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Contemporary Figurative Paintings by Alabama Painter, Jonathan Matthews

This week’s featured artist is Jonathan Matthews, a talented Alabama artist whose beautiful figurative paintings offer a subtle homage to the long history and tradition of figure painting.

As you’ll notice in one of the paintings farther down, Jonathan’s use of lighting brings to mind Rembrandt’s portraits, as well as other historical artists—and yet his work doesn’t lose its own unique, contemporary flavor.

For instance, Redhead, just below, is a striking contemporary painting that successfully draws on the past while living in the present.

Redhead by Jonathan Matthews

What is it that makes this painting a contemporary one? First, the subject is facing away from the viewer, giving a sense of emptiness or loneliness that fits quite well with contemporary art today—and quite obviously this is not a traditional portrait.

Second, the crop is horizontal rather than vertical. Not only does that add to the space around the figure (increasing our sense of isolation) but it also flies in the face of classical compositional techniques.

Third, and finally, Jonathan’s bold use of color gives this piece a much more contemporary feel—I absolutely love the way the red-orange color of those curls are reflected in the lowlights of the right shoulder and throughout the neck and back.

SEE MORE: Contemporary figure paintings for sale at NUMA Gallery

Now, in this next painting, entitled Girl in a Red Robe, Jonathan’s contemporary cues are much more subtle.

Girl in a Red Robe by Jonathan Matthews

In fact, much of this painting could be the work of an old master. Notice the dark background, the subject in profile, and of course that direct, chiaroscuro lighting.

Even the clothing, a loosely draped cloth, seems from another era. . . so if we didn’t know the painter was alive today, what would clue us in? All that stood out for me was the subject herself—specifically, the detail (and also the emotion) seen in her face.

This is obviously a portrait of a real young woman, not a semi-idealized image as was common in the past. Her features are realistically depicted in order to be recognizable, and despite the clothing and setting, a clear sense of individuality is present.

This final piece was interesting enough that I wanted to include it as well, although it departs slightly from the figurative genre.

Still Life with Jaw Bone by Jonathan Matthews

Yes, that’s human jaw bone, in full detail—and since Jonathan’s work hearkens back to past centuries, it naturally brought to mind the memento mori motif found in paintings from the early European Middle Ages all the way through to Puritan America.

Of course, that’s probably just me reading into things a bit much. :)

To see more of Jonathan Matthew’s figurative paintings and drawings please take a moment to visit his online portfolio at JonathanMatthews.net .

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Mina dela Cruz is a talented Canadian painter (originally from the Philippines) who currently lives and works in Toronto. A full-time artist since 2004, Mina's paintings are highly realistic, emphasizing skilled draftsmanship, classical technique and a deliberate eye for composition.

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