7 Contemporary Artists Keeping Traditions Alive

Beyond Banksy

When some people think of present-day artists, they think of modernized, post-internet art; they think of Banksy’s spray can street style and the many sculpture-building disciples of Jeff Koons. They think of neon, of plexiglass, of digital manipulation, filmic influence, and a matrix-like future of expression. Of course, these things do exist and thrive in the contemporary art world, but lovers of classic art traditions need not fear: There’s still a pulse on that type of artistry too.

In fact, there’s an entire collective of traditionalists who exist among the contemporaries, even if their off-line, unplugged artistry doesn’t always get the spotlight it deserves. Below, meet some of the most accomplished contemporary-classic painters who are just as plugged into the future as their peers, but are also holding their own and fighting to preserve a time-honored mastery in the art world of today.

John Gordon Gauld
Despite his picture-a-day style Instagram presence, it takes Gauld at least a month to complete a painting; and despite the fast pace of the contemporary art world, he isn’t in a rush to mass produce. Deeply inspired by the Old Masters, Gauld is best known for his still life paintings that depict timeless scenes laced with symbolic references, with some modern Easter eggs thrown in—yes, that’s a stainless-steel butt plug beneath that gorgeous array of azaleas and poppies. 

Gauld’s photorealistic style is jarring at first glance, and there’s always something surprising to notice in his slow-reveal scenery. And while he can easily appreciate his contemporaries' more modernist approach to technique, he’s happy to hold on to the practices that his 14th-century forefathers encouraged. Gauld tells NYLON:

I believe that when we create we should always be putting forth new ideas and new works of art. But to do something new, we have to know our past, if only to reflect on it. So my inspiration comes from a wide range of historic painters that lived hundreds of years apart and are as diverse as Giotto to Jean-Baptiste Oudry to Alice Neel. With my own art, the psychological draw of skillfully crafted works is often my entry point to understanding deeper meaning. I feel a greater satisfaction spending a month or two working on one painting than taking a faster and perhaps less purposeful means to creation. I find the hours obsessing over subtle color shifts or polishing a surface like a tile meditative. The process then is very much a part of the conceptual content of the painting. While I respect my peers' choice to indulge in more immediate and contemporary mediums and practices, what drives me and gets me excited about painting is its deep, slow history, For me, the launching point for something new is like unraveling a spool of thread from the past.