Stars of the representational art world align at Ventura conference

Genre's giants come to CLU event

As model Roger Scruton (left) poses for a portrait, Alexey Steele demonstrates drawing lessons of the Russian Academy Monday during the Representational Art Conference 2014 at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach.


Photo: David Yamamoto/Special to the Star

A group of celebrities converged on the Crowne Plaza Hotel along the Ventura waterfront this week, but they weren’t celebrities in the Hollywood sense.

Names like Roger Scruton and Odd Nerdrum might not ring a bell to people unfamiliar with the representational art world. But to organizers and attendees at the Representational Art Conference 2014, hearing talks by British philosopher Scruton and Norwegian painter Nerdrum in person was like being in the presence of rock stars.

“It’s like David Bowie’s here. It’s fantastic,” said California Lutheran University professor Michael Pearce, referring to Nerdrum, whom he described as the greatest living representational painter of the 21st century.

Pearce, who served as co-chairman of the event with fellow professor Michael Adams, likened Scruton to the art-world equivalent of U2 frontman Bono.

Scruton is the author of the controversial 2009 book “Beauty,” which explored what makes an object beautiful, and host of the BBC Two television show “Why Beauty Matters.”

“I was sitting down to dinner with him last night, sitting with David Bowie on one side and Bono on the other. Mike and I, we were giggling like schoolboys,” Pearce said. “It’s a fantasy, the whole thing. It’s amazing.”

More than 350 people from around the world attended the conference, which included art demonstrations, panel discussions, off-site excursions to area museums and presentations ranging from the healing power of portrait sitting to self-portraits in age Facebook.

Speakers and participants included artists, scholars, collectors and curators from across the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The event, sponsored by CLU, is in its second year and is the only international academic conference on representational art in the world, Pearce said. It began Sunday evening and ran through Wednesday.

“We realized that there was a profound lack of venue for academic discussion of what was happening in representational art, in spite of the fact that there was so much really excellent representational art being done,” Pearce said. “It’s a unique event. As an academic conference there’s nothing else like it.”

Representational art is painting, drawing or sculpture that seeks to show reality by portraying recognizable people, places and objects. That’s different from abstract art, for example, which either makes no reference to physical reality or presents it in a distorted or exaggerated way.

In addition to appearances by Scruton and Nerdrum, speakers at the event included celebrated author, painter and teacher Juliette Aristides, Swiss-based realist artist Alan Lawson and Peter Trippi, editor-in-chief of Fine Art Connoisseur, among many others.

Exhibits tied to the conference include Women by Women, a collection of drawings and paintings of women by women at CLU’s Kwan Fong Gallery that will run until April 12 and is open to the public.

As well as the prominent lineup of speakers and exhibitors, people attending the event said they were thrilled at the opportunity to interact with so many of their peers.

Cheryl Kline, owner of a fine art academy in Pacific Palisades and an exhibitor at the conference, called it inspirational.

“It’s almost like being in college or at an alumni get-together where there’s hundreds of people who all think the same way and you all share the same ideas,” she said. “The way the art world is today, it’s so abstract and pour-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater. It’s really hard to find other artists, especially a huge group like this that think our way. It’s awesome.”

--- Published in the Ventura County Star on March 6, 2014