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The Barry Oretsky Principle

A survey of works.

Barry Oretsky has long been lauded for his arresting realist paintings. The artist, an Owen Sound, Ontario native, honed his craft while a student at the Central Technical High School in Toronto and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Travels through Italy, North Africa, and Europe, and three years of military service in Israel had a profound impact on him; it was during his time in Israel that he made the transition from abstract to realist painter. Oretsky has since produced hundreds of paintings, and in 2004 was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.


NUVO Blog: Barry Oretsky

Lunch in Burgundy, 2002.


Distinguished art critic Donald Kuspit wrote the foreword to The Reality Principle, a survey of Oretsky’s vast repertoire of work, providing insight into the painter’s works and process. An excerpt:

“[Oretsky] is a meticulous observer of the lifeworld, studiously describing, with excruciating exactitude, its least material detail, so much that it often stands out with epiphanic clarity, giving it a certain abstract intensity.

For all their inner and outer beauty of Oretsky’s still life objects, they are isolated and solitary. So are his figures—they’re all peculiarly [di]stilled lives. It signals their subjective state—and Oretsky’s. I suggest that all of Oretsky’s figures—human or not (human by association)—are implicitly self-portraits. They have an extroverted, pleasurable appearance, and we take pleasure in the remarkable skill with which Oretsky renders them, but they are not exactly social. They are alone with themselves in a way that suggests the loneliness of the artist himself—the loneliness of making art, the aloneness of the artist with his art.


NUVO Blog: Barry Oretsky

Espace Intérieur, 1994.


[Oretsky’s solitary figures] mirror his mood, as it were—the concentrated mood he is when he is making art, intensely focused on representing something that interests him, for whatever emotional and perceptual reason, rendering its unique presence with all his skill—and the reflectiveness of the art he makes.

Oretsky is an ontological realist, as distinct from an ordinary realist. Ontological realism focuses on the being of objects not simply their appearances. It finds the kernel of being in the shell of appearance, without denying the necessity of appearance as a mediator and container of being. To use another metaphor, it refines the gold of being from the raw material of transient appearance. Being is a sort of diamond in the roughness of appearance, and the ontological realist—Oretsky—polishes it to artist perfection.”

Read our Barry Oretsky profile story.

Photos of Barry Oretsky’s paintings by Michael Moore, See Spot Run, Colourgenics, WFO Mixed Media Inc.