Okay, I'll tell you straight up as a guy who loves the figure that painters who are heavy on figure will get more intense and interesting reviews on this blog than still life, portrait, and landscape painters. I must express my excitement about Stephen Early's figure paintings. Stephen Early is one of the people I worked most closely under during the workshops I took at Studio Incamminati, along with Lea Wight and Kerry Dunn. I am particularly inclined toward his work and his teaching because of his inclination toward the figure in motion, as well as his slight emphasis on form over color.
The above painting is one of the most exciting contemporary figure paintings that I've seen in person. I had seen reproductions of it several times before seeing it in person and did not take any particular notice, but there is such a pearlescent subtlety of color and form that the tones are not easily translated to pixels photographs. The transitions are much softer and delicate than they appear here, and the textures are built up in the hair in a way that makes it seem tactile.
I got to see the mime paintings around the studio and on the easel. Some are quite small, even miniatures, although I don't remember which ones. I find them very quiet and introspective The white makeup opens up interesting color possibilities too.
He builds form almost with patches or "pieces" of color, like slapping patches of clay onto a sculpture, which are eventually modeled into the round. See the little study to the right. It's a way of working I hadn't really thought of before, and I find it a very useful approach at times.
Steve uses a drawing technique in which he begins with a 1/2 charcoal dust and 1/2 graphite dust ground tone. He thin draws with graphite and erases out the lights. I use this myself now, and it works beautifully. It is a quick way to get lots of form.
A graphite tone was slapped in with denatured alcohol and then worked into if my memory serves me correctly.
Very cool little grouping.
Steve produced this as part of a portrait project for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, featuring portraits of children with craniofacial conditions. He used the below painting by Antonio Mancini as a guide.
Antonio Mancini is Steve Early's great hero. This portrait of a boy with tin soldiers hangs at the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Incidentally the boy with tin soldiers sits next to this other Mancini, which is one of the most inspirational paintings I've ever stood before.
While I'm at it, below is possibly my favorite painting from the Art Institute of Chicago. Also Mancini.