Selected Critical reviews
“Silverman’s portraits were never merely illustrations for a text; they were always independent, parallel works of art, vast texts in themselves. In every instance he presented a subtle examination of character and fresh insights into personality. Where words left off, Silverman began. He revealed what could not be described or explained; again and again, he found the essence… How he brought this about, I cannot imagine, but there it was, beyond argument; and it gave me, and continues to give me, joy.”—William Shawn, former Editor of The New Yorker
“Silverman works from direct experience, with an understanding of the character and motivations of people, and the ability and avowed purpose to create canvases that engage with an audience on many levels….If his paintings did not achieve these qualities, the work would not touch us as they do. There can be no doubt from this survey of his current work that Silverman has passed the litmus test of enduring value. …. Silverman’s art is universal.” — Dr. Gabriel P. Weisberg, Professor of Art History, University of Minnesota
“None of us helped Burt Silverman, whose distinctive drawings vividly illuminated the screen as they now do this book. Pay attention to the mood they create of the delegates in debate, dejection, or defiance, and you realize how a work of the imagination grasps reality more poignantly at times than a photograph.”—Bill Moyers, Introduction to Report from Philadelphia, the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Ballantine Books, NY, 1987
The paintings in this exhibition are geared to an examination of the everyday world as it is manifested in the faces and figures of the people he encounters in his daily life. But the artist is not content simply to recording the factualness of their appearance, but somehow, more intuitively, he responds to and records something more complex. His art also elicits a sense of a life lived in the people he paints, something akin to a new awareness about the specialness of the ordinary. His images are acutely human, psychologically intense, graphically structured and beautifully painted. Catalog introduction to "Realism Recovered", Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, Tulsa OK
“The art of Burton Silverman displays the art of a prolific, wide-ranging celebrant of life. His paintings are about life and living with one’s own skin—and in our time. It is not about politics or justice or any of the other ideas claimed for typical late-twentieth-century art in the typical contemporary art magazine. Just as music is for hearing, painting is for seeing. For Silverman, the painter’s work is to find those times and places where seeing the thing is the most powerful way to experience it. He undertakes to re-present experience on canvas or paper.” — Joseph Keiffer, American Arts Quarterly
“Apart from the fact that these works are so beautifully composed and constructed as to make one feel at one with Silverman’s vision, the understanding that he has deliberately chosen ordinary settings to create such extraordinary circumstances excites the mind as much as the eye… He’s captured artisans, laborers vacationers and sportsmen—the old and the young. They comprise a repertoire of real people whose existence often transcend the commonplace, representing for the artist larger issues and deeper emotions. The work can be viewed on two planes: as documents of an epoch and recordings of ideas… Silverman’s art is created with intelligence and his commitment to truth and beauty is vividly clear.”—Steven Heller, , Arts Magazine, Jan. 1984
“Burton Silverman is an artist of consummate skill. In his recent drawings, pastels and watercolors he demonstrates the draughtsmanship, painterliness and concern for people that have earned his work several prestigious awards and a place in important exhibitions. They add insights and convey perceptions through conventional images that have about them the qualities we associate with art.”—Malcolm Preston, Newsday, Sept. 1971
“Burton Silverman’s special gift is the ability to take the viewer into the environment of his subjects; to share the joy, the pain, the expectation, the resignation, the love and the contempt. For the past eight years works by Burton Silverman have been included in each of the Portsmouth Museums American Drawings Exhibitions…and became part of the Center’s permanent collection of Twentieth Century paintings and drawings.”—The Portsmouth Museums
In print: magazines
From Fine Art Connoisseur , Nov.-Dec. , 2014
"I am happy exploring the places you have painted in half-light, and I find thatI am more enchanted by what you have not painted than by what you have. Your broadly handled areas offer a way in; in my mind’s eye I can bring to a photo-like finish what you have merely suggested. You trigger imagining, which is so much more fun than the dazzling showmanship of photo-finish perfectionism.
Yet you have been described as a “realist.” Is that a style or a content designation? Can one really separate the two; can we separate expression from intent? Is your expression of realism different from photorealism?
An interview with Ira Goldberg, former Director of the Art Student's League
from Linea Magazine, winter, 2010
"Realist painting is now increasingly harnessed only to pure observation. There are exceptions and differences, such as the emergence of personal narrative art, often of a kind that is remote and difficult to decipher. In the main, however, this new realist art just wants to get it exactly as the camera might see it but not to look photographic. It wants to capture the absolute existential “it-ness”of things. The authenticity of the untrammeled eye has become the new basis of validity"
A publicity photograph taken more than 50 years ago to promote an exhibition by fledgling artists now stands as a testament to the enduring power of realist art.
by ADAM VAN DOREN
On a dreary, overcast and otherwise uneventful afternoon in the late winter of 1961, eight artists arrived at the studio of painter Daniel Bennet Schwartz in New York City. They were all well acquainted with each other—some going as far back as their childhoods in Brooklyn—and they had come to be photographed for a group portrait, meant to promote their upcoming exhibition “A Realist View.” Their names were Burton Silverman, Herb Steinberg, St. Julian Fishburne, Robert White, Sheldon Fink, Aaron Shikler, David Levine, and Harvey Dinnerstein. The photographer assigned to the project was Guy Gillette, who had freelanced for magazines such as Life, Collier’s, and Harper’s.
The result was an extraordinary black-and-white image that captured a moment when the men first formally introduced themselves as a “movement.” Staged on the rooftop of Schwartz’s tenement against a backdrop of gritty buildings, power lines, and water towers, the artists stared intently into the camera like actors each with a story to tell.
from the text: The Artists Magazine
As I started exhibiting work in the late 1950s at the Davis Galleries in New York City,I ran smack up against the alleged Triumph of Modernism, which forced me to start thinking and writing. I began asking what good art was and then about what realist painting had to become in order to genuinely compete with those huge painted confections called abstract art. I believed realist painting had to use classic painting devices combined with 20th century sensibilities and sophistications. It was a tall order and, as I discovered, almost impossible to codify with any degree of certitude.
more from "In Context" the Artists Magazine , June, 2015 .."
This ambiguity or uncertainty gives the viewer a space to enter the presumptive dialogue, which leads to another important notion associated with historical realism and with so many periods of Western art: the curious idea of cognitive dissonance: seeing an image simultaneously as both real and as paint on a canvas.
This strange tolerance for disparate emotive states was really sundered by the rise of modernist thinking in which paint alone would become the source of aesthetic response and, even more, of meaningfulness.
There are far too many kinds of art under the rubric of realism, which makes summary judgments not only inaccurate but unfair. But briefly, and this is just my possibly myopic view, but an art that searches for beauty but lacks a philosophic or psychological subtext can become trivialized by mere prettiness. As long as the techniques are not informed by some kind of unique emotional stance or an idiosyncratic take on the visual experience, the form the art takes,\however expert the verisimilitude, will become just a “machine,” a fatal reminder of the great so-called "machines' of the 19th-century Salon ( Académie des Beaux-Arts) exhibitions.