Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"To Russia With Love"

Nelson Shanks just may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of. Shanks is primarily a portraitist and teacher, who has studied all over the world, but resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he paints almost everyday.

Shanks has been commissioned to produce portraits of many luminaries, including Luciano Pavarotti, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Katherine Graham and Ronald Reagan. His most famous subjects are arguably Diana, Princess of Wales, and His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. Earlier in his career, he taught at traditional art schools, among them the Art School of Chicago, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In recent years, he offered workshops to art students who were interested in his style of realism. From the success of these workshops, he and his wife Leona founded Studio Incamminati - the name an Italian phrase for "those who are progressing."

Studia Incamminati provides students with an intensive education in drawing and painting according to Shanks' philosophy. Shanks envisioned his studio as a blend of a French atelier and the Italian accademia, where the study of human realism would allow artists to reach their potential.

Nelson Shanks' next adventure is a one man show in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia in 2011. More than 45 of his pieces will be exhibited in The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, and The Russian Academy of Arts in Moscow.

On Friday night, Studio Incamminati held a gala dinner, "To Russia With Love," to mark Shanks' upcoming exhibit in Russia. The event was held at Philadelphia's Union League and featured Russian accents like Cossack dancers and a balalaika ensemble. Guests were treated to a vodka and caviar bar and a Russian dinner menu. Many new Shanks paintings, created specifically for the Russian shows, were displayed in public for the first time.

In an unusual twist, the gala featured artwork created live, in front of all the guests. Three of Shanks' students sat in front of canvases and painted portraits of a model during the course of the evening. Guests were able to observe art coming to life and at the end of the night the pieces were auctioned off to raise money for Studio Incamminati.

The evening was just a taste of what Russians will be able to enjoy next year when the tour commences, and a visual reminder of why Shanks is the only living American artist the Russian government has invited to exhibit work.

"It's not just a boring exercise in pushing oil paint around a canvas. It's a way of opening a threshold to an exciting new world of vision." ~ Nelson Shanks


  1. Dear Raining Acorns,
    thank you for showing me Nelson Shanks, of whom I didn't hear before. His portraits look lovely! (and, to be honest: from him I would like to be portrayed - other artists, as e.g. Kokoschka, might be very able to bring to light the soul of the portrayed one - but at the danger of sounding superficial: I wouldn't like to see me like that :-)

  2. I love the name of Nelson Shanks's studio - "Incamminati" - a word to savor.

    That must have been a really entertaining evening and a great introduction to a highly accomplished artist.

    You do have interesting neighbors, WOS!

  3. I particularly like the painting of Pavarotti. It's always amazing to me how an artist's eye can see so clearly and communicate what s/he sees to the hand. Must have been quite the thing to see the students painting "live." You do indeed have interesting neighbors!

  4. Well, I feel the need to clarify. Alas, I did not actually attend the gala, but people close to me did. I have known of Shanks' work for a long time, and the occasion of the gala gave me reason to do a piece on him.

    Apparently it was quite an event, as those black tie things are. Lots of bidding on expensive auction items, first class service, elbow rubbing with bold face Philadelphians, etc. The only thing that could be called a disappointment was the food - it was pretty authentic Russian, apparently - just meat and potatoes! Guess they hoped everyone took advantage of the vodka bar before hand.

  5. I occasionally wish I'd taken the painting course at art college, as opposed to the graphic design one. I think it's sad we had to specialise after the intermediate exams, instead of being able to combine both specialisations...

  6. Not a name I know, perhaps he will be better known after the Russian tour.
    I find the Diana portrait a little chocolate-boxy and sweet - she was, of course -, Pavarotti's physical power comes through well.


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