Q Interview: Joshua LaRock, Classical Painter by Joshua LaRock

Gabe Lyons: Josh, it’s great to be with you today and hear more about your work. I mean, you’re a Fine Artist, which is a very specialized place in the middle of our culture that you’ve been preparing yourself for and working in. Tell us more about the type of art you practice.

Josh LaRock: The best title is classical realism. It’s a tradition that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and has built on that tradition of figurative sculpture and paintings.

The tradition that I’m really most excited about is most closely linked with the 19th century, the French Academy, and the type art that came out of that. But that would also be part of the lineage that you would hear of the old masters, say Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and that sort of thing.

It’s realistic art, representational art, figurative, landscape, still life, that sort of thing.

GL: You’re basically painting very realistic pictures and images of what anybody would see, looking around. That’s actually a type of art form that isn’t as popular today as it was a few centuries ago. Why do you think that is, and what are the more popular forms of art today that you see people gravitating towards?

JLR: Right. In the last century we’ve seen a lot more abstract modern art that’s found its way into found objectives, installations, and that sort of thing. There’s a lot of factors that contributed to that, so it’s really hard to pinpoint one thing.

But around the turn of the century, there were a lot of political and ideological things that were happening. Certainly the advent of photography had its effect, in terms of the way that images were produced and disseminated throughout society.

GL: Yeah, I would imagine centuries ago, these paintings of realistic images or portraits were really the only way a family or a person had a way of living on beyond that point in history.

JLR: Sure, preserving their likeness and that sort of thing, definitely.

GL: So, photography would definitely seem to be a challenge to it.

JLR: It definitely had an impact. You see that with the way new works of art were commissioned. What seemed to linger past the 1900’s was more illustration; Rockwell is a famous example of that. But even as photography got better and cheaper throughout the century then that seemed to have its place.

But I don’t think that that was the only thing that contributed to it. There were a lot of ideological things that happened. I think that a distrust in absolutes as modernism progressed and post-modernism came in changed the way that people interacted with the world and saw their environment. I think that’s somewhat why this type of art survived.

by Joshua LaRock
Oil on Linen, 40 x 32

GL: It seems like today’s modern art, for instance, is about breaking the rules, maybe even pushing back. There are no boundaries in it whereas the type of art you’re practicing has very real rules that you have to follow.

What are some of the rules that when you sit down and you’re conceiving a new piece that you have to consider when you’re deciding whether or not you’re going to paint something?

JLR: Well, there’s a lot that goes into it. Excellent draftsmanship is the main thing. If the drawing isn’t right for a figure, it just looks really absurd. There’s a lot that goes into that; understanding anatomy, understanding how you create the illusion of a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Even beyond that, there is the issue of composition. You’ve generally got a square canvas to work in. You have to think about how you want to direct the viewer’s eye and make it a pleasing image to look at, with lights and darks and all that stuff.

GL: When you sit down to paint, tell us about one of your more recent works that you’ve been working on. Describe that for us, the process as well as what the inspiration was for this piece.

JLR: One of my most recent figurative works is a piece called “Woe.” It’s a life-size, half-length figure of a man sitting in a very classical pose. He’s got red drapery and white drapery that harkens back to the Greek and Roman statuary.

Then beyond that, there’s the subject matter of the piece, being that we all experience woe. The gentleman in this painting is extremely physically fit, but he’s clearly experiencing some form of inner pain. We’re all susceptible to those things, which I think can be an interesting juxtaposition.

GL: What would a piece like that be worth in the market today?

JLR: It’s interesting. It has everything to do with my reputation, my relative name. It’s a difficult thing to gage.

GL: You build a reputation as an artist, then the value of your paintings continues to gain value, and sometimes extraordinary amounts of worth goes into that, maybe more than just looking at the piece itself on its merits.

Which I’m sure you, now that you’re an artist, you’re able to critique, look at these forms and evaluate. “Is that really good, or is this person just getting a lot of money for some reputation of popularity that they’ve had?”

JLR: I think it’s somewhat unfortunate that we don’t have more of a meritocracy when it comes to art, and evaluating it and its worth, because you see things all across the board. You don’t really know why a certain thing is worth what it is. There’s a bunch of different factors. I wish that the best paintings sold for the most money.

GL: But that’s not the case, is it?

JLR: But that’s a big question. What is the best painting? What is good? What is art for?

GL: A lot of the market today, I would say, and consumers in general would just say, “Look. Art is based on subjective opinion of what I think is good. There’s no real objectivity to it.” What’s your view?

JLR: Yeah, I would like to recover more of an objectivity to art and to the good, the true and the beautiful. What is that? What is art? I feel like we all talk about it as if we all know what that means when we say that word, but as soon as you ask more probing questions, like what are the limits of art?

What is art? What isn’t art? We’ve seen people playing around with that over the last century. The piece that comes to mind is Marcel Duchamp’s “Urinal,” if you’re familiar with that. He just signed it, so art can be anything.

I think there’s something that can be really destructive about that. We’ve lost a sense about what beauty is. We’ve lost a sense about what goodness is, what skill is.

GL: Your faith plays into, I know, the way you think about this. That comes in even this discussion about what’s good and what’s true. What other ways have you found your faith to be integral to how you’re practicing this gift and this talent that you have?

JLR: Well, it provides that foundation for why I am doing anything. What is the purpose?

I heard Tim Keller say once that you have to know what something is for in order to know whether or not it’s good. As soon as you’re asking what is something for, well, then you’re asking really big questions about why am I here.

What is beauty? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? I think that’s a big question that we need to rethink in our culture.

GL: Well, it seems there just needs to be the ability to engage those tough questions and to have debate, good debate, maybe disagree with one another. But at least, the public square today has to be a place where these kinds of ideas can be advanced, versus shut down or seen as intolerant, or seen as not open-minded, just because you actually have an opinion.

Which, I see as being the most challenging things about the place we’re at, is if you have a strong opinion, you’re labeled as either not open-minded or narrow.

JLR: That’s absolutely the reaction I generally get when I start to ask the question of whether or not beauty is.

GL: As soon as you start asking the questions and there’s possibly answers to some of these questions, it really does narrow what you perceive as being good. It starts to disagree with what somebody else thinks. You start to see division happening in opinions.

JLR: I think that when you start to try to put parameters on things, people feel like it’s limiting. I think that that’s a false dichotomy. I think that you can have parameters on something, but it’s still a wide breadth, a full and diverse thing. That’s what I’m after.

I feel like if we opened it to everything, then we’ve actually lost it all together.

GL: Yeah, so you open up a bigger place for people to play, so to speak, in terms of just giving it some substantive parameters to how we think about it.

JLR: Right.

GL: If people are through New York City, where you live and also work, how can they come by to see your art? Where’s your studio?

JLR: Well, I have a studio on 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue. They can feel free to get in contact with me, come by for a studio visit. We’d love to have them.

GL: That’s great, Josh. Thanks for your work. I’m looking forward to continuing to see the kind of work, pieces and thinking that you do, as this goes forward in your own career.

JLR: Thanks, Gabe. I appreciate it.