Friday, September 20, 2013

Warren Chang: Narrative Paintings

Warren Chang: Narrative Paintings
Warren Chang is a contemporary American realist painter based in California. After a solid career as an illustrator, Chang transitioned into gallery art 12 years ago, and has achieved wide recognition.

Chang’s primary subjects are figures in interiors and figures in landscapes. In the former, which I personally find particularly wonderful, he has an uncanny sense of the subtleties of light as it disperses itself through an interior space, pooling here, spreading diffusely there, in the process revealing form and color.

Many of his interior arrangements of figures also deal with art, artists and spaces like studios and classrooms, which I also find particularly appealing.

Chang’s most notable work, with which he has become particularly identified, is a series of paintings of migrant farm laborers, at work in the fields, returning home after a day’s labor, or otherwise represented in their daily routines. These are presented with a sympathetic eye to the dignity of the individuals in the face of their labors, as they stand in for humanity in a wider sense.

In these you can see the influence of Jean-François Millet, Gustave Courbet and the other 19th century French Realists, as well as other painters who portrayed laborers, like Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson. Chang also displays the influence of other great painters, like Vermeer and Edmund Tarbell, in his interiors, and perhaps some William Merritt Chase and Thomas Eakins in his portraits.

There are implied stories in all of the figurative work — a strongly suggested but not overt narrative element.

You can find a selection of Chang’s work in various categories, including landscape and still life, on his website. The images on his site are somewhat small, however, and only barely adequate to give you an inkling of his range and style.

The best way to view Chang’s work (short of seeing it in person, of course) is a beautiful new collection from Flesk Publications: Warren Chang: Narrative Paintings.

In addition to the images on Chang’s site, there is a small preview of the book on the Flesk site, but neither do the book justice. Flesk has done their usual superb job of crafting a beautiful art book at very reasonable cost, with excellent reproductions of Chang’s paintings in all areas. The book includes sketches, preliminary studies and even some step-throughs of Chang’s process. Most importantly, it shows Chang’s beautifully subtle work to much better advantage than any web based images.

[Addendum: Warren Chang has been kind enough to inform me that he has increased the size of the images on his website since I published this review, and they are indeed much better representations of his work. I will still say however, that short of seeing them in person, the new book is still by far the best way to see his paintings.]

5 thoughts on “Warren Chang: Narrative Paintings

  1. cparker

    Thanks, Daniel.

    Likewise, your work continues to be a treat (love the dinosaurs).

    For the benefit of other readers, you can see Daniel Sponton’s cartoon illustration here, and my post on his work here.

  2. Karina Edwards

    Thank you for providing this insightful and informative review. I appreciated the additional links. Warren Chang’s work is certainly sensitive and beautifully painted. Much appreciated, Karina

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