Gustave Courbet

Gustav Courbet
Because we live in a Post-Modern age (I love that term, “post-modern”!), we tend to think that everything prior to Modernism was “Realism”. Actually with a few exceptions, most representational art is far from being realism. Most of it is romantic or fantastic or devotional or in some manner represents life in a way that is far from “realistic”.

The Dutch genre painters brushed with realism when they painted their scenes of everyday life, but “Realism” was an actual style of painting, initiated by French painter Gustave Courbet, who is also credited with coining the term. And, far from being the prosaic, “ordinary” art that Modernism would “liberate” us from, Realism was a revolutionary style, born out of political revolution and running counter the accepted art standards of the day, which were firmly entrenched in Romantic and Neo-Classical art.

Courbet painted peasants as peasants, as they actually looked. He painted genre scenes, depictions of everyday life that were ordinarily done on a small scale, on the kind of grand canvasses normally reserved for the depiction of royalty, implying, of course, that one was as important as the other.

Courbet’s insistence on painting life as is is, rather than an idealized fantasy of how is should be, made him an outcast of the art establishment at the time, the Paris Salon, but eventually made him popular with those who rejected the established order, something that was happening all around him because he was in the middle of the Paris Commune during the collapse of the revolutionary government in the 1870’s.

Courbet also changed the way paint was handled, eschewing smooth, refined and blended finish for rough handling of the paint and leaving visible brushstrokes. This, along with his devotion to truth in representing nature, made him very influential with the Impressionists, who would carry on with their own revolution in painting. Courbet would also create his own exhibition spaces when refused entry in the official Salons, again setting the stage for the Impressionists’ participation in the Salon de Refusés. The Impressionists didn’t spring up without precedent, they walked on trails blazed by Courbet (particularly in his seascapes), Corot and Manet.

Courbet also painted erotic images, which gained him more notoriety, and became directly involved in the political turmoil of his times. He helped preserve the art in the museums in Paris from being damaged or looted during the shifts in power, but was also held responsible for the destruction of a monument, and fled to Switzerland to avoid the levy of an enormous fine.

Meanwhile, here in the post-modern world, those on the East Coast of the US have an opportunity to see an exhibition called Courbet and the Modern Landscape at Walters Art Museum in Baltimore from now until January 7, 2007.

Because of Courbet’s rejection of romanticized images, the art establishment accused him of deliberately cultivating “ugliness”. I’ve had the pleasure of standing in front of his large works in the Musée d’Orsay, and the idea of Courbet depicting “ugliness” brings a smile to my face as easily as the phrase “post-modern”.


Robh Ruppel

Robh Ruppel
Robh Ruppel is a visual development artist and art director for Disney Feature Animation, and has worked on movies like Mulan, The Emporer’s New Groove, Treasure Planet, Atlantis, Tarzan, and Brother Bear, for which he was Art Director. He has also done gaming art and worked on gaming worlds like Ravenloft and Planescape for TSR . His latest project for Disney is Meet the The Robinsons.

Ruppel also has a sideline interest in retro-60’s-modern style poster and cartoon art associated with pulp stye detective stories and film noir detectives, for which he has a site called BroadviewGraphics. This usually involves a lot of “good girl” art and fun pastiches of paperback covers and film posters.

On his regular site you will find professional and personal work, including a variety of movie concept art in color and monochromatic renderings, character designs, backgrounds, monsters and fantasy and horror illustrations as well as traditional landscapes.

His regular site doesn’t appear to be updated as often as his newer Broadview site and blog. I find the blog the most interesting because of its focus on digital painting from life, (If someone has a better term for this, let me know.) i.e. painting from life using digital painting tools like Photoshop and Painter, usually on a laptop computer.

Digital painting is usually associated with concept and production art for films and games, and editorial illustration, where the speed with which color images can be painted is a distinct advantage. A number of artists, usually from that background professionally, have taken to using the digital tools to sketch and paint from life and often post their paintings on blogs. (See my post on Sparth, for example.) Digital painting not only lets you work quickly, but eliminates the need to carry around and set up paints and and other liquids, and allows you to paint in low-light level conditions that would be difficult with traditional media.

Ruppel has been doing this for a while now, and not only does good digital paintings from life and posts them to his Broadview Blog, but often talks about the process and techniques involved. He also does something most painters can benefit from but don’t often do when they get out of school – value studies. Making monochromatic paintings is a great way to separate the understanding and appreciation of value from the distractions of color, and work with them independently.

Ruppel teaches classes at Art Center College of Design and Entertainment Art Academy, and apparently takes his students out for digital (and/or traditional) painting excursions.

His work is included in the book Drawing and Painting Fantasy Landscapes and Cityscapes by Rob Alexander and a number of gaming publications from TSR.

Note: links contain some NSFW material.


Josh McKible

Josh McKibleI love those hazy areas where one type of imagery blurs into another, where comics fade into illustration and illustration blends into easel painting and so on.

Josh McKible is an illustrator who is often called on to either explain concepts or processes or to conceptualize an idea. In service of this he utilizes a style that brings together the bold simplicity of infographics with the richer colors and patterns of editorial illustration, producing a hybrid you might call “infostration”. (Hey, how often do I get to make up new words, even dumb ones?)

McKible uses a bold outline style with thiner detail lines and areas of flat color or gradations, which he often accents with patterns, making otherwise flat areas more lively. His focus is always on the information conveyed by the image, though, and he never allows the illustration to lose that focus.

He sometimes combines illustration with photographs of actual items (usually consumer products), producing an illustration that serves as a kind of enhanced photograph.

McKible also brings a good bit of imagination and clever choice of images to the task, making for an entertaining as well as informative visual experience.

His clients include The New York Times, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Popular Science, National Geographic Adventure and others. His gallery section details where each illustration was used and the kind of story or article it was illustrating.


Hanson Puthuff

Hanson Puthuff
Hanson Puthuff was a commercial artist from Missouri, working in Denver and then Los Angeles at the turn of the 20th Century. While producing signs and posters for advertising, he continued to paint on his own time. He eventually abandoned commercial work to pursue his interest in plein air painting and became one of the preeminent California painters working in the Impressionist style.

He was in demand as a muralist, including a set of dioramas for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and also painted a series of views of the Grand Canyon for the Sante Fe Railroad.

He painted the rolling hills, mountains, plains and valleys of California with an open, broad-stroked style, combining vibrant colors and subtle atmospheric perspective. He remains one of the most popular and widely collected of the California plein air painters from the 20th Century.

There is an exhibit of his work at the Pasdena Museum of California Art from today, October 15, 2006 to January 7, 2007.

Link via Art Knowledge News


Jaime Hernandez

Jaime HernandezMost comic creators, in keeping with the majority of popular entertainment that involves telling continuing stories with the same characters, keep a weird kind of “no-time”, in which the times and events change, but the characters neither change significantly or age.

There have been exceptions, of course, like Frank King’s remarkable newspaper strip from the early 20th Century, Gasoline Alley, in which the characters grew, changed, aged, had kids who aged and so on through generations.

Most creators, however are afraid to rock the boat and mess with a successful formula, so the characters stay the same while the world changes around them.

Jaime (I think pronounced “high-may” or “high-me”) Hernandez not only bucks that trend, but defies most of the expectations for pop culture in creating comic characters that are deeply human, richly portrayed, agonizingly frail, astonishingly strong and remarkably affecting. His primary character, a bisexual Mexican-American woman named Maggie Chascarrillo, has been going through changes (hard changes) since she first appeared in the fanzine style publication Love and Rockets in the 80’s.

Love and Rockets was a showcase for Jaime and his brother Gilbert (Beto) Hernandez, who are often referred to as “Los Bros Hernandez”. Gilbert has his own different and distinct style and can be the subject of another post.

Jaime’s Maggie, and her punky lover/friend/antagonist/companion Hopey, were the subject of a long and involving series of stories in Love and Rockets for over 20 years. The stories have recently been collected into Locas, a 700 page “graphic novel” by Fantagraphics Books. There have also been a series of smaller collections, Music for Mechanics, Wigwam Bam and Blood of Palomar.

In the course of these stories Maggie ages, gains weight (she started out kind of cute-heavy, never the clichéd bombshell type) and goes through the kind of changes, hard learning and disillusionment that real people come up against in the real world. In the beginning, Hernandez mixed her “real world” stories with sci-fi fantasies in which she was a “ProSolar Mechanic”, but eventually dropped that in favor of following Maggie, Hopey and a rich cast of supporting characters through the even stranger world of here and now.

Love and Rockets ceased for a while but reappeared in 2001. Maggie is now middle aged, overweight, dyes her hair and is still struggling to figure out where she fits in a life that seems to sweep her along in strange, scary and unpredictable currents. There is new collection of the most recent stories called Ghost of Hoppers.

Hernandez’s clean, spare and elegant drawing style borrows from the pleasing simplicity of Dan DeCarlo Archie comics, the stark chiaroscuro of Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles and the clarity and efficiency of Alex Toth. Like Toth, his pages are masterful compositions of black and white balance, with bold blacks and delicate sinuous lines.

Unfortunately, I can’t point you to an official site or large collection of Hernendez art on the web, so I’ll suggest several smaller bits. The Fantagraphics page for Hernendez lists current books, including a six-page preview of Ghost of Hoppers.

Note: the links here include some NSFW material.


Leonardo’s drawings animated

As part of an exhibit called Leonardo Da Vinci: Experience, Experiment, Design at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the UK, there is an online exhibit of Animated Illustrations, in which the director of animations, Steve Maher and his team have used a combination of hand-drawn and computer-modeled animations to bring some of Leonardo’s amazing notebook pages to life.

There are animations of his drawings of the human figure that have been set in motion, his intricate studies of the anatomy of a bird’s wing, his crafty, and craftsmanlike, war machines, studies of rays of light reflecting from a convex mirror and a 3-D excursion between his floor plans and elevations for a church. The animated progressions from one geometric solid to another are obviously computer animated, but are quite beautiful as animated drawings.

I was particularly fascinated by the animations of Leonardo’s drawings for the working of the human heart because I took on task of animating the heart for this project on organ and tissue donation (click on “The Interactive Body”, I did the Flash module in the pop-up). In addition to explaining organ and tissue donation, the aim was also to demonstrate how the transplantable organs work and I found the animation of the heart the most challenging.

Leonardo’s heart drawings, like his other detailed anatomical drawings are the result of his practice of dissecting corpses in secret, a process which seemed to have no other motivation than Loenardo’s insatiable curiosity, and for which he risked imprisonment (or worse) for heresy.

While all of Loenardo’s drawings should be interesting to artists, of particular interest is the animated version of the Virtuvian Man, in which you get to see the master’s anatomy lessons in motion and watch, for example, the changes in the forearm as it pronates. (Now there’s a great idea – a complete animated anatomy text, rotating the forms in 3-D space and showing changes to the various muscle groups as they flex and extend!)

They’ve taken some liberties, of course, and these animation s should not be thought of as the original drawings, although they are always the starting point. The result is not only a nice series of animations. Sitting in front of a computer screen on which Leonardo’s 15th Century drawings are being rendered in motion or rotated in three dimensional space produces a fascinating feeling of immediate connection between the present and past.