Spotlight: American Artist Craig Alan’s Trompe l’Oeil Paintings Put an Eye-Popping Spin on Portraiture

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What You Need to Know: Founded in 1992, Art Leaders Gallery of West Bloomfield, Michigan, has come to be recognized as a bastion of contemporary art for the great Metro Detroit area—and voted Michigan’s Best Fine Art Gallery for its comprehensive fine art services. This month, the gallery is presenting a solo exhibition for one of their most popular artists, “Craig Alan: Populus.” On view through August 31, 2023, the show features paintings from Alan’s popular “Populus” series, which feature hundreds of meticulously rendered small figures. The catalyst for this series was a stroke of inspiration Alan cites as a “happy accident,” when, looking out from a balcony in Orange Beach, Alabama, the crowd of people happened to form the shape of an eye. Using the small figure as a compositional starting point, Alan creates recognizable portraits of and scenes and pays homage to icons of pop culture through his “Populus” paintings.

Artist Craig Alan working on paintings from the “Populus” series. Courtesy of Art Leaders Gallery.

About the Artist: American artist Craig Alan (b. 1971) has a distinctive artistic style that synthesizes art historical and pop culture themes with innovative compositional approaches. Originally from San Bernadino, California, Alan grew up largely in Atlanta, Georgia, before going on to study set design and fine art at the University of Mobile, Alabama. As a young artist, Alan worked as a street portraitist in New Orleans, Louisiana, allowing him to build a strong foundation in figurative paintings and drawing. The artist’s diverse academic and practical background has culminated in a process he describes as “fast and free of precise thought,” allowing him to execute a diverse range of works—from total abstractions to graphic realism, bounded only by his imagination. His work can be found in over 15 galleries across the United States, and more than 40 galleries in England, as well as in Germany and Canada.

Craig Alan, (2023). Courtesy of Art Leaders Gallery.

Why We Like It: Alan’s work from the “Populus” series offers a playful and unique take on trompe l’oeil and impressionistic modes of painting. From a distance, iconic motifs and portraits are easily recognized, but upon closer inspection, the swarms of scrupulously portrayed figures that make up or populate the image become the central focus. Depicted largely in black, the figures—even in their large numbers—take on individual personalities. In works such as (2023), looking closely one can see figures taking part in the drip painting, carrying signs with uplifting messages, or sporting specific dress. Artistically, each painting presents a bright, gratifying scene, but when exploring the details of the work, the multitude of individual narratives bring forth larger themes of collectivity, community, and identity.

Craig Alan, detail of Rainbow Effect (2023). Courtesy of Art Leaders Gallery.

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