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Cambrian John Seed's new book delves into how a fresh type of realism painting reflects our contemporary world

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From a weekly blogger to a published author, local Cambrian John Seed's writing has taken him on quite the unexpected journey.

During a long career as an art instructor at Mount San Jacinto College in Southern California, Seed began writing weekly art criticism blogs for the Huffington Post after a friend convinced him to give it a try back in 2010. Seed ended up diligently writing a blog post every week for seven years, ultimately amounting to more than 300 articles. As he reached out to artists across the nation for his blog pieces, Seed started to notice a pattern.

"I began to see that in many different locations there was a new kind of realism emerging that was a hybrid," Seed told New Times. "People were taking very individual approaches that were emotional, perceptual, or subjective."

After writing one of his blog posts about this "new kind of realism," the next thing Seed knew he was being contacted by an art dealer in Philadelphia, who told him, 'That would make a good show.'"

Seed was invited out to Philadelphia in 2018 to curate a show of contemporary realist painters who were disrupting the traditions of realism in some way. While at the show, Seed was met with yet another fateful turn for his writing trajectory.

"A publisher's representative came into the show and said, 'This would make a great book,'" Seed said.

Today, over a year since the show, the insights that once existed only in Seed's blog posts now lie upon glossy pages, bound between the hardback covers of a stunning book called Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World. Within just two months of its release, the successful book has just gone into reprint.

Seed explained that the evolution of realism can be understood by considering what statements and questions painters have proposed over time.

"Realist paintings made a statement: 'This is what I see,'" Seed said of early realism painters.

Painters centuries ago, for example, were commissioned to do hyper-realistic portraits of people.

Then, Seed said, the invention of photography marked a key shift where that form of objective realism was no longer as necessary. It was at this point that "painters begin to experiment." Their approach shifted from a statement (this is what I see) to a question (is this what I see?).

"That introduces that subjectivity, the experience of the painter," Seed explained.

Paintings that distort traditional realism are at the core of Seed's book. With "disrupted realism," as he calls it, "there's another question: 'Can you see what I feel?' Realism has become personal and perceptual," Seed said.

One reason that these contemporary realism paintings are distinguished is because of the presence of new images in our lives and the rapidness at which these images are created, Seed explained. Technology like smartphones and computers allow for a whole new type of subject material that traditional realism would never have dared to touch upon.

"I think that more of those kinds of images are coming through our minds and our bodies every day, and that they're reflected in the reality that painters brings to a canvas," Seed said.

One painting in particular that Seed features in his book captures the essence of this phenomenon. Titled Lost Generation, the piece by Meredith Marsone depicts a realistic painting of a young women lying on her side. Her face looks real enough to be a photograph, while all around her is an abstract background that comes into sharp contrast with the subject of the work. But perhaps most eye catching is the smartphone that the painting's subject is holding inches from her face. Images like these are one facet of this "disrupted realism" that Seed's book exhibits and unravels.

With 38 artists represented in the book, Marsone's work is just one take on this new category of art that the book works to define. As a self-described "art geek," Seed said he is thrilled to see how his book has lifted up a diverse array of artists at different stages in their careers.

"There are going to be names that people who follow painting recognize, artists that have shown substantially, that have reputations," Seed said. "And there are artists that are just beginning their careers. The cool part is that the book is very egalitarian. Everybody has the same number of pages."

Seed additionally hopes that his book will encourage readers to be as excited about this fresh style of art as he is.

"I hope that my interest and my passion for these painters and what they're doing will rub off on anyone who picks up the book," he said. Δ

Arts Writer Malea Martin is reading John Seed's new book. Send arts story tips to mmartin@newtimesslo.com.

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