David Ligare – Man with Crow (2015)

If you ever dreamt of being a Greek hero/ine and sail the seas like Odysseus, overcome impossible tasks like Hercules or be a skilled, renowned warrior like Atalanta, then David Ligare’s paintings will go straight to your heart. With his love for Classicism, this contemporary American artist is bringing Ancient Greece back to life in a hyperrealistic style that emphasizes light and open spaces. As he puts it, light symbolizes enlightenment and his paintings abound with it. There is a great sense of tranquility and vastness in his art, which reminds me of José Manuel Capuletti’s works.

Despite its apparent simplicity, Man with Crow is a contemplative painting infused with mythological symbolism and the desire for knowledge.  A young man, wearing a toga from the waist down – a reference to Ancient Greece – is seated on a chair and holding a crow in his hand. The pose itself is reminiscent of philosophers trying to grasp the mystery and meaning of life. With his attentive eyes and half-open mouth, the man looks as if he’s engaged in a profound conversation with the crow. As is often the case in Ligare’s paintings, the backdrop is a calm sea and clear sky, scenery alluding to the Mediterranean.

David Ligare - Man with Crow
David Ligare – Man with Crow (2015), oil on canvas

The crow is the key to the painting and its symbolism is complex. Across many cultures crows and ravens represent death, but also magic, mystery and knowledge. In Ancient Greece, crows were considered messengers. As the story goes, when Apollo – the Greek god of light, prophecy and truth – sent a crow to spy on his lover Coronis, the crow returned with the news that she had fallen in love with a mortal named Ischys. Enraged and distrusting the messenger, Apollo turned all crows to black (they had previously been white), but later sent his sister Artemis to kill Coronis.

Ligare has previously contended that “the essence of Classicism is balance – the balance between opposing forces – say, Apollonian order and Dionysian chaos”, a view echoed by Nietzsche in his 1872 essay The Birth of Tragedy. According to Nietzsche, this interplay between reason, order and self (as represented by Apollo) and pleasure, chaos and self-abandonment (Dionysus – god of wine, ecstasy and ritual madness) is evident in Greek tragedies, where even though the heroes fail to alter their fate or make sense of it, they become part of a larger, collective narrative which appeals to and is appreciated by the audience.

The Apollo-like figure in Ligare’s painting can thus be seen as a vehicle for a story as old as time: the search for a meaningful life. As worthy as the ideal of pursuing knowledge is, reason needs to be balanced by emotion, by mystery and by the sense of belonging to an entity larger than the self, where personal boundaries disappear – the collective pool of humanity.

You can visit the artist’s website here.

15 thoughts on “David Ligare – Man with Crow (2015)

  1. It’s interesting to me that people still like this sort of thing. French Academy painters of the nineteenth century did similar paintings and did it much better, and yet their paintings still come across as kind of hokey. I’m thinking of Bougereau, Gerome etc. Their nudes and figures were usually young female nymphs and Venuses and were a way for the bourgeoisie to buy nudes under the guise of buying paintings with classical motifs. Hey it’s not just some hot babe, it’s Venus!
    Ligare’s male figures are more of the homo-erotic bent, painted for a gay clientele. I know that’s very un-PC but it is true. Studies have shown that gay men are more inclined to support the arts and buy paintings; though many exhibit better taste. But my real issue with Ligare’s work is the flat illustrational rendering. At least the academics could paint, if not originally and with passion, still much better than Mr. Ligare. His figures appear flat both physically and emotionally. He models only with chiaroscuro and not with color. Look closely at the hand holding the crow. Not really all that good. And I find the subject hokey with a capital H. I know Caravaggio did some male nudes with a home-erotic slant, but they are painted so much better and therefore earn our admiration on that ground.
    Place a work of Ligare’s next to a male figure by Freud, and you’ll see the difference between an illustrator and a great artist.

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    1. Homo-erotic? Painted for a gay clientele? That’s such a cynical view! “So what Apollo was a beardless, athletic, handsome god? We could use him so well to milk money off gays”. Somehow we got it into our heads that beauty and simplicity mean shallowness and we need to disparage them.

      It really comes down to personal aesthetics. Makes no sense comparing Ligare to Freud, because the latter wasn’t chasing ideals, beauty and serenity. On the contrary. But sure, whenever someone has goals as lofty as Ligare it’s extremely easy to disappoint. I think it gets interpreted that what they cannot achieve in painting, they make up with words. Personally, I have no problem with flatness, simplicity and clean lines. It would be very boring if everyone painted only in a certain way.

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  2. It is NOT about personal aesthetics. Freud’s paintings are more beautiful because they are more honest and not hokey, tired cliches. Lofty goals?? Seriously?? I’m not sure what your background is, but I suspect a literary or art history one. I’d be surprised if a painter. Look at some of LIgare’s other male nudes. How about the naked muscle guy on horseback? If that is not homo-erotic, I don’t know what qualifies.
    I agree that it would be boring for all painters to paint the same way, but if you are going to paint representational figures, you need to bring more to the table than Ligare does. I can bet he would not want you describing his figures as flat, yet you admit that they are. There is a difference between a painter intentionally depicting his motif as flat, and someone who just doesn’t get it.
    Anyway, I enjoyed our little pit-a-pat. I miss it since I left Philadelphia.

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  3. Hey, who cares if it’s homo-erotic, or whatever its a beautiful painting but I am bothered by the rather modern looking chair he’s sitting on. If I am looking at it and not the man or the crow something’s gone wrong (it may be I get distracted easily, of course).

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    1. Emma, if you read my first comment you’ll see that it is not the homo-erotic nature that really bothers me, but the flat quality of the figure. Check out Mr. Ligare’s website. A painting entitled, Hercules protecting the balance between Pleasure and Virtue (how’s that for a pretentious, silly title). Look at the female figure on the left and in particular her hand resting on the ground. It’s as flat as a pancake and is also twice as big as her other hand. This is the result of copying a photograph of posed models. The camera distorts and exaggerates the foreground, and Ligare mindlessly copied that distortion. So much for striving for some lofty ideal. He can’t even do it rendering the figure. That is my point.
      In contrast, look at Caravaggio’s, Supper at Emmaus. The figure on the right has his arms extended with one hand coming directly at the viewer and the other receding far into the picture plane. Yet the hands are in proportion. Caravaggio didn’t mindlessly copy the errors in a photo. Painting is an art but so is looking at paintings.
      I agree with some of the others that his still life are better, but there remains in them a bit of that stilted, pretentious quality exhibited in his figure painting.

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      1. James, I kinda’ agree with some of what you are saying, as Ligare is not really my cup of tea, either, and I much, much prefer Lucien Freud. That said, what I mostly get from Ligare is atmosphere: it’s open, warm, clear, crisp. They all have that same feel regardless of subject matter. It’s a mood or state which I gather the artist values. It’s not my temperament, but seems like a good vacation spot.

        Kinda’ unfair to compare him to Caravaggio, or even Freud. I mean, shit, who can hold up against Caravaggio?! And Freud, by me, the the 20th centuries greatest figurative artist (excluding artists who abstract the figure more).

        As for the homo-erotic content. I dunno. If he likes men, then, why not paint ’em?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Eric, I have no problem with an artist painting male nudes-gay or straight artists. I’ve never done a painting of a male nude outside of art school, but I have portfolios full of drawings of male models, again mostly from school. As I said to Emma, my real problem is the way in which Ligare paints them. I also think his way of rendering the male nude IS pandering to a certain segment of a gay clientele that likes that sort of thing. There are straight men who collect female nudes in the same way. And why not compare him to Caravaggio. Keep the bar where it belongs. We agree on Freud. You’ll hate hearing this, but I think people will still be admiring his work long after they tire of the mannerisms of your boy and Freud’s contemporary, Bacon.

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  4. I love it. It’s so serene. His work reminds me of Edward Hopper’s for some reason. Ligare’s looks more realistic, but they have the same kind of simplicity. Hopper seemed like he was interested in space, too. Big rooms or lobbies with small characters. But Ligare puts his characters front and center, while Hopper hides his away. Excellent work Gabriela!

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  5. I just went to his site and my favorites are the flying pieces of white cloth. They seem to capture his message the best for me, especially the most recent one at an angle. Crisp, fresh, clean, light, open, clear. I just keeps reminding me of some pristine vacation spot by the sea that I can’t afford to go to, and might get a bit bored, but would like to spend the afternoon there sipping wine, and taking a dip. He seems to be after a quality of timeless peace and tranquility, especially of the mind. I like the mood.

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