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I collect moments. If you look through my collection you'll see paintings of people I've met, places I've been, and things I've seen. As one of the classical realism San Francisco artists it's important for me to paint moments realistically. But solely painting realism feels incomplete, and I find that it can become a bit too academic. It's not only about the visual recreation that is my intention in oil painting. I want to make my audience feel they are walking down a rainy street, climbing up a sun drenched hill, or sitting in front of a loved one. I want a viewer to feel the moments I collect.

In my work, I find myself breaking free from traditional ways of painting and incorporating much more expressive means. I place highly developed detail next to looser, almost abstract, areas. I'm fascinated with how to combine near photographic rendering alongside the roughness of the palette knife, or the randomness of a loaded brush. This combination of realism and Impressionism techniques creates a natural tension in my paintings, as well as directs where I want the eye to travel. Even my choice of composition and subject matter are influenced by this part of me. Among the classical realism San Francisco artists I am known for creating compositions outside of conventional rules and gravitating towards subjects that do not necessarily follow a standard of beauty. There is a bit of provocation in this, as I play off of the traditional ways art should be, but there is also an invitation to see what else beauty entails.

Calvin Lai | classical realism San Francisco artist's oil painting palette
Seeking Liberation Through Less

Art has always been my first passion. When I can feel the weight of a figure on the canvas before me, a feeling bursts open, and my mind is set free. But before I can break down doors and climb over prison walls towards creative freedom, struggle inevitably stands in the way. Other people's expectations and the conventions of traditional art become a prison that I am constantly breaking free from. But my work, just as myself, has a bit of rebellion in it, which lies restless when it is kept chained. As I've evolved as an artist, I've learned to combine all the elements that obstruct and influence my creativity in order to find my voice in the art world.

Classical realism San Francisco artist's oil painting using Impressionism techniques in a unique style

I come from a realism background. Rendering accurately is essential for my artistic integrity. But I came to a point as a painter where my drive towards accuracy became a cage. Art began to feel more of a struggle. As an artist one always is working towards figuring out their style, but the direction I was going became less and less inspiring. I needed to change. It started with how I approached the background. I left the edges of my paintings less developed leaving obvious brushstrokes and paint drips and even letting the canvas underneath show through. This allowed me to feel more freedom as I worried less about making the whole composition highly detailed, and added techniques that allowed me to be more expressive. This change pushed me towards a major shift in my painting as I purposefully chose certain areas in the composition to be rendered less. Whether the detail in these areas would be slightly realistic or close to Impressionism, my main intention was to suggest detail, and the suggestion of detail has been the most powerful tool in the evolution of my style.

Classical realism San Francisco artist's oil painting using Impressionism techniques in a unique style

To render an object or a person with realism is a very specialized and difficult skill. It is something that I will always employ in all of my work, but the reduction of detail in order to suggest an object or a feature has been a far more challenging lesson for me. I had to learn how to reduce what I saw around me to its basic shapes and colors, and break down my subjects into their most essential elements. I believe it was during this time when I finally began to understand the power of oil painting. It's ability to create very fine details, as well as it's natural tendency to be very general, opens up a new wave of creative possibilities within my art. I render highly detailed focal points and place them next next to areas that are much less developed. This adds energetic movement throughout the composition, and the combination gives vibrancy to my paintings that I did not have before. As my style became looser, my work has become more engaging. I feel that a person's own imagination will fill in detail that is not there in order to complete a picture that is less rendered. My love and passion for art was reignited by becoming less obsessed with rendering every inch of the canvas. It allows me to become more painterly.

The Future of a Classical Realism San Francisco Artist

Though I feel that my current style is in a good place, I cannot quite get rid of the desire to keep evolving as an artist. I notice myself going in two directions. A part of me will always be pushing towards refining my skill as a realistic painter. Creating paintings which seem as if they can come to life is a goal I had as a child, and I will continue to have till I am old and gray. The other part wants to create work with less and less brushstrokes, not painting abstractly, but render realism by rendering less. Getting to a subject's essential essence and distilling it down to a few brushstrokes has become a new direction in my art that will dictate my aesthetic choices for all my future work. I am also fascinated by making highly realistic work that makes it obvious that one is looking at a painting. Breaking up the edges of the composition and letting the canvas show through was the beginning of this, but I now find that I am making brush marks and palette strokes that appear across the picture plane, even obscuring the lines between the foreground and background. Often times a figure, or a building, or an object will loose its form, and its edges will become indistinct. I feel my future work will reflect a greater sense of aesthetic choices as it breaks beyond the confines of what is being rendered. Finding the balance between my two directions will be a challenge unto itself. They are opposites, but not incompatible. As my skills in both areas grow as an artist, I look forward to how these two sides will come together on the picture plane.

Calvin Lai | Classical realism San Francisco artist's oil painting using Impressionism techniques in a unique style

If you are looking for one of the more unique classical realism San Francisco artists feel free to check out my portfolio or contact me for commissions.

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