Art students debut works at major exhibition

Gerald Obregon, Tea House at Vizcaya

Imagine the thrill and excitement artists feel when their work is commissioned for an art exhibition for the first time. Imagine the honor they feel – it’s practically indescribable for an artist, even more so for an art student.

The FIU Art + Art History students working in the Academy of Portrait & Figurative Art studio don’t have to imagine it because that’s exactly what the studio did for them. 

The Academy functions as a classical atelier – a studio where artists learn one-on-one with a master to perfect their drawing and painting skills. Academic training with this degree of precision is usually reserved for private art institutions so the Frank C. Ortis Art Gallery jumped at the chance to feature the Academy’s work in its newest exhibition, The Academy. 

The exhibition, which will run from Feb 13. to April 25, is the first time that the Academy of Portrait & Figurative Art is displaying its work since its creation back in 2017. 

The Academy – inspired by the intense visual drama of Italian Renaissance masterpieces and the technical precision of seventeenth-century French académies – will feature more than 75 pieces of artwork created entirely by Academy students and its founder and “master” artist, David Chang.

Victoria Albert, The Suitcase One

Chief curator of The Frank, Taryn Möller Nicoll, first learned about the Academy during a career development lecture Chang gave at the gallery back in 2018 and she immediately knew the work coming from the Academy would be something special.

“For almost two centuries, students in formal art programs have been pushed towards radicalism self-expression and conceptual experimentalism without necessarily learning the fundamentals of art-making along the way,” says Nicoll. “We knew that formal quality and strength of technique would be at the forefront of the artworks produced within the Academy and so the planning for our collaborative exhibition started right then and there.”

After spending countless hours in the studio honing their craft, these artists-in-training will get to experience their work displayed for the City of Pembroke Pines to see before they even earn their bachelor’s degrees. 

“I was thrilled and honored to learn that eight of my pieces were selected for the exhibition at the Frank Art Gallery,” says Lizzie Hunter (‘19). “These types of experiences have a way of reigniting one’s artistic passions, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.” 

Some of the works being exhibited include a painting technique called palette limitée or limited palette, where Chang’s students constructed entire pieces using only two to four colors. Students are taught to paint typically only using monochromatic colors to construct pieces rich in dimension, complexity, and harmony. 

Lizzie Hunter, Ripples – Kendall

“Working with just four specific colors, one can create a portrait that feels really rich and true to nature,” says Hunter. “This simple demonstration has truly made all the difference in my approach to painting portraits and figures.”

Chang founded the Academy in 2017 to provide structured training to students who are looking to pursue a classical artist-training model, which, up until now, wasn’t available at a public university in the U.S. It carries forward the classical painting tradition to future generations. 

“It’s the kind of training that was getting lost in schools and universities,” says Chang. “Many institutions have been focused on theory but painting is something that must be learned in the act of practice. This is what I do at the Academy.” 

The rigorous training in portrait, figurative, landscape, painting, and classical drawing all help students build the necessary skills needed to function in the art world. Chang instills the fundamentals of art-making into his students and helps turn them into experts in both concept and technique. 

“The training I’ve received in the Academy with Professor Chang has been invaluable,” says Osvaldo Samper (‘20). “From the very first landscape painting class I took, I knew there was so much more he had to offer me.”

David Chang, Portrait of Yariel

Samper was recently commissioned to paint a 40’x7’ mural piece that will go up in the FIU bookstore in Spring 2020.

“It’s the largest work I’ve ever done but I am very excited and confident that I can accomplish the task. I’m so grateful to the Academy for all the opportunities it has afforded me,” he adds.

Artists being featured in the exhibit have also won numerous awards and competitions including first place in the 2018 and 2019 Paint-Me-Miami Art Competition sponsored by Miami Mayor’s Office and the 2020 Miami Affair en Plein Air Painting Competition. 

The entire art gallery will be overtaken by The Academy for the duration of the exhibition. 

The opening reception for The Academy takes place on Thursday Feb. 13 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

For a complete list of workshops and events also taking place during the exhibition click here.

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