National Geographic: The Art of Exploration

National Geographic: The Art of Exploration - N.C. Wyeth, James Gurney
I’ve made the mistake in the past of putting off writing about an exhibition that I plan to go to in the hope of writing a first person account; and as a result wind up telling you about the show just as it’s about to close. I won’t do that this time.

National Geographic: The Art of Exploration, an exhibition of some of the amazing art collected by the magazine in its more than 100 year history, has already had a run at the Norman Rockwell Museum, where it originated and was curated. It is now a traveling exhibit and it opens at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania this Sunday, January 27, 2008, and runs through May 25.

National Geographic, a magazine noted for its stunning photography, also has a long history of hiring some of the nation’s best illustrators to portray what the camera cannot, whether peering into the mitochondria of a cell, reaching out into the depths of space, looking over the shoulders of participants in historic events or penetrating the mists of prehistory.

Some of the best examples of that art, over 100 works, have been selected from the thousands of pieces in the magazine’s archives and arranged in an exhibit that spans not only the history of National Geographic, but the history of civilization and history of the natural world; not to mention the history of 20th Century illustration.

The exhibit features work by artists like N.C Wyeth (above, top), Andrew Wyeth, Charles R. Knight, Tom Lovell (see yesterday’s post), Michael Parfit (above, middle left), Ned Seidler (above, bottom,left), Kinuko Y. Craft, John Gurche, John Sibbick, Jack Unruh, Jean-Leon Huens, Robert McCall, Pierre Mion, Paul Calle, Robert Addison, Vincent DiFate, Noel Siclkles, Burton Silverman, Thornton Oakley and many others. Some are pieces commissioned by the magazine and others are simply drawn from the magazine’s extensive collection.

Among the artists represented is James Gurney, the author/artist of the beautifully illustrated Dinotopia series (see my posts about Gurney here, here and here), who will be making a personal appearance at the Allentown Art Museum in conjunction with the exhibit on March 9 from 12-4pm.

Gurney has several pieces in the exhibition, including the dramatic portrayal of the Argentinian dinosaur Giganotosaurus shown above, bottom right, which accompanied the article Uncovering Patagonia’s Lost World for the December 1997 issue of the magazine.

Gurney is featuring a piece about the making of this painting today on his always-fascinating art blog Gurney Journey.

The Allentown Art Museum is at 31 North 5th Street in Allentown, PA. Allentown is about 35 miles Northwest of Philadelphia, and less than an hours drive from there via the PA Turnpike extension. Here is an article from the local paper about the show: Magazine’s images a feast for curious eyes, and another with a list of related events.

Also see Irene Gallo’s post on The Art Department.

Tom Lovell

Tom Lovell - Surrender at Appomaomattox
Art can be a time machine, transporting us backward not only with paintings that have survived from the past, but with reconstructions of the past by contemporary artists.

Tom Lovell considered himself “…a storyteller with a brush, a custodian of the past.” Best know as one of the premiere painters of the historical American West, he also created a famous series of paintings of the battles and events of the American Civil War for Life magazine, commemorating the centennial of the war’s end. He also painted other works depicting events from the Civil War, including the painting above, for National Geographic magazine.

Lovell was born in New York and his childhood fascination with the American Indian was fueled by visits to the collections in the Museum of Natural History where he would spend hours sketching the exhibits.

Armed with a fine arts degree from Syracuse University, he became an illustrator for pulp magazines like The Shadow and Wild West Weekly, eventually moving up to better paying assignments for mainstream magazines like Colliers, Cosmopolitan, Time, Life, National Geographic, and others.

In 1944 Lovell enlisted in the U.S. Marines, with the intention of becoming a combat artist, but was instead assigned to Leatherneck Magazine.

In the 1970’s Lovell was commissioned to paint a series of historical paintings portraying events in the Permian Basin in Western Texas for the Abell-Hanger Foundation. These are in the collection of The Petroleum Museum in Midland, Texas.

Lovell has also painted other historical scenes; here is a page with a pencil drawing, color rough and finished painting for The Battle of Hastings.

Lovell remains a very popular Western and historic artist and you will find prints of his work on many of the commercial print services, as well as limited edition prints.

The Art of Tom Lovell: An Invitation to History and Tom Lovell : Storyteller with a Brush are both out of print, but can be found used.

Lovell’s paintings are richly colored, often dramatically composed and filled with the kind of visual textures, details and touches that make a historical scene feel alive.

One of Lovell’s notable illustration clients was National Geographic magazine. Among his commissioned works for the magazine was the painting shown here, Surrender at Appomaomattox, in which the Civil War came to its official end.

This painting is part of a collection of paintings from the National Geographic Archives that will be on display at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania starting this weekend (more information about that exhibition in tomorrow’s post).

In this image, Lovell’s use of rough scumbling for textures of the walls is in marked contrast to the refined handling of the faces, which are rich with subtle colors.

What strikes me about this painting in particular is the composition. Lee and his military secretary are awash with light in the foreground, appearing dignified and gentlemanly as Lee signs the surrender papers, and commanding the generous space around them. Almost pushed into the corner, Grant and his Union brass form a dark mass in the background. Grant is seated a much less imposing table (perhaps this is historically accurate, I don’t know) and seems to have a troubled expression on his face, as if worried that Lee might change his mind at any second. The other Union officers seem likewise impatient. I don’t know anything about Lovell’s feelings about the role of the two factions in the Civil War; it’s just… interesting.

The interpretation of the past, whether in words or painted images, requires a point of view.

Mian Situ

Mian Situ
Mian Situ is a Chinese-American painter who was born in Guangdong (Canton), where he trained in a realist European style. I learned from his bio that this style was introduced to China from Russia as Socialist Realism, an inheritor of the 19th Century European Academic painting traditions that flourished in Russia under the Czars.

Situ has tempered that realism with the influence of his ventures into California plein air painting, producing a blend of influences similar in approach to some of the more Academic-leaning American Impressionists, basically a painterly realism. Somehow looking through his work brings to my mind such seemingly diverse painters as William Merrit Chase, Sergi Bongart, Sargent, Sorolla and Daniel Ridgeway Knight.

Situ traveled extensively in his home province in China, studying and documenting the day-do-day look and feeling of life, traditional ways of dress and the visual texture of the time and place, which he understood was rapidly changing.

He has also made a study of the first wave of Chinese immigration to the U.S., particularly in the Chinese communities of San Francisco at the turn of the last century. This is largely the subject matter you will find in the Historical Works section of his web site. The story-telling component of these paintings give them some of the visual charm and emotional appeal of classic illustration, combined with the wonderful textures of the streets, buildings, and clothing that were present in that rough-edged time.

Situ’s fascination with the American West has carried over into his landscape paintings, which are more straightforwardly modern, but still painted with that crisp combination of realism and painterly brushwork.

It is in his Figurative Works that you will find all of these influences coming together, with images from the historical and contemporary American West and the rural communities of China; images that tell stories with dress, location, and most of all, with the emotive faces of the individuals he portrays.

It’s interesting in particular to watch what Situ does with value relationships. Many of his paintings are bathed in light and shadow, or accentuated with sharp value contrasts between shadows and brightly colored or white garments. In many others, however, he keeps his values restrained within a narrow range, for a very different visual and emotional feel.

Donato Giancola (update)

Donato Giancola
There are a number of science fiction and fantasy artists who will acknowledge their study of old master painting techniques and tell how it has influenced their work; there are few, however, whose work demonstrates that heritage as visibly as Donato Giancola.

Giancola is one of the finest science fiction and fantasy artists working in the field today, and to my mind, one of the best in the history of the genre. His extensive list of honors and awards, including multiple Chesley’s, Spectrum Gold and Silver Medals, World Fantasy Awards for Best Artist, the 2006 and 2007 Hugo Awards for Best Professional Artist, First Place in the Figurative category of the First International Art Renewal Center Open Salon and recognition in this year’s ARC event, indicates that not only do his contemporary artists and editors agree, but he is receiving notice in realist art circles at large. And well he should; Giancola is a terrific painter by any standard.

When I first wrote about Donato Giancola back in 2005, his web site was fairly well developed, but since then it has been expanded considerably, even if the appearance of the site hasn’t changed a great deal.

Giancola has added many new and larger images, and some paintings are accompanied by supplementary images of preliminary drawings, painted sketches and even works in progress on the easel.

Giancola’s excellent draftsmanship, graceful compositions and dramatic but refined use of color make his work a joy to look at. His blending and application of color in particular is exceptional, both in the overall composition and within the detailed rendering of individual subjects, particularly in in the portrayal of figures and faces. There his use of greens and multiple red hues give the sense of the varied and veinous character of caucasian skin found in Renaissance and Baroque painting.

He wears some of his other classical influences on his sleeve as well. His figures are painted with a chiaroscuro and drama inspired by Caravaggio and color and dynamism inherited from a study of Rubens. Some of his historical images reflect the influence of great illustrators like Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. Most of all, though, Giancola seems enthralled with the painting mastery of Valezquez. (If you’re going to learn, learn from the best.)

Whether painting gleaming robots, intricate spaceship cockpits, towering dragons or armored warriors, Giancola’s study of old master painting gives his wildly imaginative fantasy and science fiction subjects a force and gravitas that is uncommon not only for the genre, but in contemporary illustration in general.

His site includes extensive galleries of science fiction and fantasy illustration, work done for the Magic: The Gathering collectable card game and a selection of concept art as well as a section of very nice life drawings. Unfortunately the latter two are hampered by one those annoying navigation schemes that require you to hover your mouse over little squares to view the images instead of simply clicking on them; but hey, I’ll take whatever Giancola art I can get.

The site also includes a section on technique that includes a discussion of his palette, a brief step-through of the editorial illustration process, a discussion of influences and a few step-through painting sequences (again with the roll-over dots navigation, but I’m picking nits).

In addition there is a Bio, a FAQ and a section of books, prints, card proofs and original art for sale.

The News section indicates that Giancola will be participating, along with Dan Dos Santos, Julie Bell, Boris Vallejo, Scott Fisher, Rebecca Guay and Greg Manchess, in a week-long Illustration Master Class to be held in Amherst, MA from June 16-22, 2008. (If you’re interested, act soon; attendance is limited to 90.) Special guest for the event will be Tor/Forge/Starscape Books art director extraordinaire Irene Gallo, whose informative and fascinating blog The Art Department features several mentions of Giancola.

Eric Feng

Eric FengEric Feng, a.k.a. Freic, draws images of what might be called constructs, combining mechanical elements with stylized forms from humans, birds, insects and other animals.

He draws them in elegant vector lines, usually monochromatic, but with delicate traceries of softer tones and transparencies, giving them a feeling of depth and x-ray dimensionality. The resulting drawings have a charm and informality that belies their vector origin.

His… entities have a charming whimsical appeal and are fascinating in their blending of the mechanical and natural forms. A bobbin-headed, Buddha-faced, doll-like character fishes out of the head of an elephantine mechanism apparently equipped for water and air travel. Owls have wheels. His Buddha-faced child wears an airplane. Mechanical birds sit in trees, and monkeys perch on the branches of a mechanical tree.

The galleries on his site, Fericstudio, are divided into Fevolution I, Fevoultion II and Inside Out. The later contains animated pieces as well as stills from a longer animation by that title. (There is a link to a video, but I couldn’t get it to come up in Safari or Firefox for Mac.)

In the still image galleries, many of the drawings have options to view enlargements or image variations.

[Link via Netdiver]

Stephen Rothwell

Stephen Rothwell - Dark House Quarter
In 1934 Max Ernst published a Une Semaine de Bonté (A Week of Kindness), a Surrealist novel in collage. Ernst created his work, which I think is one of the earliest works that could be called a “graphic novel”, by painstakingly cutting out images from engraved catalog and periodical illustrations and arranging them in fascinating, sometimes jarring scenes that reel out into a dreamlike, subconscious narrative.

Modern computer technology makes the process of image based or photo-collage considerably simpler (as I can attest from my forays into X-acto knife and rubber cement collage as a teenager), but creating good, effective collage is still a challenge to the creative eye and imagination. (See my post on the remarkable photo-collages of Emily Allchurch).

Stephen Rothwell, about whom I can find little other information on the web, has created a modern collage story in a similar spirit to Ernst called Dark House Quarter. Rothwell draws on archival photographs rather then engravings, but with a similar tone of staid images from former years rendered asunder by their dream state juxtapositions.

Rothwell, like Ernst, matches his source imagery in a way that produces pictures that feel consistent and whole within themselves. Rothwell’s compostions are sometimes in sepia tones and sometimes in color that has been added to black and white images.

Also like his Surrealist predecessors, Rothwell intends for his images to provoke and disturb, but I never get the feeling he’s going for the cheap shock value present in some of the lowbrow art and so-called “Pop Surrealism” that is currently popular.

The narrative, such as it is, is more subconscious than overt. Apparently something bad has happened, or is happening, perhaps war. The images, though, are fascinating, each one a tableaux of disparate components that fit together with emotive effect.

[Link via BoingBoing]