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This edition of Artist HQ spotlights Joshua LaRock, an internationally recognized figurative artist whose portraiture and figurative works offer an ode to the Old Masters but with a contemporary spin.
Joshua LaRock, An Artist to Know
Inspiration can be a difficult thing to articulate for Joshua LaRock. An idea usually emerges from a hazy image in his head, a story or emotion that draws him in.
Once a new project is well underway, his initial vision takes on a life of its own. The way light dances off the live model sitting in the studio sparks a deeper connection with his work. What were once his emotions now become the emotions of the subject in his work. What grabbed his attention initially, now beckons the viewer of the painting.
“I suppose the beauty of working from life forms the foundation of what motivates all my paintings,” says Joshua LaRock. And this motivation clearly has paid off for the artist.
Although he currently resides in North Carolina with his wife, Laura, and their two children, LaRock is hailed for his art across the globe, participating in exhibitions throughout the U.S., Europe and China. He is recognized as an Art Renewal Center Living Master, and is represented by Collins Galleries, Cape Cod; Maxwell Alexander Gallery, Los Angeles; Portraits, Inc.; and Stephen Ling, Beijing.
What’s more, LaRock recently completed a series of works commissioned by Opera Holland Park in London for its 2018 season. And since the opera company only needed images of the art for its promotional materials, the physical paintings were exhibited as a set in the 2017 American Masters Exhibition and Sale at the Salmagundi Club in New York City.
Below, Joshua LaRock shares more about his artful lifestyle. Enjoy!
What drew you to figurative art?
I stumbled my way into this as a career but remember always being drawn more to representational figurative or landscape art: the simple wonder at a person’s ability to create those images with paint. In college, while studying music and music business, I discovered the work of John Singer Sargent online and was blown away.
That discovery eventually lead me to the Art Renewal Center website; there I discovered their list of ateliers. This took me to New York where I studied with Jacob Collins.
Do you remember your first representational artwork?
I had done representational artwork throughout high school, but nothing with serious intent or at a high level. One of the first works I can remember doing in college that made me want to pursue this further was a portrait of my young niece for my sister. The portrait evoked a great response.
I was attempting to do it in the style of my newly discovered hero, Sargent, and unfortunately (or fortunately?) I don’t have an image of it on hand. I didn’t know anything about technique or even working from life at that time.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I can’t say there was any definitive moment when I knew I wanted to be an artist. Even once I moved to New York to study, I had all sorts of competing idealistic interests. I suppose once the technical instruction began to take hold and my skills developed, the idea of art being a viable career began to not seem so crazy.
Do you have any bad art habits that you just can’t seem to break?
I tend to use my fingers when I paint to smudge something or blot out a poor stroke. I really should be more careful, because the paints do contain heavy metals and such. But I actively make sure to wash my hands and, otherwise, stay rather clean.
When I catch myself doing this while teaching, I always make a note to tell my students not to follow my example. But I do like to point out that I read Titian was supposed to have applied his glazes with his fingers, so if it was good enough for him…
How do you get yourself ready to start making art? Any weird pre- or post-rituals?
It would probably be good if I have a routine, but I really do not. Most days are spent wearing all the different hats necessary to keep things running. I always manage to fit in time behind the easel somewhere.
I do like to listen to audiobooks or podcasts when possible, though. They can help me concentrate as other things go on around me. (I share a collaborative studio space with two other artists: Michael Klein and Louis Carr. Our studio is call East Oaks Studio in Raleigh, North Carolina.)
What’s the weirdest art material you have ever used?
I used burlap once to attempt to create a textured effect on a wool coat I was painting on a portrait commission. It was only marginally successful…
If you could surround yourself with only one color, what would it be?
Probably a warm natural gray. It’s soothing and versatile.
What’s the hardest part of being an artist?
Wearing all the different hats of an entrepreneur. It’s difficult enough to make truly good work, to continually improve your skills while cultivating emotional power in each piece. And yet, I am also doing much of my own sales, communication, relationships, market and everything else that healthy businesses need. It’s a lot to keep track of!
If you could do anything in the world for a living — not art-related — what would you do?
I thought about being a chef at one point in my life. That job requires crazy hours, however. I also strongly considered architecture. I suppose those are still art-related in a way, but I guess I can’t see myself doing anything that isn’t making something.
Any art cliché(s), trends or materials that make your blood boil?
When I teach, I hear a lot of common misconceptions that tend to confuse earnest students who want to learn. For example, “Never use black” or something like, “If the lights are warm, then the shadows are cool.”
There are times when those things might be true and/or helpful, but I think they tend to miss the point and obscure real foundational principles in art-making. Students end up with this ridiculously long list of dos and don’ts they’ve collected over the years from various teachers. And, it frankly doesn’t help their real understanding.
Since we are a community of artists and art lovers alike, can you share a few of your favorite artists you follow?
Jordan Sokol is one of my favorite living artists. His dramatic and emotional portraits always captivate me and draw me in. His drawing skills and decision-making are so refined. I also resonate with his desire and ability to invest in others, passing along these skills as the director of The Florence Academy of Art, U.S.
Joseph McGurl is an inspiring living landscape painter. I love his sense of light and pursuit of luminosity in his work. He also is dedicated to working from life, creating numerous plein air sketches which he uses, unaided by photography, in his larger studio work. I find that incredibly admirable, and it illustrates his deep understanding of the landscape and picture-making.
If you could only share one piece of advice to an aspiring artist, what would it be?
Be thoughtful and become good at problem-solving. My personal experience as an artist, and also as an instructor with a fair amount of experience, is that those who are able to advance in their art-making have an internal ability to think thoroughly and take the small morsels of instruction they receive and run with it. They also ask many questions and seek a deep understanding of the problems inherent to our craft, not simply accepting advice as some sort of list of dos and don’ts.
Most things in art-making are understandable and can be understood logically by those who seek them out.
You can learn more about Joshua LaRock and his work by visiting his website. And, you can watch trailers of Joshua LaRock’s workshops, as well as other art videos, on East Oaks Studio’s Vimeo page and YouTube channel.