in 2003

Available at the Laurel Tracy Gallery

This painting was painted during the summer of 2003. Francis prefers to paint larger landscapes in the summer when he has more time and light available. His Premier Coup works of art which are painted in Sheffield, smaller and always done in one sitting, are painted mainly in the fall, winter and spring.

Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield is a view from the pasture behind his summer studio, which is located in the barn seen in the painting. The painting includes a variety of trees, from the apple tree in the foreground to cedar, pine and walnut. In the middleground, you can see the barn where Francis lives and paints in the summertime.

Francis first calls attention to the colors of the pasture and trees and notes that they are not simply a selection of shades of green. There is a variety of color created through color-spots, for instance, the pale greens of the apple trees and the rust colors in the cedar trees. With the color-spot way of painting, here everything is taken by sight from nature.

In this painting, we have dual aspects of painting - work done from sight and also geometry.  In considering the role geometry plays within a work of art, we will look at the Golden Section Ratio.  The Golden Ratio is defined as the division of a line so that the ratio of the smaller segment to the larger segment is the same as the ratio of the larger segment to the sum of two segments. The Golden Ratio was known in the Renaissance period as The Divine Proportion. 

In this painting, Back Pasture with Barn in Sheffield, the dark trunk of the apple tree in the foreground of the painting divides the painting into a short section on the left and a longer section to the right hand edge of the canvas. This division of the width of the canvas is in the Golden Ratio. The same ratio occurs between the dark trunk of the foreground apple tree and the light trunk of the first cedar tree to the right, and that cedar’s trunk to the right edge of the canvas. The Golden Ratio can also be seen in such smaller details of the painting as the placing of fence posts and the trunks of other trees. 

The use of the Golden Section organizes harmonically the placing of shapes on the flat surface of the canvas but the picture also communicates sensations of depth and space. Viewers can picture themselves at the left of the painting walking through the orchard, through the fencing and out past pastures towards Canaan Mountain in the distance. Such sensations cannot be accomplished by a photograph which unselectively takes in everything. The photograph cannot create the guideposts necessary to communicate sensations of depth.

Francis states that you are not viewing an illusion of depth so much as you are experiencing sensations of depth. Representation is a tool used to create sensations of depth, space, movement and 3 dimensional form. These are psycho-physical sensations. They are ideated, not actual. As an example, when viewing this painting you can feel the warmth of the sun on the trees even though you are not actually feeling it.

To experience such sensations, you must be in front of the painting and become part of it. In allowing time to absorb all of the elements you will also come to see and respond to the proportional relationships. You do not need to know the mathematics to see these harmonic proportional relationships in the painting. 

Golden Ratio proportions are present around us. They can be found in nature and sometimes in man-made structures. You can see them in the proportions in the growth patterns of plants and in the spiral shapes of shells and pine cones (see the Fibonacci Series). Francis uses the Golden Ratio in many of his landscapes and still lifes but not in the nude or clothed figures, in which he is concerned with the individuality of the human body.

As an artist, Francis may spend a hundred 3 hour sessions, creating a single painting. A true appreciation of what is involved in a work of art cannot be had by someone viewing it for only a few seconds. Francis notes that when a painting hangs in a persons home and they live with it and contemplate it, they develop a relationship with the subject in a way that can never be accomplished by walking past a painting hanging in a museum or art gallery.  The appreciation of art takes time. You need time to engage in it and become a part of it.

You can see 23 Francis Cunningham originals at the Century Masters Exhibition October 2 - November 20 at the Century Association in New York.

Please email if you would like an invitation to the Opening Reception October 2, 5pm-7pm.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Harvest Tools

Harvest Tools is oil on canvas and was painted in 1973 (60"x44").

These tools were owned by Floyd Woodbeck who, as you may remember, was the subject painting of the first blog post in this Behind the Scenes series.  They and most of his tools were destroyed in a fire when his cabin burned down.

When dancer/choreographer Rudy Perez saw this painting he said it reminded him of Martha Graham. As has been said, Graham is to modern dance as Picasso is to modern painting and Stravinsky to music. Perez was responding to the energy, rhythm and simplicity of the design - a paring down to essentials.

This arrangement of tools includes a scythe with a cradle, a two-pronged fork and a flail for threshing. These are the three main tools which would have been used to harvest wheat in an earlier day. *The cradle was used to gather the straw as it is cut and to deposit it in a swath. At the end of the cutting stroke, the cradle is tilted to drop the straw in a pile. A benefit of using the cradle is that it did not require stooping. Also, substantially more grain could be cut in a day with the cradle.The two-pronged fork was used to pick up and move the straw and the flail, which is made of two sticks connected with a chain link, was used to strike a pile of grain, separating the wheat from the chaff. This was known as threshing. These tools were used by farmers well into the 1920s, when the age of machinery was ushered in. Small farms continued to use these tools.

When Francis first came to Sheffield, Massachusetts in the early 1960s, he would go with Floyd to various secondhand stores where you could find boxes of tools, once so important to the livelihood of the local farmers, which were being sold for only a couple of dollars. For the most part no one knew what they were for but Floyd had worked with many of them on his father's farm.

The craftsmanship and simplicity of the tools tells a story from another time, back when farmers built their barns and fashioned the handles of the tools they used by hand. They knew the best woods to use. For example, ash was preferred for an axe handle because of its springy quality. If they would have used a brittle wood such as hickory, the handles would have snapped. Local blacksmiths would forge the blades.

Francis has an appreciation for the beauty found in the simplicity of these early tools. They were made to work perfectly for the task at hand.  They were not made to be beautiful. These qualities of simplicity and truth were embodied by the Shakers, a Christian community founded by Mother Ann Lee, a Quaker, in Watervliet, New York in 1774. There was an important Shaker community in Hancock, just west of Pittsfield where Francis grew up.

By the 1960s, the Shakers had disappeared from Hancock and also from their center in nearby Mount Lebanon. However, their ability to go to the essentials of a task and craft a tool or object to fulfill the task lives on today in the buildings, tools, furniture and other household items in the present Hancock Shaker Village. As Francis puts it, "They got rid of the ornamentation and went for truth instead of beauty or simply mercenary gain. In their practicality, they created something we see as beautiful - as Thomas Merton said, "Made with God in mind."

As for the painting, Harvest Tools, the appearance of these 3 tools gives the viewer a chance to engage with them and create one's own story. Francis says, "I can give you clues, but it is the viewer who responds. That's what matters. This brings the viewer into the painting and the viewer becomes a part of the art."

Of particular note are all of the different kinds of angles and shapes. Look for the triangles and the arcs. There is a balance in this painting between the concrete and the abstract. Another interesting point is the wood of the hemlock floor. This painting was painted in the same space as the Floyd Woodbeck painting. However, in that painting, you will notice that the floor is a solid color without the boards outlined or the grain of the wood included. Francis has painted several paintings in this same space and in each painting the floor is approached differently. He allows the painting to tell him what it wants to be. The same can be said about knowing when a painting is finished. Francis states, "I know when the painting is finished when I can live its life. I give it as much time as it needs until it is right. You cannot force or dictate when a work of art is done, you have to let it speak to you in it's own time. I believe this caring is like the Shakers, who have been a great inspiration to me."


You can see Harvest Tools and 22 other Francis Cunningham originals at the Century Masters Exhibition October 2 - November 20 at the Century Association in New York.

Please email if you would like an invitation to the Opening Reception October 2, 5pm-7pm.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Behind the Scenes of Reaching (Regina)

Reaching (Regina) was originally painted in 1993, with changes made in 1996.  It is an oil on canvas painting, 72" x 48".

Regina began her modeling career after a car accident ended her professional dancing career. She was a model at the Parsons School of Design in New York, and first posed for Francis at the Century in 1993. Over time, Regina became close friends to Francis and his wife, Kitty.  She also became his studio assistant and posed for six paintings from 1993 through 2007. Today, she lives on the west coast with an occasional visit to New York.

In first viewing this life size painting, Reaching (Regina), I was struck by the interesting pose and asked Francis how he decided on this particular pose. He replied, "Some artists prefer to dictate to their model the exact pose and expression to hold for a particular painting.  However, I consider the pose to be a cooperative venture between my model and myself."  Francis prefers the models to express who they are through their pose and to be comfortable with their body in the pose. In Reaching (Regina), you can see the remnants of Regina's classical dance training expressed in the position of her arms and hands. It's almost as if she were dancing in her dreams. 

As previously discussed in last week's post on the painting of Floyd Woodbeck, an artist's eye takes in exactly what it sees. Uncorrected, you will have a painting that includes optical distortions. In order to have an anatomically functional figure, one must make corrections to what the eye is seeing, taking into consideration the relative proportions of the body parts in relation to the pose.  In Floyd's case, the feet being closer to the viewer than hands or head, the feet had to be made smaller than they appeared in order to be proportional to the rest of the body.

In the case of Reaching (Regina), the position of the body placed on a diagonal into space compounds the corrections needed to relate all of the body parts proportionally to each other. You will notice also that the spine and shoulders appear in an upward lift. There are subtle rotations within the body. The body appears to be on a path which has been created by the painter with the shapes in the back leading to her feet and forward to her arm reaching out. This gives the appearance that she is coming from somewhere and by reaching out, also going somewhere.

In close relation to allowing the model to choose the pose, Francis also asks the viewer of the painting to create his or her own story about the painting. This invites the viewer to become part of the art. An example of this can be found in a story Francis relayed to me. Friends had one of his nudes of Regina hanging in their home for a month. At the end of the month, the wife reported that she had fallen in love with the subject. It takes time to observe a painting. Slowly, the naked subject in the painting became a deeply appreciated nude.

Francis notes that people today are not used to looking at painted nudes and can be put off by such particularity. We have been conditioned to look for the idealized body, free of defects and imperfections, and that leaves out 99% of us. Why must we conform to Hollywood or fashion to appreciate our bodies? Anything less than idealized form tends to be dismissed as inferior. Francis has spent his career studying the human figure anatomically, skeletal and muscular structure, form, function and movement. He explains that just as there are slow and fast movements in music it is the same for art. There is far more to the human figure than just its outward forms alone. In order to depict the human figure, you need to understand its construction and workings down to the bone.

We have moved far from the understanding that Michelangelo and the Renaissance had of how the body moves and what it means in terms of artistic expression. Francis would like to encourage artists interested in drawing and painting the human figure to "do the work". Study the anatomy of movement, learn the body well enough to draw the figure in any position from out of your head and also to learn the techniques necessary to paint an anatomically functional figure, clothed or unclothed. For all painters, there is an emotional drive that lies behind study and technique. Here it is a love of the human being in its individual particularities and expressive potential.

You can view Regina Reaching along with 22 other paintings in Francis Cunningham's Masters Exhibition at the Century Association this October. Please email if you would like a personal invitation to the Opening Reception on October 2, from 5pm - 7pm.

written by: Terri Malloy

Monday, August 19, 2013

Francis Cunningham Behind the Scenes

This is the first post in a series in which we will explore the inspirations behind a selection of paintings done over the course of Francis Cunningham's career. We will take a closer look at the subject matter, the intended meaning behind the piece, lessons learned from each work and other insights.

The first in this series is a painting called Floyd Woodbeck, which can be found in the Clothed Figure category on the website.  Originally painted in 1972, this painting's background was re-painted in 2008, due to a mysterious change in the background over time. This is an oil on canvas with an underpainting in acrylic and it is 66" x 50".

Francis first met Floyd in 1964, soon after he had built a summer studio in Sheffield, Massachusetts. He was in need of help to install fencing, clear brush and in general, deal with  the property. 

Floyd was an interesting character. He was in his late forties at the time and had lived the life of a woodsman, carpenter and handyman in New England.  Having a sickly childhood, suffering from asthma, he missed a lot of school and was teased  by the other children. His solution to this was to spend time in the woods where he felt accepted by nature and the woodsmen he came to know over time. They taught him about felling trees, identifying edible plants and mushrooms and what he needed to know to be a woodsman himself. 

Once Floyd came to help on a regular basis, Francis noticed that Floyd had a way of pacing himself throughout the day, changing tasks, that would allow him to finish a long day's work as fresh as he began it. Francis adjusted to this way of pacing a work load over time and it eventually became useful in his painting as well.

Francis completed 3 paintings of Floyd. The first in 1964, was of Floyd with hog butchering equipment, then a piece called "The Wine Press", finishing with the figure painting of 1972.  Francis considered this final painting a turning point in his figure painting explorations.

Francis had been concentrating on developing his technique so as to paint anatomically functional figures. This technique, compared to camera realism, allows the figure in the painting to appear as if he could step out of the painting at any moment. Francis explains that the artist's eye is similar to a camera in that when an artist is painting what he sees in front of him this includes the optical distortions. To make a figure anatomically functional, one makes corrections to what the eye is seeing. Floyd's feet, which are nearer to you than his hands or his head, must be made smaller than they appear. This is in order to relate the feet proportionally to the body, as they do in the actual person. These corrections are what makes Floyd look like he could get up out of his chair and walk right out of the painting.

Floyd sat for a good part of 6 weeks, in 3 hour sittings sometimes twice a day, until completion.  Francis prefers to have the subject there until the painting is completed so that all the color notes will relate to each other from sight. One other important note is that Francis does not impose on his subjects what to wear or how to sit.  He wants the subject to speak. He says this has a way of opening things up, instead of taking the figure from an idealized point of view, and that this allows the character of the subject to come through. Francis says that if when he is done with a painting he is surprised, he knows he has done his job in capturing something not seen by the naked eye, something he didn't know was there ahead of time. In not superimposing his ideas of how the painting should ideally look, there is always an element of surprise in the finished painting.

This Floyd Woodbeck painting is considered by Francis to be the first life sized, clothed figure piece wherein he felt he created a truly anatomically functional figure. 

The Floyd Woodbeck painting of 1972, can be seen at the  Century Association's Masters Exhibition this October.

Post written by Terri Malloy

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Save the Date.....

This exciting new exhibition will feature 23 paintings from 3 genres, specifically still life, nude and landscape. Future posts will highlight a selection of paintings from the show and delve into the artists mind to discover the inspiration, beginning concept and direction of each piece. 

Although the Century Association is a private club, they will be allowing non-members to enter and view the exhibition as well as attend the Opening Reception on October 2, from 5-7pm.  Business casual attire is preferred.

If you would like to receive future reminders of the Century Masters Exhibition by email, please send your email address to  

Monday, July 22, 2013 website

News and updates on shows, as well as paintings to view,  are available at my website: