Monthly Archives: January 2006

Chris Turnham

Chris TurnhamI came across Chris Turnham’s art pretty much by accident, (a link in one of the blog aggregators I think), so his work was a pleasant surprise. Turnham is an illustrator and gaming concept artist living in Washington state. There are examples on the site of some of his 3-D game design work for games like Evil Dead Regeneration, but what I found really appealing is his 2-D illustration.

His stylized images are sometimes in a 60’s modern vein, sometimes almost 19th century in feeling, but always have a beautifully controlled sense of color, value and spacial relationships. His judicious use of texture adds visual interest to open areas and he introduces atmospheric perspective with deceptively simple color and tone choices.

The result is a real visual pleasure. The site contains a variety of his illustrations. I found a mention somewhere that indicates the first four illustrations in the portfolio are part of a series that are interpretations of Decemberists songs.

I suspect he has been influenced by artists like Tadahiro Uesugi, but I don’t actually know that. The bio information in his site is slim, but indicates that he is young and just starting his career. I hope that means we’ll see a lot more from him.

 
 
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Henri Rousseau

Henri Rousseau
For years, The Sleeping Gypsy (above), a painting by French artist Henri Rousseau, was one of the most widely reproduced images in the world. (It may still be, I don’t know.) When I was in college I marveled at the number of apartment and dorm room walls it appeared on. My own apartment at the time had a copy of Rousseau’s Carnival Night (below, left) on a prominent wall and I spent a fair bit of time in front of the original in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A major exhibition of Rousseau’s jungle-themed paintings just closed a the Tate Gallery in London and his work is on prominent display in major museums around the world. Not bad for a self-taught “naive” artist who didn’t start painting seriously until he was 40.

Rousseau desparately wanted to paint like Bougereau or Gérôme, mainstream Academic Salon painters of his day. Fortunately for us, his own individualistic vision was stronger than that desire, and seemingly impervious to the influence of the impressionist style blooming around him, even though he associated with artists in that circle.

Henri RousseauLoosely classed as a “Post-Impressionist”, Rousseau stands unique, almost outside the flow of art history. Yes, you can find influences if you look hard enough (Gauguin, for one), but his style doesn’t really “fit” anywhere. The Surrealists adopted him as a precursor to Surrealism, admiring the dream-like quality of his images and the vertiginous lack of formal perspective (which he never mastered, perhaps a moot point since it was being intentionally abandoned by modernist painters at the time). He got the attention of many of the avant-garde artists and writers of the day, including Degas, Renoir, Gauguin and Aplloinaire. Many of them joined in a banquet organized by Picasso in Rousseau’s honor two years before his death.

Critics ridiculed Rousseau as not a serious artist (as critics will, being such a broad-minded, egalitarian and generous group as a whole), and called him Le Douanier, “the customs inspector”, after his day-job of many years. (Of course these same people would probably have called Einstein “the patent clerk”.) Rousseau was from a family of modest means and couldn’t afford to go to art school. Admittedly, he was eccentric; he considered himself one of the greatest artists of the age, seemed unable to distinguish sarcastic remarks from sincere compliments and sometimes bragged of accomplishments that were untrue.

His paintings, though, speak undeniably of their own power. His fantastic images of intense jungles and wild beasts (based on books and visits to the botanical gardens, he never left France) resonate with us on some instinctual level. He not only developed his own artistic style, but his own unconventional methods of painting, applying the colors one at a time, painting in layers of content (sky first, then other background elements, finishing with foreground subjects) and working the canvas methodically from the top down.

Here is a good bio on the Artelino Art Auction site. Here is a nice site devoted to Rousseau and his work, but the color of the reproductions is off. There are Rousseau links on the Artcyclopedia site

The sites I link to below are image collections on the WebMuseum and the ARTchive (pop-up and ad warning for the latter).

 
 
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B. Kliban

B. Kliban
B. Kliban is quite possibly my favorite cartoonist, which is saying a lot, frankly. His ideosynchratic “drawings” (he didn’t always call them cartoons, perhaps rightly so) are not everyone’s idea of funny ha-ha cartoons.

Occasionally his work is immensely funny and hits you like a lightning bolt. At other times you will look at a Kliban drawing in complete bemusement… there’s something there, something you can’t put your finger on that’s tickling you at the base of your brain, but it’s not a “gag cartoon” in the usual sense. Some of his cartoons are obvious and just overtly silly, he loved to stoop to outrageously dumb puns (which I’ll admit I’m a sucker for); but some of them are subtle and wonderful to the point of being sublime.

Like Saul Steinberg, who he apparently admired greatly, Kliban explored ideas in his drawings that make you stop and think and perhaps come away looking at the world just a little bit differently. Some of them are crass; Kliban was a regular contributor to Playboy for many years (and elevated the magazine’s level of cartooning considerably) and was unafraid to “draw what he thought”. He was also somewhat compelled by the marketplace to make sex a topic more often than he might have in another magazine.

Kliban achieved commercial success and recognition with the publication of his first book of cartoons, Cat. This is the Kliban that most people know, and cat lovers and cat haters everywhere think of him as a cat cartoonist. The book is actually quite good and contains some of Kliban’s more whimsical work, intermixed with actual drawings of his own cats. His cat drawings are clever and amusing but never “cute” in the cloying, saccharine Garfield sense. Kliban’s real genius, though, is in a series of “cartoon” books published after that, filled with his marvels of weird, “out of left field”, “pick your brain up and give it a twist” cartoon drawings.

Kliban is essentially responsible for the non-sequiter absurdist style of cartooning that most people think Gary Larson invented with his newspaper panel The Far Side. (I think Larson would be the first to say so and point to Kliban as a big influence.) Even more absurd and surreal than Larson, and at times even funnier that Larson at his best (which is pretty damn good), Kliban was a true original and some kind of bizarre artistic genius.

Unfortunately, inexplicably, unforgivably, most of his wonderful books are out of print and have remained out of print for years, even though his Cat calendars continue to be posthumously produced and marketed (right there that says something about America). However, you may still be able to acquire the books through eBay, aLibris, Amazon or other book search services.

Tiny Footprints, Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head & Other Drawings, Whack Your Porcupine, and Other Drawings, The Biggest Tongue in Tunisia and Other Drawings, Advanced Cartooning and Other Drawings, Luminous animals and other drawings are out of print.

A couple of them remain in print: Two Guys Fooling Around with the Moon is the only one in print of the collections I’m talking about, CatDreams is a collection of his calendar drawings, and of course, Cat (Seventeenth Anniversary Edition) is still available (and certainly worthwhile).

And don’t get me wrong about the Cat calendars, they’re pretty cool, just not Kilban at his best and most bizarre. Here is the official Kliban Cats site (rather annoyingly done in Flash) which has a gallery of his postcard and calendar Cat drawings, and the Kliban.com merchandise site. Hopefully, his family is getting proceeds from these. Here is the Kliban Klubhouse fan site with links.

The site I’m linking to below is a fan tribute site with some of Kliban’s drawings (unfortunately not hi-res images) that may give you a taste of his work and links to articles.

 
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Christian Alzmann

Christian Alzmann
Concept artist Christian Alzmann graduated with distinction from Art Center College of Design and went straight from an on-campus interview to a job with with Industrial Light and magic. He has worked as digital artist, visual effects art director or concept artist on films like Munich, War of the Worlds, The Village, Terminator 3, Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Alzmann’s images are occasionally whimsical, but often dark or horrific. He uses careful control of texture, color and light to dark relationships to give his work and extra feeling of eerie power.

His work has appeared in several concept art collections including Star Wars Mythmaking: Behind the Scenes of Attack of the Clones, Van Helsing: The Making of the Legend, Inside Men in Black II, and several of the Spectrum Collections: Spectrum 9, Spectrum 10 and Spectrum 11.

 
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Max Fleischer

Max Fleischer was a pioneering animator responsible for some of the all-time classic animated cartoons. Together with his brothers Dave and Joe he founded Fleischer Studios, one of the first animation studios. It was Fleischer, not Disney, who produced the first sound cartoons. The studio was responsible for the Betty Boop cartoons, KoKo the Clown, Gullivers Travels, the original (and best) Popeye animated cartoons, and a wonderful series of Superman cartoons that are treasures of classic animation.

Fleischer was working as the art editor of Popular Science in 1925 when he came up with the idea for what would eventually become the process of rotoscoping – using live action as the basis of drawn animation. The studio was also using Fleischer’s rotograph, to blend animated characters with live backgrounds on film 70 years before Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The studio was the first to introduce the practice of in-betweening, using junior artists to fill in between key frames drawn by the main animator to expedite the production of cartoons.

Despite their innovations and excellent work, when the era of full-length animated cartoons arrived they couldn’t keep pace with Disney and the studio went bankrupt trying to compete.

Fleischer’s Superman cartoons, with their art-deco design, beautiful drawing, film noir “cinematography” and artful use of shadows, lighting and color are still marvels of cartoon animation and, no offense to Christopher Reeve, still the best version of that character ever brought to film. You can see their influence not only in the modern run of Warner Brothers Batman and Superman cartoons (see my post on Bruce Timm), but also in films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the first half hour is basically a homage to the Fleischer Supermans.

There is a treasure trove of freely downloadable Max Fleischer cartoons as part of the Internet Archive.

Try some classics like Electric Earthquake or Bulleteers.

Or you may want the convenience and image quality of the versions available on DVD: “The Superman Cartoons of Max and Dave Fleischer”, “The Animated World of Max & Dave Fleischer: Superman / Popeye” (and others).

 
 
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Russian Art Gallery
Museum of Russian Art

Russian Art
I had the good fortune to be in Florence last summer. My wife and I were in a restaurant one rainy evening and the couple sitting next to us turned out to be a Russian art professor from St. Petersburg and his wife.

While we were having fun trying to carry on a conversation about art with gestures, nods, sketchbooks and the help of his wife’s limited English (certainly better than our non-grasp of Russian), the question came up about how much Russian art I was familiar with. I realized to my surprise that the answer was almost none. For some reason, even in the post-cold war climate of the last several years, Americans have some familiarity with Russian music and literature but almost no exposure to Russian visual art.

Even when I thought about it later, the only Russian painters I could think of were Chagall and Kandinski and I tend to think that’s because they both achieved notice in Paris. Russian painters who lived and worked in Russia were a blank to me. So I made a point of looking up some Russian Art on the web.

For many years of Communist (and particularly Stalinist) rule, the only art style that wasn’t actively discouraged in Soviet Russia was Socialist Realism, so there are lots of images depicting the nobility of toil and smiling workers carrying the revolutionary ideals forward, etc. Even within those oppressive limitations, Russian artists achieved great beauty and there was a surprising flowering of Russian Impressionism. That’s mostly what I’m showing here: clockwise from top left: Victor Koshevoi, Sergei A. Kolyada, Vladimir Sosnovsky and Konstantin Lomykin. I’ve become particularly impressed with the work of Vladimir Sosnovsky whose simple and direct version of impressionism reminds me of my favorite under-appreciated Impressionist, Alfred Sisley.

These images were found in the two main resources I came across on the web. The Russian Art Gallery has nice online images of work they have for sale from Russian artists working in various styles.

The Museum of Russian Art is a museum in Minnesota devoted to promoting awareness of Russian art in this country. They recently provided the art for a well-received exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum’s Sackler Center. There is a good online gallery associated with the museum’s own exhibit, Perspectives on Russian Art.

In addition, I found that Rollins College has an online section on 20th Century Russian Art and Auburn University has a good selection from several centuries.

 
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