Monday, January 26, 2015

Mike Worrall

Mike Worrall
Originally from the UK and now living in Australia, painter Mike Worrall is essentially self-taught.

His work shows a range of fascinating influences, from Velázquez — particularly evident in Worrall’s fascination with those bizarrely wide gowns seen in portraits of the Spanish royal family — to other 17th century painters, to Surrealists like Paul Delvaux, René Magritte and Max Ernst, and perhaps magic realists like George Tooker and others.

In many cases, Worrall makes direct reference to the work of past painters — such as his obvious homage to Magritte shown above — though Worrell tends to be more visceral in his presentation of the textures of the real world in his dream like images than Magritte or most of the original Surrealists.

Worrall has worked at times as a concept artist for the film industry, bringing his dream state imaginaion to such films a Alien III.

The galleries on Worrell’s website are arranged by year, and extend back to the mid-90s; There are brief interviews with the artist on Combustus and Nightmare magazine.

I’m particularly fascinated by Worrall’s compositions involving storefronts, with their intricate reflections, ghostly faces or figures, and a sense of their facades as transitional points for other planes of space and time.

[Via beinART Collective]

[Note: some images on the linked sites may be NSFW]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eye Candy for Today: John Everett Millais’ Ophelia

Ophelia, John Everett Millais
Ophelia, John Everett Millais

Link is to zoomable version on Google Art Project; high resolution downloadable version (22 MB) on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Tate, London.

Prompted by yesterday’s post on the mezzotint print by John Stephenson after this painting by Millais, and the fact that I last mentioned the painting back in 2006, I though it might be enlightening to compare the two more closely.

I’ve taken basically the same detail crops I took of the mezzotint print in my images above. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing the original, though I have seen some of Millais’s originals in the excellent collection of Pre-Raphaelite painting in the Delaware Art Museum, so I have some idea of the level of finish and attention to the detailed representation of nature for which Millais, and this painting in particular, are renowned.

I have to say that in addition to finding it very interesting and informative to compare Stephenson’s approach — which by its nature must focus on value and texture, rather than color — to Millais’s full painting, there are passages in which I actually find the print has surpassed the painting, particularly in making areas of foliage and the water plants into interesting textural elements.

Millais’ painting, however, is striking and memorable on many levels, not the least of which is the tragic figure of Ophelia, borne away as much by her grief-induced madness as by the waters of the stream.

The painting (and many others by other artists) was inspired by a passage Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act IV, Scene VII) that is not acted out in the play, but conveyed in a poetic description by Queen Gertrude:

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
(…)
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;

After painting the background, with its astonishing level of fidelity to nature, for an extraordinary number of hours on the Hogsmill River in southern England, Millais painted the figure of Ophelia by having 19 year old Elizabeth Siddal, who would eventually wed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood co-founder Dante Gabriel Rosetti, pose in a gown laying in a bathtub full of water in the studio for hours on end.

Reportedly, the oil lamps Millais was using to keep the tub worm in the chilly studio went out at times, and when Millais, engrossed in painting, didn’t notice, and Siddal didn’t complain, it resulted in Siddal coming down with an illness (either a severe cold, or perhaps pneumonia) for which her family held Millais responsible and insisted he pay for her medical expenses.

There is an entry on Wikipedia devoted to the painting.

I go into the background of the painting a bit more in my 2006 post on Sir John Everett Millais.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eye Candy for Today: Ophelia, Stephenson mezzotint after Millais

Ophelia, James Stephenson, after John Everett Millais, Mezzotint, etching and Stipple,
Ophelia, James Stephenson, after John Everett Millais

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mezzotint, etching and Stipple, roughly 21 x 34 inches (53 x 86 cm).

In a kind of artistic collaboration that was not uncommon at the time, highly skilled etcher and engraver James Stephenson has interpreted what is perhaps the most famous work by Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.

You can see a high-resolution zoomable image of the original painting on Google Art Project.

Millais’ extraordinary attention to the observation of nature is carried over into Stephenson’s delicately handled print. The result is quite astonishing, really, not just in the detail and fidelity to the painting, but in Stephenson’s wonderfully delicate and subtle handling of the medium, and his superb control of value throughout the composition.

Mezzotint, a process related to etching — and more closely to drypoint — is a method of creating halftones by texturing the surface of an etching plate with tiny dots that will receive the ink. (See the Met’s essay: The Printed Image in the West: Mezzotint, the London National Portrait Gallery’s Early History of Mezzotinet, and Wikipedia for more information.)

For more on the original painting, see my post on John Everett Millais.

Lucas Graciano

Lucas Graciano, fantasy illustration, dragons
Southern California artist Lucas Graciano has worked in concept design and visual development for the gaming industry as well as illustration for books and games.

His website and blog focus primarily on the latter, particularly showcasing his fantasy themed illustrations for “Magic: The Gathering”.

Both sources provide some reasonably large images in which you can appreciate Graciano’s nicely painterly style. Unlike many of his contemporaries in the field, Graciano works in traditional media, specifically oil on board, rather than digital painting.

I enjoy his portrayals of dragons in particular, resplendent with spines and leathery wings, and rendered, like much of Graciano’s work, with attention to textural variation that gives a feeling of physical presence.

His blog includes preliminary drawings, versions of printed work and sketches and paintings done for the classes he teaches at the Watts Atelier of the Arts.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Eye Candy for Today: Whistler’s Wapping

Wapping, James McNeill Whistler
Wapping on Thames, James McNeill Whistler

In the national Gallery of Art, DC.

The name refers to a rough and tumble dock area of the Thames River in London, where Whistler lived and worked for a time, though I think the location is actually a nearby inn rather than the artist’s studio.

In a marked contrast to the serene simplicity of his later nocturnes, Whistler has taken on a very complex subject, one that he reworked and struggled with, dramatically changing the figures in particular.

Whistler expected the painting to be hailed as a triumph, and was embittered when it was rejected by the London art world of the time, even after a reworking. The experience helped set the course for his iconoclastic and confrontational relationship with the art establishment for most of his career.

The woman was Whistler’s companion and frequent model at the time, Jo Hiffernan, originally cast in a narrative as a prostitute being solicited by an older man. The figures were reworked, the narrative element largely removed, Jo made more presentable and the older man recast as the artist Alphonse Legros.

Perhaps it was the reworking that makes the figures, for me, the least interesting part of the painting. My eye goes immediately into the background, where it delightedly wanders amid the profusion of sails, masts and lines, the beautifully painterly wood hulls of the boats and the impressionistic swipes of muted color that make up the river’s surface.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

David Kassan (update)


Despite having previously written about him in 2008 and again in 2010, I still struggled a bit in trying to describe David Kassan’s approach to his portrait and figurative work.

He certainly doesn’t flatter his subject, but neither does his deliberately seek out the grotesque (as, say, Lucian Freud). Words like “honest” or “direct” don’t seem to carry it. The best I could think of was “unblinking”.

It’s as though Kassan opens his eye to his subjects with the intention of taking them in in their entirety, from the minute visual details of their physical appearance to the overall effect of their personality and mood.

He paints in keenly observed notation of color, value and texture, often setting his carefully studied subjects against rough backgrounds, which are one of the few areas in which he lets the paint come forward as paint, preferring to submerge the paint into its role as a medium for the image and the artist’s vision.

In addition to the paintings on his site, there is also a selection of drawings, mostly in charcoal on toned paper.

Kassan has established the Kassan Foundation, that gives out two 5k grants each year, one in visual art and one in music.

Kassan teaches classes and workshops, and offers instructional portrait videos on painting and drawing on DVD, and one by direct streaming.

In addition, he has a number of free shorter videos on YouTube, mostly of demo sessions, and also describing his latest venture, the parallelPALETTE.