Bo Bartlett Painting Techniques

by Buffy Naillon Google

The painting techniques of American artist Bo Bartlett have caught the attention of art lovers who appreciate Realism in art. His work carries on some of the traditions he learned throughout the course of his fine arts education as well as his personal contact and experiences with one of America's best Realist painters. These techniques allow him to create paintings that are haunting in their beauty and which invite the viewer to ponder the questions that his work seems to suggest.


Although he had little contact with art growing up, artist Bo Bartlett has become one of America's most accomplished Realist artists. Bartlett was born in 1955 in Columbus, Georgia. When he was 20, he studied art briefly in Florence, Italy under Ben Long and then took his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art from 1976 to 1981. After that, he studied for a time with Realist portrait painter, Nelson Shanks. He finished his formal education at New York University's film school, receiving a certificate in film in 1986. It was because of Bartlett's background as both an artist and filmmaker that Betsy Wyeth, wife of Andrew Wyeth, invited him to make a film about Wyeth's work called "Snow Hill" in 1995. These influences helped him develop his own vision and techniques as an artist and laid down the foundation for his work.

Realism and Modernism

Barlett's art techniques show the influence of Realism as well as Modernism. Early Realist artists rejected the constraints of Classical and Romantic art, which they felt had an artificial quality. Instead, the work of Realist painters shows people in everyday settings living in ordinary circumstances. Bartlett's paintings depict nature and contemporary life, a nod to the tenants of Realism. From the Modernist movement Bartlett took the idea of subjectivity. This gives the viewer a glimpse into the artist's inner world. Taken together, Realism provides the photographic quality of Bartlett's work, while his choice of subject matter shows the way he uses a Modernist perspective. He fills his paintings with family and friends; however, these paintings often contain an unfinished or mysterious quality about them that leaves the viewer wondering what the back story is behind the scenes.

Cinematic Quality

Bartlett's paintings possess a quality that makes them seem as if each one might be taken from one frame of a film. One example of this is his painting "Return of the Three Graces from Exile." The painting shows three women standing before a camera on location of a movie, captured in a behind-the-scenes moment. His use of this technique comes from not only his background in film -- it also demonstrates the influence of Modernism, which was affected greatly by the invention of the camera.

Seeing Right

From Bo Bartlett's experiences came the desire to learn to paint what he sees as well as develop a way of painting that taps into the great mystery of life. Bartlett learned this technique from his long relationship with friend and mentor, Andrew Wyeth, according to a talk he gave at Dowling Walsh Gallery in 2010; this technique results from the artist sitting long enough for life to happen around him. He then begins drawing what he sees. This leads to a type of visual communication for which words are not required. He describes it as transcribing what he sees until a painting emerges from it.

About the Author

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.