The subject matter of his contemporary realism represents “the complexity of an individual’s observation as well as a love and respect for nature and life.”
TONY CURANAJ (b. 1973) grew up in New York City making art everywhere he went. In adolescence this impulse attracted him to blank walls and bridges: Signing his drawings as “Sub,” Curanaj co-founded the D.F. group, a circle of graffiti artists still revered by cognoscenti for their innovative designs and audacious placements. Instead of landing him in jail, his virtuosity earned him a senior post illustrating and designing for Disney, as well as for other corporate clients.
Note: Curanaj is on the faculty of Realism Live: A Global Virtual Art Conference
Painting Contemporary Realism
Yet Curanaj always wanted to become a classical realist, painting in oils and working from life. Having earned a BFA at the School of Visual Arts, he studied briefly at the National Academy of Design’s School of Fine Art before joining Jacob Collins’s Water Street Atelier for four years. He followed Collins to the new Grand Central Academy of Art, where he now teaches. Curanaj has much to offer students there: Although his pictures range in size from monumental to minuscule, they always feature deft draftsmanship, carefully controlled brushstrokes (sometimes almost invisible), and well-chosen colors. Painting so meticulously is time-consuming, of course, which is one reason Curanaj skews toward smaller works that reward close study in the hand.
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“My progression as an artist to contemporary realism evolved with my perception of the world and our human experiences in it,” Curanaj says. “I began to sublimate my creative expression toward work of greater skill, precision in execution, and clarity in thought. The subject matter of my still life, tromp l’oeil, and figures represent the complexity of an individual’s observation as well as a love and respect for nature and life. Some paintings are a visual play on words or ideas that are part of my experiences. Other pieces reflect the simple beauty I may find in seemingly ordinary objects composed together, influences of color in nature, or the splendor of the human form.
“In every piece that I create, I aspire to authenticity in subject, harmony of color, and resonance of light and shadow. By painting from life and with meticulous detail, my hopes are that the viewer will observe my work as I observe life, with the impact and integrity of the large idea supported by the importance and intricacy of the smallest nuance.”
Although he excels in pictures of pretty models and broody self-portraits, Curanaj is best known for his complex still lifes. These may show us classically beautiful objects such as fruits or flowers, but the most interesting ones present quotidian objects like pencil sketches, kitchen tools, and locomotives, or unsettling ones such as a dragonfly specimen, a gas mask, or a cluster of unexploded firecrackers. In the spirit of such 19th-century trompe l’oeil masters as J. F. Peto, Curanaj often attaches these specimens to peeling or mottled walls that only heighten their superrealism, as well as our sense of wonder.
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