Vincent Arcilesi, (1932 - 2022)
My work reflects my two great passions in life: the human figure and the landscape. I try to portray the nude form, both male and female, in all its sensuous glory. I have painted compositions since 1964 and started painting landscapes on site in 1966. While at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I was trained as an abstract painter, I fell under the spell of the great French Impressionist paintings in their collection. Over the years, the two strains have become intermingled so that many of my large paintings depict nude figures in various landscapes, mythic as well as real. Classical drapery and banners are a keynote of my work, whether as a background for a studio portrait or as an integral part of the design motif of a landscape composition. In my last ten solo shows, sensual clothed and unclothed figures appear in the landscapes and cityscapes of Morocco, Italy, New York, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Russia, Mexico City, and Rome…
Arcilesi attended Furman University in Greenville, SC. Receiving a BFA in Design at the University of Oklahoma, he eventually moved to Chicago to achieve a BFA and MFA in Drawing and painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he met his wife Nan Chapin Arcilesi. Arcilesi has exhibited in NYC and internationally extensively since 1966, including Solo shows, Museum shows including the Whitney Biennial, the Brooklyn Museum, the Butler Institute of American Art (Youngstown, Ohio), the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Verona, Italy. His work is included in a number of books and other publications and he is represented in numerous collections both public and private, including the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL and The Art Institute of Chicago, IL. Arcilesi's work has been shown alongside great artists such as Lennart Anderson, Philip Pearlstein, Alice Neel, Alex Katz, Wayne Thiebaud, Fairfield Porter amongst others. He retired in 2015 as full professor at FIT, where he taught life drawing and painting.
Since his art school days, the fiercely independent artist Vincent Arcilesi, whose mature work Edward Lucie-Smith described in his book American Realism as a deliberate turning away from the accepted idea of the Modern, has been a prolific painter of landscapes and, more recently, of cityscapes. At the Art Institute of Chicago, Arcilesi was one of the few students less interested in jumping on the Hairy Who bandwagon than in immersing himself in the school’s terrific collection of Impressionist and Post Impressionist masterpieces.
Indeed, Arcilesi invariably includes smaller landscapes and cityscapes in his exhibitions of large thematic figure paintings, set in various locales around the world. And the close observer will notice that many of them, besides being finished works of art in their own right, also serve as alla prima studies for the backgrounds in his erotically charged postmodern allegories. Arcilesi usually reproduces some of his landscapes in his exhibition catalogs to make the point that they are not aesthetic stepchildren but an essential part of his oeuvre. Yet they are often upstaged by the spectacular sexiness of his mural-scale canvases of classically comely nudes striking poses in the streets and plazas of the world’s great cities. People tend to go so ga-ga over the palpable pulchritude he evokes in his figure paintings that they sometimes overlook the subtler charms of his landscapes. The pity of this is that, in doing so, they also overlook the fact that every facet of nature can be as great a source of sensual delectation as the most beautiful human body, when caressed by the brush of a painter as acutely attuned to each and every nuance of visual experience as Arcilesi happens to be.
In more recent years, working up to theme shows inspired by his travels abroad, Arcilesi has progressed to a species of landscape painting roughly analogous to the work of those few writers who raise travel writing to the highest levels of literary endeavor. Among the more exotic examples are three 2001 canvases of “Palmeraie, Marrakesh,” in which tall palm trees set against distant mountains or pink stucco skylines invite the gestural paint handling at which Arcilesi still excels in his alla prima work, passages of which he frequently integrates with wizardly finesse into the backgrounds of his epic figure compositions to retain a sense of freshness and spontaneity within the overall meticulousness of his realist technique. Arcilesi’s seamless synthesis of painterly fluidity and detailed descriptiveness is seen in both the California view “Golden Gate Bridge,”1993, and the Paris scene “Ecole Militaire,” 1997. However, it is especially striking in “Peterhof,” 2003, which harmoniously melds Imperial Russian architecture and gold statuary with breezily brushed clouds, flowers, and foliage. And he continues to perfect it, as evidenced by “The Brooklyn Bridge” and “Palermo,” both painted in 2006. In the former painting, Arcilesi takes such poetic liberties as adjusting the scale of the New York skyline and even moves the Empire State Building closer to the shore in order to emphasize the dynamism of the bridge’s soaring span, which he exalts in conversation as being “like a cathedral to me.” The latter painting presents a bird’s eye-view of three tiny female figures in swimsuits striding past the curvaceous aquamarine pool of a luxury hotel, nestled among mountains and Edenic vegetation.
The cinematic sweep of the composition suggests a scene in a James Bond film set in the Mediterranean, as though the camera is about to zoom in on the three women as they head for some mysterious assignation. For here, as in the large figure paintings for which he is best known, Vincent Arcilesi introduces a note of narrative drama that is characteristic of his best work, yet rarely seen in the genre of landscape painting. - By Ed McCormack, Gallery & Studio Magazine, NYC
Arcilesi prefers to paint plein air as often as possible. He had an affinity for the "golden hour" which he stated "could not be captured with a photograph." Arcilesi travelled the world to capture landscapes, cityscapes and its people.
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