Contemporary realism painting of a woman in a cab
Aleksander Betko, "View from a Moving Cab," 2005, oil on linen, 18 x 24 in., available from 33 Contemporary Gallery, Chicago

There is a lot of superb contemporary realism being made these days; this article by Allison Malafronte shines light on a gifted individual.

Exploring the stories and structures of New York City’s streets is the purview of Aleksander Betko (b. 1976). A native of Poland, Betko immigrated to New York in 1980 and from a young age turned a keen and curious eye to the daily activity of a city that took his artistic breath away. “We lived in Queens, and my mother — who was always unabashedly brave and breaking down boundaries — would often take me to the Big Apple [Manhattan],” he recalls.

“It was the 1980s, and life then was lived out loud. To me, it seemed like everyone mixed: stockbrokers, Bowery bums, artists, street musicians, uptown socialites, punks, and everyone else comprised the colorful tapestry of my formative years. I was weaving it myself, moving through disparate worlds.”

An early inclination toward art fostered by his mother eventually led Betko as a teenager and early adult to the Art Students League of New York, where he studied classical techniques with Peter Cox but was simultaneously transfixed by the photography of Richard Avedon and Berenice Abbott, as well as the originality and persona of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

After attending college at SUNY Purchase, he returned to the League and trained under Harvey Dinnerstein. “Harvey introduced me to the [19th-century] French academicians and how to make a painting specifically about a life,” Betko explains. “In his work I also saw a world that I was drawn to, one familiar to me. Harvey depicted an integrated narrative of people and places specific to Brooklyn. These images began to remind me of the New York I saw as a child traveling via subway to midtown Manhattan. I was enamored, and Brooklyn became my home.”

Today Betko lives and keeps a studio in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick and is known for his narrative urban paintings that often have a nostalgic 1980s feel. His subjects include landscapes, cityscapes, and portraits that capture intimate, introspective moments. “View from a Moving Cab” is one such painting, where we glimpse a woman on the go, looking out the window longingly with any number of possible scenarios. Betko doesn’t need to spell out the scene, as it is open to interpretation.

“My intention has always been to define the resiliency and strength it takes for a person to live life on his or her own terms in a place that is simultaneously open and unforgiving,” he says. “My work resonates with people who are attracted to the authentic and uncompromising energy of New York City — people who aspire to belong.”

Connect with this contemporary realism artist at

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine (subscribe here).