On oil painting > The idea of seeing — truly seeing — is where Aristides wants her students to start, eventually finding their way to the creation of beauty, which she considers a “portal to meaning.”
By Kelly Compton
An exhibition of 17 new paintings by Juliette Aristides (b. 1971) at Nashville’s LeQuire Gallery earlier this season is an occasion to celebrate. On view were an array of interiors and still lifes that remind us of her ongoing contribution to the revival of classical realism and traditional art education in America. Aristides has been achieving this not only by conducting workshops nationally and abroad, but also by publishing books that are now mandatory reading in teaching ateliers nationwide. She has already produced four successful volumes on classical drawing and painting, and this year Monacelli Studio is releasing two of her instructional sketchbooks: first Beginning Drawing Atelier and then Figure Drawing Atelier.
One of Aristides’s broad goals is to help others rediscover the beauty in daily life. As an example, she cites a glass of water that we would “ordinarily walk away from and not see at all, because in the course of everyday life we subconsciously tend to identify objects by name within a millisecond of seeing them. But if our attention is focused, we can break down something that’s instantaneous and begin to see it, and suddenly be able to recall all the different aspects of it, including the experience of it.”
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This idea of seeing — truly seeing — is where Aristides wants her students to start, eventually finding their way to the creation of beauty, which she considers a “portal to meaning.” The ultimate objective is to understand and convey the human spirit through art, but none of this can happen without acquiring the technical skills necessary to make the journey. “It is craftsmanship that opens the door to self-expression,” she explains. “I am excited about teaching the methods from our artistic inheritance. I know that once this knowledge becomes commonplace again, it can only enrich our cultural life.”
BUILDING SKILLS — AND UNDERSTANDING
Born in South Africa and raised in Pennsylvania, Aristides recalls that, as a teenager, “I periodically crept from my home at night, the house silent as my family slept, to walk the neighborhood and woods. Sometimes I sat with dangling legs on the small bridge leading to a tiny island on the lake, enjoying the dark solitude. My shadow projected by moonlight onto the water, the thrill of a world asleep, the sky a trembling ceiling of a great cathedral. On my walks, I would often sketch the silhouettes of the trees: a sheet of black against a silver sky, the occasional home glowing like a lighthouse. Sometimes I would stay up all night and catch the bus to school in the morning. I didn’t know it then, but I was part of the great tradition of contemplation.”
Aristides says, “It was drawing that first submerged me in my thoughts and impressions, both sequestering me from the world and connecting me to my surroundings in equal measure. I found art an exhilarating source of meaning and a path that, once started, I never left. I went on to study drawing for many years with wonderful teachers who helped me build my skills and understanding.”
This journey got underway in earnest as Aristides pursued the drawing curriculum refined by the Pennsylvania educator Myron Barnstone (1933–2016). She enrolled in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, then made her way to Minneapolis to study at the atelier established by Richard Lack. While at New York City’s National Academy of Design she learned much from Jacob Collins and also Carlos Madrid, then became a founding member of Collins’s Water Street Studio in Brooklyn.
Now she shares what she has learned in Seattle, where she founded and teaches at her own atelier within the Gage Academy of Art. As the “essential foundation for artistic expression,” drawing is at the heart of her curriculum there. Becoming a competent draftsman starts with slowing down to contemplate. “There are many people who, for a time, pivot from the world to discover the shape of themselves, to learn their own minds and what makes them feel alive,” Aristides notes. “They enter an empty room with a book, turn their faces to the woods, or crawl under a blanket armed with notebook and pen. Occasionally these sojourners, by withdrawing from the world, find a universe.”
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She continues, “When I was a student, learning to draw was also referred to as ‘learning to see,’ because the pencil is considered an extension of the mind, which gets sharpened and challenged. The initial goal of drawing may be to capture a subject’s likeness with a pencil, but more significant is our ability to become better observers.”
Featured: “Figure Drawing Atelier: An Instructional Sketchbook” by Juliette Aristides offers a comprehensive, contemporary twist to the very traditional atelier approach to the methods that instruct artists on the techniques they need to successfully draw and ultimately paint the figure.
Article excerpt reprinted with permission from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.
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Preview the art video workshop “Juliette Aristides: Secrets of Classical Painting” here: