Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Greg Broadmore

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:12 am

Greg BroadmoreFor somebody who isn’t specifically a paleo artist, New Zealand artist Greg Broadmore paints very cool and realistic dinosaurs. He has apparently loved drawing dinos from an early age (as happens to many of us), and now gets to paint them in the service of movie concept art, specifically for the lavishly dinosaur-populated remake of King Kong from Peter Jackson.

Broadmore works as a concept artist for Jackson’s WETA Workshop and has also done concept design and illustration for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the upcoming Halo and live action Evangelion films.

He works digitally in Photoshop and Painter, and his illustrations have a feeling of physical paint and a muscular approach to light and shade that gives his work an appealing immediacy and power.

Broadmore’s work is featured prominently in The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, a book set up as a mock “natural history” of Kong’s Skull Island, beautifully illustrated by the WETA concept artists who worked on the film.

Broadmore also created a comic called Killer Robots Will Smash the World that is published in New Zealand and may bit hard to find here in the States (I’m looking).

Did I mention that he also paints great robots?

The links below are to his galleries on the WETA Workshop site, that showcase his concept art for the films, and a site called The Battery, a project he shares with fellow WETA artist Warren Mahy, which features some of his sketches and quick studies, as well as more finished personal work.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mark Rogalski

Posted by Charley Parker at 8:14 am

Mark RogalskiOne of the most basic forms for children’s books is the ABC book, a tried and true formula with a long history, that usually presents a challenge for illustrators: to come up with a way to make images associated with the alphabet that are amusing enough to keep a child’s attention through repeated readings. The best illustrators who take on this venerable form not only accomplish that, but look for a new and different way to approach the idea and make it fresh.

In his new book Tickets to Ride: An Alphabetic Amusement illustrator Mark Rogalski has created a veritable amusement park of alphabet illustrations in the form of delightfully styled and wittily titled alliterative animal rides.

The images of the Zebra Zeppelin and Octopus Orbiter Blast at left are just a taste. Unfortunately, the images on Rogalski’s web site are too small to get a real feeling for these delightful digital paintings, which are at once boldly simple and richly detailed. You can see them somewhat larger in the recent Communication Arts Illustration Annual 47, and, of course, at their intended size in the book.

The illustrations make for an ideal kind of children’s book: fun and simple enough to appeal to kids, and visually sophisticated enough to also keep Mom or Dad entertained through repeated readings.

Rogalski’s site is also a bit shy on information about the artist or his techniques. I get the impression from his speaking schedule, and the fact that the book is published by Running Press, that he is based here in the Philadelphia area. The Contact page of his site promises more info to come — “Archives”, “History” and the tantalizing “Oddities”, but we’ll apparently have to wait for a bit. In the meanwhile, the book should provide enough “tickets to ride” to keep us nicely amused, regardless of our age.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Jacques-Louis David

Posted by Charley Parker at 8:57 am

Jacques-Louis David
Political revolution can often coincide with a revolution in art, but sometimes political upheaval can send art backwards, looking for reaffirmation in older forms.

Jacques-Louis David (pronounced da-veed) was a painter at the height of French neo-classical style and at the center of the turmoil of the French Revolution and its aftermath.

As a student David won the prestigious Prix de Rome from the Royal Academy and, after studying in Italy for five years, returned to be made an Associate member of the Academy and later a full Academician.

He was a student of Boucher, the great painter of the Rococo (and a distant relative) who, along with Fragonard, represented the fun, frivolity, eroticism and decadence of a style that David would reject for the austere beauty of the neo-classical. David himself was an enormously influential teacher, counting among his pupils François Gérard, Antoine-Jean Gros, Jean-Babtiste Iasby, and the amazing Jean Aguste Dominique Ingres, as well as the American naturalist painter John James Audubon.

David was a masterful draughtsman, and representational drawing and respect for the refinement of form in the sculpture of antiquity formed the basis for his art, as evidenced in “The Death of Sacrates”, above, where we can see Socrates expounding while reaching for the hemlock in a formal tableaux drawn and rendered with consummate skill. Ol’ Socrates is looking pretty pumped-up and sprightly for being 70ish, but, hey, that’s the point of neo-classical art, it’s idealized to the max.

Looking back form the post-Romantic viewpoint of the 19th Century, let alone the 21st, it’s easy to see David’s monumental solidity as cold and lifeless, but the desire to live in the ideal of the classical was a passion, inextricable from his political passions. David was not only caught up in the revolution, but was directly and fervently involved. When Napoleon came to power there were many painters in the circle of the emperor (including Prud’hon), but David was the main painter to the emperor and it was he who created the painting that provides than now-clichéd image we have of Napolean with his hand tucked into his vest.

David’s life of political intrigue would undoubtedly fill a a fascinating book, as would his many paintings, austere perhaps, but masterful and supremely accomplished; and if you look for his portraits, you may find an unexpected warmth and force of personality lurking in the formal compositions.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Marie-Denise Villers

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:59 am

Marie-Denise Villers
I used to think this was my favorite painting by Jacques-Louis David. I was mistaken.

But then, so were art scholars who for years had attributed it incorrectly to David and subsequently decided that it was the work of Marie-Denise Villers, a French portrait painter about whom little is known.

We tend to think of art history as immutable, set in stone, perhaps literally. But history, while not exactly a science, is like science in that new evidence, and sometimes just new thinking about existing facts, can change things overnight.

Prior to the change in attribution of this work, not much attention was focused on Villers and I haven’t had much success in searching her out on the web, other than to find dozens of references to this particular painting. We know that she was a student of Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, called Girodet, who was in turn a pupil of David’s. You might add that Villers was a very talented student, given that her work had been mistaken for that of David by art historians.

She painted for a while under her maiden name of Lemoine and later took the name of her husabnd, architecture student Michel-Jean-Maximilien Villers. Her portraits apparently attracted favorable attention when she exhibited in the Salon as a student of Girodet. She carved a niche for herself with paintings that combined some of the characteristics of portraits and genre paintings, which she called “studies of women”.

You will still find this painting in books listed as a portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by David. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has the painting in its permanent collection, now attributes it to Villers and lists it as simply “Young Woman Drawing“.

The painting is striking. It’s large, 63 x 50 in. (161 x 128 cm), and when you enter the gallery in which it hangs, the painting is facing you on the opposite wall. It’s hard not to be struck by the luminous figure of this beautiful young woman, drawing board in hand, the folds of her white dress bathed in the soft light from the window behind her, who is gazing directly at you, as though you were the subject of her drawing.

Not knowing anything about the painting, I had made an assumption that here was a student of David’s, drawing the master as he, in turn, painted her. It now seems more likely that the painting is actually a self portrait, an idea that just feels “right” when you look at the painting with that in mind.

Artists’ faces often have a certain look to them in self portraits, due, I believe, to a shift in consciousness into a mode of perception associated with artistic seeing (see my post on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain). The woman might have that look whether she was drawing herself or another, but the semi-hidden position of her drawing hand and other elements just make it feel like a self portrait now that the idea of attribution to David is removed.

I certainly hope the Met doesn’t move this striking painting now that it’s assigned to a “lesser” artist. I think we need to supplement our art history with some literature and remember Shakespeare’s lesson that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, and a beautiful painting by another artist’s name is still a beautiful painting.

Addendum: I’ve come back and added what resources I could find on Villers as of November 2009 to the list below, and replaced the smaller image I had here with a new version from the Met’s updated site. There is also now a zoomable image of the painting. I’ve also written a new post about Marie-Denise VIllers.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Heinrich Kley

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:03 am

The relationship of humanity to the natural world is receiving a bit more attention these days, as it becomes clearer that we’re not cleaning the big cat-box we’ve made of our Eden. Artists are often quicker to notice these things than others and some have been pointing out that strained relationship for a long time.

Heinrich Kley was an Austrian artist with a background in portraying modern industrial life around the turn of the last century, when the industrial revolution had made that separation of humans from nature stand out in sharp relief.

Kley’s brilliant satirical drawings often portrayed humans unclothed and other animals in finery or in anthropomorphic situations, pointing out the similarities and differences, often in a way that was not flattering to the human side of the equation. He was adept pointing out our foibles with a simple image and perhaps a brief caption.

Kley was a wonderful draughtsman, whether drawing highly rendered pen and ink compositions or conveying sophisticated ideas with a scant few lines, his beautifully fluid ink line glides across the page like marks left by the movements of a graceful ice dancer.

Kley’s bizarre and imaginative juxtapositions of humans and other animals, engaged in social situations, dancing, eating or in bizarre dream-like and surreal situations, were printed in Simplizissimus and Jungend, popular satirical magazines of the time. Kley also illustrated several books.

He often portrayed mother nature as a woman, either offering comfort to humans or subject to various indignities at their hands, and many of his drawings have an erotic tinge to them.

Walt Disney was introduced to Kley at one point and became an avid collector of his work. The influence is dramatically clear, particularly in works like Fantasia, where you can see Kley’s drawings of women dancing with alligators translated into the beautiful and hilarious “Dance of the Hours” sequence which featured hippos waltzing with alligators (brilliantly animated by Preston Blair — more on him in a future post).

As a quirky pen and ink artist from the turn of the 20th Century, Kley is the kind of artist who is often lost from view. Fortunately good ol’ Dover Books comes through again, keeping his work in print in a terrific and very inexpensive edition, The Drawings of Heinrich Kley (a steal at $15). The second volume, More Drawings of Heinrich Kley is out of print but you should be able to find it used.

There is also a nice tribute online, courtesy of the good folks at Coconino World, and a few other web resources. It’s worth looking for the books, though, even if in the library. The online images tend to be too small to get a real feeling for his beautiful ink line, and the books offer translations of the captions, which often brings the point of the drawing into focus, despite cultural differences between the modern world and Austrian society of 100 years ago. (The image above, top, is captioned “Inspiration”.)

In a career path that is something of the opposite of many artists today, Kley started as a gallery artist, moved into cartoon drawings and editorial illustrations and then into other areas of commercial art. The satirical drawings for which he is most renowned were largely the product of a ten year span.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Karl Kofoed (update)

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:34 am

Karl Kofoed
This weekend in Philadelphia science fiction fans will be buzzing around Philcon, The Philadelphia Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, a venerable sci-fi convention (excuse me, conference) that is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

The artist guest of honor at this years convention is Karl Kofoed, a visionary creator of alien worlds that I profiled in this post back in July.

Kofoed is a veteran science fiction illustrator and the creator of The Galactic Geographic, a remarkable “coffee table book from the future” that is one of the more thoughtful and provocative explorations of the possibilities of life on other worlds.

Kofoed works in both traditional and digital media and is a writer in addition to being an artist, with two novels to his credit, Deep Ice, and the recently published JOKO.

Convention goers (er,.. conference attendees) will have a rare opportunity to meet Karl and see his original art first hand in the con’s art exhibit. Here’s the info on con registration.

Posted in: Sc-fi and Fantasy   |   2 Comments »

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Julian Merrow-Smith

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:42 am

Julian Merrow-Smith
You will often hear people say that artists, in particular the Impressionists and post-Impressionists like van Gogh and Gauguin, found the quality of the light particularly appealing in Provence, that area in the south of France that was the first province established by the Romans outside of Italy.

I have to say that I was skeptical of this until I visited the region around Arles a few years ago and experienced it for myself. There really is something extraordinary about the light there and the effect it has on the appearance of color in the area’s beautiful landscape, and I can easily understand why artists find the region particularly appealing.

Julian Merrow-Smith is an English painter in Provence. (Sounds like it should be a Sting song, doesn’t it?) He paints in a direct, Impressionist influenced style that is spare on details and rich in color and light.

His deceptively simple compositions are wonderful expressions of how much can be suggested with a minimum of brush strokes. (The image above is actually one of his more elaborate paintings, I just happen to really like it.) He pulls short of flattening his compositions into planes like Cezanne, who is obviously an influence, and leaves enough suggestion of detail to keep them vibrantly three-dimensional; creating in his landscapes scenes that are at once inviting to walk into and yet obviously paint on a surface.

He paints the countryside in and around his adopted home of Crillon le Brave, a small village in the hill country in the south of France, with an eye to the extraordinary in the ordinary. He has recurring theme that I particularly enjoy of compositions that find rich contrasts in the shadows of trees laying across roads or paths in the warm light of the Provence sun.

Merrow-Smith also paints still life and portraits, but as much as I like his other work, particularly his small scale still lifes, it is the Provence landscapes that I enjoy the most.

His portraits have a rough-hewn appearance, as if the paint were applied like a sculptor adding clay with his thumb. His still lifes range from very simple compositions of a few objects to the more formal large scale paintings that were commissioned by Cunard to hang in the Britannia Restaurant aboard the Queen Mary 2.

In a practice that goes back almost as far as, and I think is independent of, Duane Keiser’s “Painting a Day” project, Merrow-Smith has been posting his small postcard-sized paintings on his “Postcard from Provence” blog. Although not strictly daily, he has kept pretty close to that, and, more importantly, kept a high-level of quality and consistency.

Like Keiser and the growing number of “painting a day” adherents who are following in their footsteps, Merrow-Smith puts his small paintings up for sale on the blog as he creates them. Unlike Keiser, (and much to my amazement) he has not allowed demand to raise his price much and still offers his small works at $120. He sends out notice of new paintings to a mailing list of subscribers where they are, not surprisingly, snapped up within minutes of being posted. He also sometimes photographs the works and makes them available as limited edition prints.

The paintings on the Postcard from Provence site can be viewed by category, so you can contemplate his serene still lifes and intimate flower studies, relax by the Mediterranean or talk a walk through the sunlit fields of Provence.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Moira Hahn

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:41 am

Moira Hahn
Moira Hahn was born in Boston and moved west, both physically and artistically, until west met east. She moved to California at one point to continue her education, studied animation as an addition to her BFA and, after working in animation and illustration for time, studied Japanese art in Hawaii and Japan for several years.

Her enthusiasm for Asian art extends to Persian, Tibetan, indian and Chinese art, but it is Japanese woodblock prints that most seem to inform her current gallery paintings, particularly Ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”) with their colorful depictions of city life, entertainment and pleasurable pursuits.

Hahn’s work brings together the formal compositions, colors, dress, architecture and decorative elements of those prints with a very modern juxtaposition of elements. In most of the current images in her online gallery you’ll find paintings that almost look as if they could be traditional woodblock prints, except that the houses, rooms and landscapes are populated with animals, anthropomorphically dressed in the stylized and elaborately patterned kimonos and robes of traditional Japanese society at the time of the Ukiyo-e prints.

I don’t know enough about these prints, or others of the time (see my posts on Hokusai, Yoshida and Hasui) to know how accurate any of these representations are, but I do know that Hahn’s work is often laced with liberal doses of humor. Just the images of birds and cats in formal dress can be funny, but they’re made more so by the fact they the animals themselves, particularly the cats, are rendered with the kind of stylistic exaggerations usually assigned to images of tigers and lions.

You’ll also find pop culture references, like Astro Boy and Godzilla, popping up in her images (and in her titles, the image above is titled “A Three Hour Tour”). There are also humorous stories suggested in the relationships and situations portrayed in the images.

Hahn’s online gallery is arranged by time period, so you can follow back from the present (or forward from the 80′s) and watch her work progress through several phases and degrees of influence from various Asian arts.

Hahn also has a blog called sink hole on which she discusses art, exhibitions, travels and anything else that crosses her mind.

Link via recogedor.

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