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''

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