The value of art is a subjective thing, but numbers — so they say — do not lie.
And the numbers that an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting realism in the arts and has spent the past decade or so crunching, point to Tulsa native Derek Penix as the top artist in the country.
Fine Art Connoisseur magazine’s online newsletter, Fine Art Today, recently published “Who Are the Top 6 Artists?”, a somewhat misleading title, as the story itself listed only five people.
The story was based on the research by ARTDATAintel, a firm that tracks results of major art contests and competitions throughout the United States. The company reviewed 12 years worth of data, focusing on more than 5,600 artists who have won prizes at 10 major art competitions that specialize in realist art, such as the Oil Painters of America, the American Impressionist Society, the International Guild of Realism and PleinAir Salon.
“The funny thing is,” Penix said, “I never entered myself into these competitions. I always thought I wasn’t good enough to compete at that level. So it was my wife who would enter me, starting about seven or eight years ago.”
Penix’s self-doubts were soon disproved when he began winning top honors. He won the gold medal at the Oil Painters of America 25th National Juried Exhibition in 2016, which is one of the competitions where he was the most awarded artist in the time period covered in the ARTDATAintel research.
“So I guess it’s a good thing my wife didn’t listen to me,” Penix said, and laughed.
Penix did not take up a paintbrush until after he graduated high school. During a visit to Laguna Beach, California, Penix visited a number of art venues and, after seeing what was on display, decided he could do at least as well.
Penix describes himself as a “light and shadows painter.” While his subject matter, captured in strong brushstrokes and vivid colors, is for the most part realist, his true focus is on what he describes as “the whole dialogue that goes on between light and dark, colors and edges, masses and shapes.”
His mother showed some of Penix’s early paintings to Royce Myers, owner of Royce Myers Art Ltd., 1706 S. Boston Ave., who encouraged him to pursue painting and who continues to represent Penix’s work.
In 2019, Penix had his first solo exhibit in his hometown at Myers’ gallery.
Penix said he is flattered at the honor and is starting to see some impact from the announcement.
“The day the story went out of the internet, I had two paintings sold,” he said. “I recently sold a huge canvas that I’m sure was because of the story.
“I really can’t say for certain what may come from this in the long run,” Penix said. “But in a sense, it is a kind of validation. These competitions are typically judged by master artists, people everyone knows and respects. And they say if what you do is good, it carries a little more weight.”
Penix and his family recently relocated to Temecula, California, which is providing him with all manner of new inspiration.
“We’re pretty much surrounded by vineyards and orange trees, and the ocean isn’t too far away,” he said. “There’s all sorts of subject matter here that’s really exciting to me.”
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