Local couple opens new classical figurative arts school at The Tannery
When viewing the work of artists Lisa Silas and Jonathan Ernest Chorn, it’s rather difficult to imagine possessing the ability to produce such work, or even that such work is being produced in the present day. Yet these are precisely the preconceptions the couple is looking to dispel with their ambitious new endeavor: a classical figurative arts school at The Tannery Arts Center.
“Our mission is to demystify realism,” explains Silas. “And show people that it’s available,” adds her husband Chorn. “That anybody can learn to do this,” says Silas, continuing the train of thought, “because it’s academic,” finishes Chorn.
The Neoteric Renaissance School of Art will have its grand opening on April 5. Founded upon technical instruction that dates back to the Renaissance, the school will offer a weekly figure drawing class with a model, as well as figure sculpture or drawing workshops with master-level artists from the Florence Academy of Art, among other opportunities.
“We do classical academic study of the figure, in drawing and sculpture, and many ateliers across the country and other countries have been doing this for several hundred years,” explains Silas. “Starting with the Renaissance, it kept building and building and building, but after World War II it was really hard for these ateliers to stay functional, and they all dispersed. And there was a big abstract expressionist movement, and this type of art wasn’t studied as much; it kind of went on the backburner, and went to the bottom of the museum and gallery basements,” she continues. “Now there’s a resurgence of this because people have realized, ‘Oh, that’s really valuable,’ and so people have gone back to the traditional way of studying drawing.”
Interestingly, the process of learning these skills is not unlike other fields of study—practice and the will to succeed are more essential than innate artistic ability. “It’s the study of nature’s forms, and we’re doing it through the form of the human body,” explains Chorn. “The three things to understand academically are the proportions—in other words, where you stand in relation to the model—the structure and the rhythms.”
In something of a mini-lesson, Chorn breaks down a complex process into easy-to-understand—though admittedly challenging-to-master—steps. “There’s less information in a straight line than there is in a curve, and by keeping lines straight you simplify the information, and allow yourself to make a faceted geometrical shape of the human form in front of you, simplifying it, and in doing so you lock in the structure, which is fundamental,” he says. “And from there, those simple angular lines get broken into more angular lines becoming curves, so you start from simplicity and you progress toward complexity.”
The respective stories of Silas and Chorn have different but equally formative beginnings—she’s California-born but spent her teenage years in the southern United States, whereas he came of age in apartheid South Africa—but they converged at the aforementioned Florence Academy of Art, where they not only met, but also gathered the knowledge that now serves as the foundation for The Neoteric Renaissance School of Art. “It’s a tradition, and it’s a historic way of studying—it’s not us making it up,” says Silas. “We’ve taken all these things from other people who have paved the road before us; we’re just standing on the shoulders of the masters, being able to tell you what to do.”
Along with their young son—who has his own workspace in their studio at The Tannery—Silas and Chorn have settled down comfortably in Santa Cruz. And while the local culture makes the town a natural fit for their school, Chorn notes its value regardless of location. “It can only benefit your work, wherever you take your artistic career,” he says. “Most of the great artists—even if they’re abstract artists—they have a good foundation of studying nature’s forms.”
Their belief in the school’s value and desire to share their knowledge with anyone eager to receive it extends to the inclusion of a scholarship program, designed for youth who are unable to afford the cost.
“I think everybody is creative, and I think everybody is an artist, but people denounce that and they deny their creativity,” says Chorn. “People should own it and take it; there isn’t this division between artists and the rest of people. By owning your creativity, you empower yourself to be able to move in the direction of what you really want to do, and what will really help benefit humanity.”
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