Contemporary Realism Under “Constant Experimentation”

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

contemporary realism portrait painting
Taha Clayton, “Mettāmorphosis,” 2018, oil on panel, 72 x 48 in., available from the artist

Taha Clayton (b. 1981) is a multi-talented artist with a multi-faceted background. Born in Houston, raised in Toronto, and living in Brooklyn, he is a portraitist who previously worked as a carpenter, scenic painter, and set designer for films, photo shoots, and high-end events. Today all of these influences and areas of expertise flow through Clayton’s fine art, helping him approach each new work as a storyteller, as a designer, and as a director.

Clayton is now focused on painting pictures that celebrate his heritage and address mistruths of black antiquity. Culture and legacy, as well as social injustice, spirituality, and family, are among the themes of his portraits and narrative scenes; in them, he uses historical references as both reminders of the past and predictions of the future. Often they reveal that, as much as we move forward, history and human nature tend to repeat themselves.

Clayton’s painting “Mettāmorphosis,” illustrated here, underscores that perpetuation for a particular young woman, the artist’s 14-year-old niece. “After a few recent family visits, I was reminded of the many pressures and insecurities of adolescence, especially for a young woman,” he explains. “Her desire for straighter hair, thinner lips, and a slimmer frame reaffirms the same beauty ideals that have existed throughout Western history. Additionally, technology consumes us with false perceptions, putting us under constant judgment. It is rare to unplug and dedicate time to reflection and contemplation, making it challenging to shed social constructs and realize clarity.”

Clarity, for this artist, seems to be about helping others see truth and beauty. Clayton’s spirituality and passion for culture, history, and community make his paintings as much about connecting with — and inspiring — others as they are about creating a visually compelling image. As a self-taught artist, Clayton enjoys constant experimentation and investigation into many aspects of the arts; they allow him to continue growing, learning, and becoming the artist he endeavors to be.

This article was originally published in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine.

  • Visit to learn how to paint portraits and figures in the style of contemporary realism, and much more.
  • Join us for the next annual Realism Live virtual art conference and study with the world’s best realism artists.
  • Become a Realism Today Ambassador for the chance to see your work featured in our newsletter, on our social media, and on this site.