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A blog about about painting, design and other aspects of aesthetics along with a dash of non-art topics. The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished -- just put in its proper, diminished place.

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  • 05/27/13--01:00: Up Close: Dean Cornwell (1)
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post deals with Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) when he was following the style that gained him success as an illustrator. I discussed the later evolution of Cornwell's style here.

    Featured here is an illustration for an April, 1923 Cosmopolitan magazine story titled "Garden of Peril" by Cynthia Stockley.

    The source of the detail image is explained below:

    * * * * *

    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with my work. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    Peril Kelley - c.1923
    This image is from the Kelly Collection website.


    If you can enlarge the detail image you'll notice that while the surface is mostly painted thickly, there are a few places where the canvas has only a thin oil wash and, here and there, tiny bare spots show through. Cornwell's brushwork is free and details of the scene are suggested rather than delineated. The exception is Kelley's face which, along with the face of the girl, is the focus.

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    Nelson Shanks (b. 1937) never wanted to become an avant-garde, modernist painter. So he did what he could to learn traditional painting at a time when art schools such as the one I attended were stressing creativity and almost completely ignoring the basics. Even more astonishingly, Shanks has actually had a successful career while lurking under the Art Establishment radar.

    His Wikipedia entry is here and the biography on his own website is here. The lack of traditional art schools (though the situation is slowly improving) led Shanks to establish his own school, the Studio Incamminati.

    Shanks gives numerous demonstrations. Charley Parker writes about one here and Matthew D. Innis provides a more visually detailed example here.

    The Wikipedia link includes a good deal of information regarding Shanks, including a number of quotes. The one I found most intriguing is : "I almost never do drawings, because I have found over the years that doing something in one medium and translating into another doesn't work. I like to conceive a painting in real scale and in color."

    Here are examples of Shanks' work.

    Gallery

    Blue Kimono II
    Shanks is best known for portraiture and other depictions of people -- especially women.

    Danilova's Slipper (ballet shoe) - 2010
    But he's competent with landscapes and still lifes as well.

    Harlequin - 2007
    And he pays a lot of attention to color. Note how the warm areas are set off by cool colors at the top and bottom.

    Tweedle Dee
    About half of this painting is neutral background. Which helps us to focus on the rest of it.

    Shanks painting Margaret Thatcher

    Dragonlady - 2006
    Shanks painted several works featuring a low-positioned candlelight effect. Just because one's work is representational doesn't mean that it can't be interesting or creative.

    John Paul II - 2002
    Papal portraits almost always seem to feature their subject seated. Here Shanks has John Paul standing. And the gesture, to me, makes this one of the most outstanding papal portraits of all; it captures the man.

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    I usually enjoy reading what Terry Teachout (biographer, playwright, librettist and theater critic for The Wall Street Journal) has to say about subjects I'm familiar with (art) and those more distant from my cultural radar (music, theater, dance). He strikes me as being a sensible man, something I suspect can be hard to find at times in the cultural world.

    Not long ago on his blog "About Last Night" he posted "Getting out more" (scroll down to April 9, 2013) in which he mentions his visit to New York's Museum of Modern Art which was holding an exhibit dealing with early abstract painting. Here is one of his observations:

    * * * * *
    MoMA has always been provincial about pre-1945 American modernism, and "Inventing Abstraction" (surprise, surprise!) is no exception to the rule. I was astonished to see that Arthur Dove, who can lay a serious claim to having invented abstraction, was fobbed off with two paintings tucked away in a corner--though I do give the curator full credit for devoting an appropriate amount of space to Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Morgan Russell, and Morton Schamberg. That corner installation was one of the best parts of the show.
    * * * * *

    I quite agree. About a year ago I wrote about Macdonald-Wright in this blog and I also dealt with him in my e-book "Art Adrift" (see sidebar to the right).

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  • 06/03/13--01:00: What is Art?
  • I suppose some people who got better grades than me in university and graduate school will snicker and chalk it up to intellectual inferiority, and maybe they'd be correct. Nevertheless, I'm willing to admit that I am uneasy being in the same room with elaborate theories or thought structures pertaining to human behavior. So I am extremely reluctant to indulge in that sort of activity, being more comfortable with rules of thumb couched in probabilistic terms. (Theorizing done regarding the physical sciences is different because the subject matter does not possess volition.)

    Why am I gun-shy? Perhaps because I was exposed to such theorizing in graduate school and couldn't see the sense of it (my IQ was never stellar). For example, in the Sociology Department at the University of Washington, Stewart Dodd was still around; years before, he had written about reducing human sociological behavior to something like mathematical formulas. I chalk up that effort of his as an exercise in trying something to find out if it was really workable. It turns out that it wasn't, though fans of Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon might disagree.

    And then there was social theorist Talcott Parsons of Harvard who many at Washington and at Dear Old Penn worshiped in those days. I never worshiped him, but nevertheless forced myself to plow through some of his writings because I might have had to deal with his ideas in my Ph.D. examinations. As best I remember, his structure was elaborate and had many details, all of which were considered very important. Another failed effort, in my opinion.

    So what does this have to do with art?

    Reducing it to a matter of definition. The current Art Establishment seems to hold that just about anything can be considered art if a few people (for instance, an "artist," an art galley and an art reporter or critic) proclaim something as "art." And if someone fails to recognize that something is "art," well, they must be closed-minded or maybe have some other cultural or even mental deficiency. But if just about anything can be art, then art is nothing special. So how can that be, given that certain art objects are worth a good deal of money and might be found and venerated in large museums? A tricky situation, here.


    Consider this "art" object, an assemblage titled "My Bed" by Tracey Emin. This article treats it as art, offering as justification that Emin put a good deal of thought and work into its creation.


    Now consider "My Desktop," in the image above -- a photo I took just before writing this post. I did not put a lot of thought and energy into creating the fascinating tactile ensemble you see in the photo, but it is not entirely haphazard, either. Objects have their places. Near the upper right are bits of computer equipment. Next to it are writing instruments. Notes and notepads are at either end of the desk, and so on.

    To some people, my desktop could, perhaps should be considered art. I don't think it is art. I do not think Emin's "My Bed" is art either. To me it is a kind of public relations stunt related to marketing the Tracey Emin brand and, by the way, has the virtue of being sold for real Pounds Sterling.

    As I noted, in our modernist world, the definition of art lies in the eye or mind of the beholder. Some behold "My Bed" as art, other do not. However, it seems that Art Establishment beholders and their followers are definitely more equal than others -- especially compared to those dull-witted philistines incapable of appreciating the nuances of great works of art such as Emin's "My Bed."

    Given my distrust of theoretical systems, I'm not going to offer a rigid definition of art, even though I disagree with the current art-is-just-about-anything ethos. But I will toss out an idea. Did you ever notice that young children supplied with a pencil, crayon or some similar tool and a surface to mark on, seem to enjoy creating images of objects they know in their world. This is the nub of art. Their messy beds are not.

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  • 06/05/13--01:00: Up Close: E.M. Jackson (1)
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post deals with Elbert McGran (E.M.) Jackson (1896-1962) who painted covers for leading American magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. Biographical information regarding Jackson is sparse, and this is the most detailed I could locate through a brief Google search.

    Featured here is an illustration titled "Coat Check Girl" for the 19 April, 1930 cover of Collier's.

    The source of the detail image is explained below:

    * * * * *

    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with one showing detail. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    A reference photo I took


    Jackson had a nice, clean style of painting that yielded crisp looking images when reduced to magazine size and run through the printing process. But the detail image shows (if you can enlarge it) that his brushwork wasn't "tight." He simply painted his subjects large enough to suit his style knowing that reduction would tighten things up.

    Note that the light background paint is cracking, whereas the paint on the subject seems to be holding up well. I can think of more than one possible reason for this, but hesitate to come to a conclusion.

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  • 06/07/13--01:00: 1930s Spaceships
  • What should a spaceship look like?

    Back in the Moon exploration era, they came in two types. One was a conical re-entry vehicle, the other a boxy arrangement with spindly bits attached. The latter didn't need to be streamlined because it wasn't intended to enter the atmosphere. The space shuttle had to operate both in the atmosphere and in airless space, so its design had to be keyed to the former environment. The same can be said for shuttle-like vehicles currently in the planning and testing stage.

    So following a period when spaceships were often portrayed as the space-only style, we seem to be returning to the science-fiction spaceships of newspaper comic strips and pulp magazine covers. Not precisely so, of course, but in the spirit of being able to rocket away from Earth to land on Mars or wherever using the same vehicle.

    The early Sci-Fi magazines did their best to emphasize or at least incorporate science in their stories. I've been reading some books (originally appearing in Amazing Stories magazine) by Philip Nowlan that served as the basis for the Buck Rogers comic strip that was launched in 1929. The second of these, "The Airlords of Han," goes into enough detail regarding anti-gravity and other 25th century technology that the flow of the story suffers greatly.

    Once Sci-Fi comic strips appeared, scientific pretensions were at best subliminal and gee-whiz adventuring was what such strips featured. Nevertheless, if the characters needed to dash around the solar system, they had to have spaceships and cartoonists had to come up with what they looked like. Here are some examples from the 1930s along with a few from the 1940s.

    Gallery

    Amazing Stories cover by Frank R. Paul - 1928
    Paul was a pioneer Sci-Fi illustrator, so his spaceship concepts surely influenced Dick Calkins, the original Buck Rogers comic strip artist.  I'll guess that those yellow dots along the side of the ship represent portholes for passenger cabins.  If so, then where is the space for the motor and its fuel needed to generate that huge blast of flame rushing out the stern?

    Buck Rogers aerial taxi - October 1930
    Yes, it isn't a spaceship. But the Buck Rogers strip includes all sorts of futuristic conveyances ranging from this taxi to aircraft to interplanetary vehicles.

    Buck Rogers - June 1931

    Buck Rogers - March 1932

    Buck Rogers - 1932

    Flash Gordon - 1938
    Five years after the Buck Rogers strip was launched, Flash Gordon appeared. Alex Raymond, with both arms tied behind his back, could out-draw Calkins, so it's no surprise that his spaceships look sleeker. Calkins' late 30s spaceships still look clunky.

    Flash Gordon - 1939

    Brick Bradford - 1944
    Brick Bradford, drawn by Clarence Gray, was 1930s Sci-Fi strip that lasted many years while never attaining the popularity of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. I had a great deal of trouble finding examples of Gray's spaceships on the Internet, the example above being the only one.

    Buck Rogers c.1948-49
    Rick Yager began drawing Buck Rogers Sunday strips in the 1930s and by the mid-1940s was the sole artist. Shown above is a sleek spaceship from a Sunday strip.

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    Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) in my opinion was one of the greatest poster illustrators, ever. He also was one of the better poster designers of the first half of the 20th century, though in this respect he was outshone by the likes of A.M. Cassandre and others.

    Hohlwein had a distinctive style, usually using the notoriously difficult (for me, anyway) watercolor medium often in flat, overlapping areas to build up images.

    The quality of his work was such that his political leanings are usually ignored or downplayed by writers and critics. Critics are more likely to bring up the politics of leftist German artists such as George Grosz and John Heartfield, though seldom in a negative way. With Hohlwein, negativity would be easy to introduce, yet his work was so good that, like the case of fashion designer Coco Chanel, his views and activities are viewed with a blind eye. For example, this politically liberal artist/blogger simply enthuses about how good an artist Hohlwein was.

    And what was Hohlwein's political dark side? Well, you see, he was a Nazi. A member of the party once Hitler took over Germany in 1933. Before that, he created posters in support of the Kaiser's war effort. After the Great War he did posters supporting the anti-leftist Stahlhelm (steel helmet) paramilitary organization. However, it should be noted that his political posters were "positive" in that they supported the regime without negative depictions of the regime's enemies. In other words, so far as I know, Hohlwein never created an antisemitic poster. Grosz and Heartfield, on the other hand, went to great lengths to do negative portrayals of what they despised rather than showing the presumed positive joys of a risen proletariat.

    The most detailed biographical information I could find on the Web is here. And his German Wikipedia entry mentions that he was forbidden to pursue his profession until February 1946, about nine months after Germany's defeat in World War 2. So presumably the Allies noted his general support of the Hitler regime, but could find no direct connection to its negative deeds.

    I begin the examples of Hohlwein's work, below, with a few of his regime-supporting works to show what they looked like. Then I include a number of the posters he made for advertisers, these being what gained him his fame.

    Gallery

    This encourages youth to join the Stahlhelm youth organization.

    Advertising the Union of German Maidens, an arm of the Hitler Youth.

    The lower red caption asserts "We are those who guarantee the future."

    A 1912 poster for Audi automobiles. Around this time Hohlwein included large patterned areas in some of his posters.  Also note the Coles Phillips color dropout style.

    Advertising gentlemens' clothing. Note Hohlwein's artistic license where the two men are lighted from opposite directions.

    A coffee ad.

    One of Hohlwein's best-known posters, this for Casanova cigarettes. Note the way the woman's face is rendered.

    For a fashion event.

    High-fashion perfume.

    "Summer in Germany means splendid holidays!"

    Advertising sport hats.

    Urging women to wear jewelry.

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  • 06/12/13--01:00: Up Close: J.C. Leyendecker
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post deals with J.C. (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker (1874-1951), one of the most successful illustrators during the first four decades of the last century. His production of cover art for The Saturday Evening Post, America's leading general-interest magazine at the time, was roughly equal to that of Norman Rockwell.

    I wrote about him here. Some other links dealing with Leyendecker are here, here, and here.

    Detailed examples of Leyendecker's finished work as well as some preliminary studies are available on the Web, but I thought I'd toss in a couple more examples here.

    First is an illustration called "Florist" for the Spring 1920 Kuppenheimer Style Book, Kuppenheimer being a mens' clothing company. The second is called "Woman Kissing Cupid," and was the cover art for the 31 March 1923 Saturday Evening Post.

    The source of the detail images is explained below:

    * * * * *

    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below are images of entire illustrations coupled with my detail photos. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    This image is from the Kelly Collection website.


    This image is from the Kelly Collection website.


    Leyendecker's style was unique to the point that other artists almost never dared to imitate it. It has been commented on by many observers, so I have no strong reason to add to such commentary at this point other than to say that I always found his work fascinating. My main reason for posting this is to note that the 1920 painting is showing cracking whereas the 1923 work, like most other Leyendeckers I'm aware of, seems to be in good shape.

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    Note that instead of the usual Molti Ritratti, this post has the ritratti count as Alcuni. That's because the star of this post, Catherina "Toto" Koopman (1908-1991), deserved to be depicted a lot, but wasn't, aside from photographically in her fashion modeling career.

    I can't find much biographical information about her on the Internet. But you might try this Financial Times article about early professional fashion photography models; scroll down to locate the part about Koopman. (For American English speakers, her Dutch last name would be pronounced something like COPE-man.)

    In summary, she was part Dutch and part Javanese/Chinese, was pursued by rich, powerful men, imprisoned by the Germans during World War 2 and lived the rest of her life with a female art dealer. If this interests you, this biography will be published in September. And if you can read French, that version has been available for a while.

    Here is what the fuss was about:

    Gallery

    Frontal view of face

    Profile view of face

    By Joseph Oppenheimer

    By Joseph Oppenheimer
    This image his credited on some Web sites as being of Koopman, but I'm not sure. For instance, the eyes and eyebrows seem wrong.

    By George Hoyningen-Heune - 1933

    By George Hoyningen-Heune - June, 1933 Vogue magazine

    By George Hoyningen-Heune - September, 1934 Vogue magazine

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  • 06/17/13--01:00: Up Close: Dean Cornwell (2)
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post features illustrator Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) during the period when he was abandoning his original style for a muralist style that he was learning from Frank Brangwyn. I discussed the evolution of Cornwell's style here. A previous post about Cornwell in the present series is here.

    The illustration featured here was part of a series for Bruce Barton's popular book "The Man of Galilee" (1928). More information about Cornwell's illustrations for that book can be found here.

    The source of the detail image is explained below:

    * * * * *

    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with my work. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    Mary Washing Jesus' Feet - 1928


    Cornwell's Brangwyn-based style features formal and informal selective outlining coupled with flat or modeled color areas within the outlines to create images. It is a kind of casual cloisonnism. Here Cornwell is using a good deal of pale blue along with darker versions of his subject's basic color to outline. What I have yet to figure out is the system for selecting outline colors in this and other works of this style by Brangwyn and many others active in the late 1800s and first decades of the 20th century. Does anyone know of a source for an explanation?

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  • 06/19/13--01:00: Unconvincing Matte Paintings
  • Nowadays computer graphics are used, especially if the entire film is digitized. But up to around 20 years ago, the production costs of movies were held down by building partial sets and filling the rest of the screen with what is called a matte painting. A nice book on the history of matte painting is "The Invisible Art" which, unfortunately, seems to be out of print. I've been re-reading my copy and it brought to mind scenes that used matte painting undetectably and others where the artifice was obvious. Just for fun, let's deal with the latter case.

    I saw Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" only once, many years ago. But I noticed that a number of images didn't seem realistic. For example, some of the buildings in New York street scenes of the early 1900s looked stiffly unnatural. Unfortunately, I could not find examples of those on the Internet, but have others that support my contention. Chesley Bonestell and maybe other matte artists working on the movie created sharp-edge paintings, perhaps according to Welles' wishes or possibly because that was their preferred style. The extensive Wikipedia entry linked in this paragraph notes that Welles strived to achieve "deep focus," where both near and distant objects appeared sharply defined. I'm not sure why he wanted this, but it might help explain why some of the matte shots (and the film had many) didn't work well because the paintings had to be crisply done, increasing their potential artificiality. Then again, maybe Welles didn't really want the movie to look completely realistic. Film and "Citizen Kane" buffs, please clarify this in Comments.

    Much matte art was done using large brushes, especially for background objects that would be slightly out of focus anyway. Where sharp edged features such as door frames, bannisters and other manufactured objects were close to the camera's focal plane, then matte artists had to use distinct edges to blend their painting with those objects in the movie set. Otherwise, looser painting seemed to work better, especially in the years when film stock did not permit high definition for any of what was being shown.

    Another point regarding matte painting is that such paintings served best for scenes lasting less than ten seconds; better yet, less than five seconds.  Otherwise, matte artists feared that viewers would discover the artifice.

    Here are some examples of scenes using matte painting.

    Citizen Kane - opening sequence
    Kane's Xanadu, in the distance, might not quite be in sharp focus (the image I found seems a little blurred all over). But it doesn't seem "real" to me.

    Citizen Kane - political convention
    The matte part is the convention floor and seating. Looks like a painting.

    Citizen Kane - political convention, different viewpoint
    Another false-looking scene. The nearest few rows probably had live actors, and there might have been some on the stage, but I can't be sure, given this static image.

    Citizen Kane - credited to Bonestell
    The Gothic windows seem a little too sharply defined.

    Citizen Kane - successful Bonestell matte
    The reflection of the distant figure on the floor is part of the painting.

    The "Star Wars" movies used a variety of special effects including matte painting. Most of the mattes were hard to detect, but a few jarred me, especially those of the Cloud City in "The Empire Strikes Back". The matte artist was Ralph McQuarrie, who did the concept art for the original Star Wars movie but had never done matte painting previously. For some reason, his paintings of Cloud City on the planet Bespin looked phoney, yet were kept in the movie.

    The Empire Strikes Back - completed view of Cloud City

    The Empire Strikes Back - Cloud City matte painting

    The Empire Strikes Back - Ralph McQuarrie painting Cloud City matte

    The Empire Strikes Back - another Cloud City painted scene

    Everything is in too sharp focus and there seems to be a lack of reflected light. Also, the mattes were on view for a substantial time, which allowed their unreality to sink in. There might be other problems, but I find it hard to put a finger on them; perhaps some readers can help here too. But the main thing for me was that this special effects lapse (along with a few more minor ones) lessened my enjoyment of the movie when I first viewed it.

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    In my opinion, modernist architecture usually works best when it is in a non-modernist setting. That setting might be a large lot filled with trees, gardens and lawns if the building is a residence or, if it is in an urban location, surrounding buildings having traditional architecture. If the structure is well-designed, it can have a jewel-like character.

    But a large cluster of modernist buildings tends to be visually sterile and anti-human. After all, we humans evolved in natural settings filled with complexity and details -- not classical geometrical shapes. Which is why most pre-modern buildings of importance in Europe, Asia, Egypt and Central America employed ornamentation to varying degrees.

    An example of classically sterile modernism applied to apartment structures is the 860-880 Lake Shore Drive complex in Chicago. They were designed by the sainted modernist Mies van der Rohe, so using that example shouldn't be regarded as a cheap shot on my part.

    A postmodern structure that comes close to traditional appreciation of complexity of detail is the Shoal Point Condominium in Victoria, British Columbia. It's the large, reddish structure behind the houseboats in this photo that I recently took (click my images to enlarge slightly).

    The architect is Paul Merrick, whose firm's Web site is here.

    A snotty, condescending modernist take on Shoal Point by Trevor Boddy in Toronto's Globe and Mail is here

    Admittedly, Shoal Point lacks clarity in terms of basic form. But that doesn't bother me because nature itself often lacks visual clarity. And an apartment or condominium building does not require the clarity of a train station or airport terminal. Shoal Point uses a number of common elements such as window shapes, but stirs them into a tangle where they visually pop out here and there rather than march together like soldiers on parade. And it also employs a good deal of ornamentation. Let's take a closer look.

    Sculpted elements are by Victoria artist Derek Rowe (no Wikipedia entry or personal web sit at the top of a Google search, but there is this).




    This is the entrance by Dallas Road.  There's a definite Art Nouveau feel to it, though the ironwork pattern is geometric (Secession?) rather than organic.  I was taken by the sculpted faces.

    Note the thematic seashore elements (starfish, seashell) in the lower hair swirls as well as fish in some of the images above.

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    As regular readers know, I enjoy posting about automobile styling. And as you can see on the right-hand panel, I even wrote an e-book on the subject (another one is on the way). I don't want to short-change those readers who expect me to write about painting and other graphic arts, so I thought I'd reduce the amount of car stuff by putting much of it in a different blog.

    That new blog is called Car Style Critic, and you can link to it here.

    However, I'll still be cross-posting some of my styling posts here because (1) I need to keep my blogging workload under control and (2) many Art Contrarian readers might find them interesting.

    Speaking of Art Contrarian, I've made some cosmetic changes. Probably the most important one is an increase in the size of the body type to improve readability. I finally figured out how to change the photo of me. And I added links to the book cover images to assist all of you who are anxious go to Amazon to purchase the books for downloading to your Kindle or iPad.

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  • 06/24/13--01:00: Catalog Imitates Art

  • The image above is smaller than I would like, but it's the best I could do short of scanning the front cover of a mid-June catalog from Coldwater Creek, a Sandpoint, Idaho based clothing retailer. I noticed it because my wife, a Coldwater Creek fan, had it sitting by our back door, probably anticipating a shopping expedition.

    The image struck me because it greatly resembled:

    Paseo a orillas del mar (Walk on the Beach) - 1909

    This is one of Joaquin Sorolla's better known paintings. It can be seen in the Sorolla museum in Madrid, the artist's former residence.

    It's nice to see that Sorolla is getting some backhanded and very subtle recognition. Now I'll have to keep my eyes peeled to see if future Coldwater catalogs have cover art mimicking other paintings.

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  • 06/26/13--01:00: Up Close: N.C. Wyeth
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post deals with N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth (1882-1945), a prize student of Howard Pyle. Additional information on Wyeth can be found here and here.

    Featured here is "Long Line of Prisoners," an illustration for the 1927 Charles Scribner's Sons edition of "Michael Strogoff, A Courier of the Czar" by Jules Verne.

    The source of the detail images is explained below:

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    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with my work. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    Reference photo that I took.


    N.C. Wyeth is perhaps the best known illustrator from its Golden Age. His painting style varied over time, subject, and his goal at the time they were made. For example, by the 1930s he was spending considerable effort as a "fine art" painter, feeling that illustration art was inferior. However, when people think of Wyeth's work, they usually associate him with book illustrations he made during the 1910-20 decade. In those paintings he often used an Impressionist-inspired style based on short, distinct brush strokes of varying color over an area, where the top (and dominant) color strokes partly covered strokes of a different, sometimes contrasting color.

    The illustration featured above was done later, and the Impressionist style is essentially gone. In its place is a flatter style. Wyeth still overlaid colors, but contrasts are less obvious and the short brush strokes are missing. Some outlining was present in his classic book illustration style, and that is continued here. Furthermore, this illustration is comparatively thinly painted; at the same time, illustrators such as Dean Cornwell and Mead Schaeffer were applying oil paint generously indeed.

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    Antonio Sant'Elia (1888-1916) was a highly influential architect, almost none of whose designs were ever built. One reason why little was built was because he was killed during the Great War, age 28.

    His fame rests on an early modernist/Futurist theoretical architecture project called La Città Nuova (The New City) carried out around 1914. This was essentially a series of speculative architectural sketches and renderings that astonished architects of a modernist bent over the years as well as the architecture-appreciating general public, myself included.

    A fairly brief Wikipedia entry on him is here. This Italian language site has both a brief biography and a link to a timeline.

    It's out of print, but so far as I know, this book by Esther da Costa Meyer is the most comprehensive work in English dealing with Sant'Elia. She mentions that the Città Nuova concepts were largely un-buildable as depicted.

    Regardless, Sant'Elia's renderings make for very nice art in themselves, regardless of their architectural merits.

    Gallery

    Station for airplanes and trains, La Città Nuova - 1914

    Temple of Fame - Monza cemetery - with Italo Paternoster - 1912
    A design for an architectural competition. The rendering is by Sant'Elia. According to da Costa Meyer, the extent of Paternoster's participation is unknown.

    La Città Nuova - study of structure with terraced floors

    La Città Nuova study - 1914

    Electric power station, La Città Nuova - 1914

    La Città Nuova, particolare - 1914

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    Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962), despite his Slavic last name, was Italian, having been born in Trieste. But then, Trieste sits next to the South Slav region formerly known as Yugoslavia, which explains his heritage.

    For the first 40 years or so of the 20th Century Dudovich reigned as Italy's foremost poster artist. Reproductions of some of those posters can be found today.

    Like his more famous German contemporary Ludwig Hohlwein, Dudovich made use of solid representational bases from which design-related simplifications or elaborations could be created to provide intended visual impacts. Unlike Hohlwein who began his career as an architect, Dudovich had a fair amount of formal art training. Moreover, his style evolved over time, becoming more simplified in the 1930s in line with fashions in illustration and fine art.

    A detailed biography can be found here on a Web page devoted to Dudovich. The site includes a good number of examples of his art. Below are works shown there and found elsewhere on the Internet.

    Gallery

    Poster from 1905.

    This was for a Naples store, 1907.

    Dudovich was a contributor to several magazines, including the famous German Simplicissimus. The illustration shown here is from 1913. Due to the Great War and Italy's eventual participation on the side of the Allies, Dudovich had to terminate his relationship with the publication.

    Much of Dudovich's work was related to fashion.

    There were several variations of this Martini & Rossi poster. The artwork is the same, but captions vary.

    This ad is for a hand-held, probably 8mm, movie camera. High-tech in 1923.

    This seems to be a magazine cover. Motoring magazines in Europe often used to feature cover art advertising, so here we find a Fiat ad in 1930.

    Dudovich also created posers for Fiat. This 1934 example is perhaps his best-known.

    Another 1930s poster, this for cigarettes.

    Our final example is a liquor ad from around 1940, to judge by the subject's hair style.

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    Gloria Swanson (1899-1983) was a legendary movie star whose career was at its height during the 1920s and early 30s. An extensive biographical link is here.

    Today's Molti Ritratti is another switcheroo in that rather than featuring formal commissioned oil portraits, the images below are cover illustrations for movie fan magazines.

    Nowadays fan magazines use photography for cover art. But into the 1930s their covers normally featured illustrations, and those illustration were often done in pastels rather than oil paint, watercolor, gouache and other commonly used illustration media.

    Hollywood cranked out a lot of pictures each year, therefore keeping the stars very busy. So I don't know if cover illustrators were able to view their subjects in person or else relied mostly on photos furnished by the studio publicity staffs. I suspect the latter.

    In any case, for your viewing enjoyment, below are covers featuring Miss Swanson.

    Gallery

    Publicity photo for "The Trespasser" - 1929
    Swanson was about 30 year old when this was taken, and it strikes me as a suitable image for comparison with the magazine covers below.

    Motion Picture - November 1923
    By Hal Phyfe.

    Motion Picture - November 1926
    The cover artist is Marland Stone.

    Photoplay - September 1928
    By Charles Sheldon.

    Screen Book - December 1929
    The artist's signature reads as John Clarke, best I can tell.

    New Movie Magazine - September 1930
    I cannot see an artist signature.

    Motion Picture - February 1931
    Another cover by Marland Stone.

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    Norman Bel Geddes (1893-1958), shown above posing with a model city of the future, is perhaps most famous for his Futurama America in 1960 exhibit in the General Motors pavilion at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. But before that, he did a trial run for the Shell Oil Company in a 1937 series of advertisements.

    Well, I think it was a trial run. But given the lead-time required to construct the GM exhibit, it's possible that the two somewhat similar projects might have been started at about the same time. Some Googling failed to turn up anything definite regarding this, but perhaps an existing or forthcoming Geddes biography will have the details.

    The smaller-scale Shell project was nevertheless a typical bravura Geddes combination of showmanship, technology and imagination. Below are images of the model of the Shell City of Tomorrow along with a few advertisements featuring it. Click on them to enlarge.

    Gallery








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  • 07/08/13--01:00: Up Close: Mead Schaeffer (3)
  • This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

    The present post deals with Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980) when he was following the style that gained him success as an illustrator. Additional information on Schaeffer is here. Previous post about Schaeffer in this series are here and here.

    Featured here is an illustration for "Hide the Body" by Grace Sartwell Mason in a 1933 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.

    The source of the detail images is explained below:

    * * * * *

    The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

    Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

    I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

    Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with my work. Click on the latter to enlarge.

    * * * * *

    This image is from the Kelly Collection website.


    Schaeffer often painted freely in his 1920s book illustrations. Here he is tightening up a little, though his brushwork remains strong and his paint thick. Also unlike some of his previous work, he treats his subject's face fairly carefully, blending some of his brush strokes and cutting back his use of impasto.

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