Nelson Shanks’ exceedingly realist art

A painter once told me that, for a realist, hands were the most difficult aspect of the human figure to get right. Having seen how many artists have been frustrated by hands, especially in portraiture, I have come to agree.

Hands don’t terrorize Nelson Shanks; if anything, he paints them too convincingly, to the point where they become so prominent they can dominate a portrait.

I have observed this phenomenon in earlier exhibitions of his work, and I saw it again in his current show at the James A. Michener Art Museum.

When it comes to anatomical precision, Shanks has long been recognized as a peerless craftsman. His manipulations of light and shadow can produce startling illusions of sculptural relief.

The most dramatic example at Michener is a portrait of Pope John Paul II whose photo-studio lighting creates an almost unnatural tableau-vivant effect.

As we can see in

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