Connecting Figures (part 3): New Humanism in Contemporary Figurative Art

Continuing the survey of Humanist figurative artists with the third installment featuring: Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme, Diana Schmertz, Esteban del Valle, and Atena Farghadani.

Diana Schmertz


Diana Schmertz, Container of Time and Space, 2013, oil on wood tondos, 6 inch diameter each with one 8 inch and one 4 inch tondo

It is theorized that our unconscious does not experience time in a linear manner.  By separating individual moments of contact I am expressing the relativity of experience and how we uniquely organize what we perceive.” – Diana Schmertz

Diana Schmertz works with “moments of contact” that focus on human perception and belief systems. In a very intimate and labor intensive process Schmertz begins by taking many close up photos of people she knows.  Afterwards, she works in Photoshop in order to create compositions of people touching within a circular boundary.  The photos are then printed and physically into individual circular pieces, which Schmertz arranges into larger compositions. She then creates her paintings from these compositions. Overall she balances logic and rational thought with emotion and intuition. Logic and rationality are referenced in the mathematical and systematic way Schmertz creates her geometric compositions; emotion and spiritual intuition are seen in the painting’s imagery of intricate human touch.

Schmertz’s moments of contact portray a unique relationship between the self and the “other.” These moments of contact reference the body because everything in our human perception and experience is filtered through the body and our physical senses.

Schmertz is presently working with reproduced images from scientific, religious, and mythological creation stories.  She explains that for this body of work she “arranged the circles into the mathematical sequence of the three irrational constants.  I am juxtaposing creation ideas with these mathematical theories because they have an important element in common; from afar they follow a consistent strict system and upon close observation the system seems less perceptible and/or strict.  For example, roses petals grow in the ratio of Phi (one of the irrational constants).  While roses grow according to a precise mathematical equation, all roses look quite different.  I believe the same is true with most creation stories.”

I asked Diana what she intends the relationship between the paintings and the viewer to be and she responded:

“When I observe people engaging with my work I can tell a lot about their comfort level in how they choose to approach the world.  Some people want to see every image inside each individual circle.  Others need to stand at an “objective distance” in which the moments are viewed in groups.  While others waver in between.  I want people to question their perception and engage on different levels.  Ultimately, I believe my art is a continuous dialogue that I want the viewer to take part in.  This dialogue is initially prompted by the need to physically change locations upon viewing the work.”

Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme

“The working class inspires our work. Especially the everyday anonymous individuals who make our cities run and more specifically, the people who feed us everyday: farm workers.” – Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme

Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Saleme work around immigration issues and child labor. The aunt and niece duo are immigrant artists who are passionately creating public murals and installations that address many of the pressing issues around immigration in the United States and across the globe. Some specific subjects in their work include the hardship of migrant farm workers, child labor,  and economic equality. These themes are all integrated into their concept of beauty and aesthetic vision.  The collaborative’s artistic pursuits represent their search for humanity in the context of a globalized social disparity system.

Their 45 foot long mural Lighting the Road (2014), is currently on view at the North wing of the Port Authority of NY & NJ Bus Terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in New York.

Esteban del Valle

Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 1.48.17 AM

” My interest in the artist as a public figure stems from my journey to better understand what it means to make “political” art.” – Esteban del Valle

Esteban del Valle’s inter-disciplinary work is steeped with narrative references that explore political themes and social issues. His drawings and murals make particularly strong socio-political statements. They’re presented in bold forms that reflect the energy of the streets, the history of painting, the performative aspects of political campaigns and revolutionary actions. del Valle also works with Groundswell teaching mural painting to New York City youth. With these young artists, del Valle addresses social issues that affect their community and daily lives such as mass incarceration (the prison industrial complex), police brutality, broken windows; and rising above these crises to create a better future.

Atena Farghadani

Athena’s cartoon which has gotten her in trouble with Iranian lawmakers  (image taken from Free Atena Facebook page)

Atena Farghandani’s political cartoon. (image taken from Free Atena Facebook page)

Iranian artist, Atena Farghandani’s story is hard to bear. She is a political artist in the truest sense, currently enduring horrific acts of inhumanity for her political beliefs. Farghandani first came into trouble with the law when she posted a political cartoon that criticized a recently penned law that would restrict access to birth control and make vasectomies illegal. Her drawing likens Iranian MPs to goats and apes casting their votes with blissful ignorance. For her satirical drawing, Farghandani was detained and tortured for up to nine hours a day. She is currently on trial on charges of insulting the government and spreading propaganda. If convicted she faces two years in prison and probable lashings. Her cartoon speaks volumes in a time when extremists have taken violent actions against artists who’ve used their pens and brushes to depict satirical and poignant commentary on fanaticism. In America, our artists are protected by the First Amendment (Freedom of Speech), unfortunately, Farghandani’s freedom is on the line for something that we take for granted too often.


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