William Stout’s murals for the San Diego Natural History Museum

William Stout's Fossil Mysteries murals of prehistoric life for the San Diego Natural History Museum - Costal Dinosaurs
Prior to the influence of pioneering paleontological artist Charles R. Knight, the display of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals in natural history museums consisted mostly of isolated fossilized bones in glass cases, fascinating to scientists to be sure, but perhaps as exciting to the general public as mounted butterfly specimens.

After Knight’s work with paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History to display the animals in realistic settings, and, later, Rudolf Zallenger’s astonishing murals for the Yale Peabody Museum, the display of prehistoric life by museums would never be the same.

These days, when natural history museums are competing with multimedia, games and popular entertainment to capture the attention of the public, the skeletons of prehistoric animals are mounted in the most dramatic and theatrical manner possible within the framework of scientific knowledge.

As museums renovate their dinosaur halls, which are often the focal point of a natural history museum’s public relations strategy, emphasis is placed on creating an immersive experience, a significant part of which is created by the presence of large murals depicting life in prehistoric settings (see my recent post on the spectacular new murals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History by Robert Walters and his studio).

A new exhibit at the San Diego Museum Natural History Museum called Fossil Mysteries that opened in the Fall features several dramatic new murals of prehistoric life by William Stout.

Stout is a multi-talented painter, paleo artist, concept designer, illustrator and comics artist who I profiled in 2006. The exhibit also includes work by Doug Henderson, Raúl Martin and others (artist bios here), but Stout’s paintings are the headliner.

His murals for the exhibit depict prehistoric life from several eras. From the age of giant mammals we see huge ground sloths, fierce sabertooth cats and giant mastodons. Reaching back into the dark mysteries of the Cretaceous Period and the Paleocene Epoch, Stout takes us into the depths of seas teeming with life. And, of course, there are dinosaurs; in this case a tableau of costal dinosaurs awash with brilliant color, dramatic skies and ingeniously theatrical lighting effects. All of them are vibrantly painted with Stout’s trademark emphasis on color, texture and fluidity of line.

Characteristic of the substandard quality of many natural history museum web sites, the SDNHM information on the murals is skimpy and not very informative. However, the museum has posted a wonderful set of high-resolution images of the murals, presumably for use by the press and schools (and, of course, lines and colors readers).

These are nice large files that are (finally!) big enough that you can really appreciate the way Stout has worked with his colors, values and contrasts to sharply define individual elements when viewed up close, but kept all of them working as part of a unified whole when seen from a farther vantage point. It’s also surprising how painterly the images can be when seen in detail.

Stout’s new murals will be featured in the March 2008 issue of Natural History magazine. You can also see some (unfortunately much smaller) images of Stout’s previous paleo life murals and other paintings of prehistoric life on his web site. His terrific book, The New Dinosaurs is still available and is full of his wonderfully expressive paintings and drawings of dinosaurs, often done in a playful nod to the styles of other artists (Art Nouveau dinosaurs anyone?).

Stout fans will also be delighted to know that Flesk Publications (which I mentioned most recently in my post about Steve Rude: Artist in Motion) is planning a volume of his work.

[Link via Paleoblog]


Raj Chaudhuri

Raj Chaudhuri
After years of a successful career in information management, Raj Chaudhuri is concentrating on making his lifelong passion for painting and drawing into his full time focus. Chaudhuri credits his study at the Art Students League in Denver, particularly with Mark Daily and Quang Ho, as the deciding factor in enabling him to make the jump.

Chaudhuri, who was born in India and studied in Bombay, had the opportunity to travel in Europe and the U.S. and now lives in Denver. His richly colored, painterly oils of landscapes, interiors and portraits are often drawn from his travels or his time in India.

He finds appealing subjects in richly colored cloth, whether traditional clothing in small villages, the bright spandex of a bicycle rider or the sharply lit green of a pool table surface.

Chaudhuri paints with bold, bright strokes, and his patches of color create their own feeling of texture in addition to the variations in tone and hue.

He is represented by the Abend Gallery in Denver.


Kris Kuksi

Kris KuksiKris Kuksi is an artist of seeming contradictions.

One moment he’ll be fascinating you with his grotesque, darkly themed “Mixed-media Assemblages”, or disconcerting you with his jarringly electric fantastic realist visions; and the next moment he’ll surprise you with classical portraiture, traditional figure drawing or a delicate, naturalistic rendering of a freshly opened orchid or a dew spattered iris.

I first encountered Kuski’s work at a gallery here in Philadelphia where one of his assemblages was attracting a lot of attention on a “First Friday” gallery walk in the Old City gallery district.

These sculptural objects (image at left top, with detail, below) are wonderfully intricate constructions of pop culture effluvia like plastic model kits, injection molded toys, dolls, plastic skulls, knick-knack figurines, miniature fencing, toy animals, mechanical parts and ornate frames or furniture parts; assembled into grotesque tableaux that look a bit like an explosion in Hieronymus Bosch’s attic or H.R. Giger’s dollar store.

These constructions are usually given a patina of light grey that pulls them together and gives them a nice fake antique look that makes them perfect for that alcove in the dark hallway in your Victorian mansion that leads to the Room that None Must Enter.

I can say from seeing these close up that the photos on Kuksi’s site (in the gallery section labeled “the grotesque”) don’t do them justice. There are better photos, with details, along with an interview, on Dark Roasted Blend. There is a short time-lapse video of the assembly of one of his constructions on MySpace.

When I looked up Kuksi’s web site on returning from the gallery walk, I found more of these assemblages, along with some of his “fantastic realism” paintings and drawings, that range from Art Nouveau meets H.P. Lovecraft to psychedelic visionary paintings that lean into Alex Grey territory (image at left, bottom left).

Continuing to the “portraiture” section, I was surprised to see a portrait that I had come across elsewhere and made mental note to look up, not realizing at all that it was by the same artist who did these constructions (Portrait of George Gillaume, image at left, middle with detail). I was further surprised to see, in Kuksi’s “naturalism” section, detailed, contemplative paintings of flowers and images of animals.

Kuksi paints in acrylic on Gessobord. Most of the images in his galleries are accompanied by highrer-resolution versions accessed from a link in the description text. Don’t miss the fact that many of his galleries have more than one page, accessed by small links at page bottom. There are numerous images from the many sides of this multi-faceted artist.

In my research I stumbled across this listing for a Drawing Workshop with Kuksi in Germany in the summer. Please note that I’m not certain if this is current.

On his deviantArt page, Kuksi lists some of his favorite artists as Alphonse Mucha, Ernst Fuchs, Robert Venosa, Alex Grey, and Andrew Gonzales. Hs also lists his “interests” as Art, Music, Science, Philosophy and Maritime Cannibalism.


Daniel Dociu

Daniel Dociu
Daniel Dociu is an art director, illustrator and concept artist working in the gaming industry. He was born and studied in Cluj, Romania, moved to Athens and then the U.S., and now lives in Seattle, Washington.

He has worked for companies like Squaresoft, Zipper Interactive and Electronic Arts and is now Art Director at ArenaNet. His credits include Guildwars: Prophecies, Guildwars: Factions, SSX3, James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, SOCOM: US Navy Seals, MechWarrior III, and many others.

Dociu’s images often have a sharp, angular feeling to them, which gives them a sense of energy and impending motion. He works often in what look like science fiction themes, and with environments that convey a sense of monumental scale. His color palette frequently contrasts rust colored oranges with electric blues or icy greens for dramatic effect.

Fortunately, his online galleries feature pop-up images of a decent size because much of what I find most appealing in his work reveals itself in the details, where he is able to simultaneously employ loose, gestural rendering and a remarkable suggestion of detail.

Unfortunately, both his site and a gallery on the Komotion site suffer from less than ideal interface designs. In the former, the thumbnails are too small to judge the image by, and the pop up window makes you wait while it calculates the image size with JavaScript and resizes itself. I actually find the other gallery a bit easier to browse, though I almost missed it at first. In a particularly bad piece of interface design, what appears to be a heading image for a credits page is actually a large button that calls up a pop-up window with a gallery of his work.

Dociu works digitally and there is a nice article about him on the CG Society.

His splintered geometry and whorls of angular forms give his concept paintings an unusual and fascinating feeling of continuity, while still ranging across a wide expanse of imaginative terrain.


Simon Otto

Simon Otto
Though there aren’t many pieces available online, the variety of subject, medium and approach, and the high quality of each, make the sketchblog of Simon Otto well worth a visit.

Otto’s blog is actually just excerpts from his contributions to insert name here, a group blog he shares with several other talented artists, who, like Otto, work in the film industry.

Otto himself is an animator at DreamWorks Animation. Though I couldn’t find any of his professional work online, you can see a list of his credits on IMDB.

His blog posts range from plein air oil paintings to digital sketches (apparently also painted on location with a laptop), to figure painting, to a series of wonderfully appealing sketchbook pages. The latter feature drawings apparently done in pencil and white body color on cream paper, and are my favorites of his posted work.

It’s an unusual approach; most toned sketchbook drawings tend toward ink and wash or monochrome watercolor. The combination of pencil against the cream and white areas, along with accents of textural tones created with lines, a technique more common to pen and ink, makes for nicely subtle and varied tonal range.

Occasionally, Otto will work with black body color or ink in place of the lighter tones, and he will sometimes punctuate his sketches with small areas of red or other colors. He’s not shy about tackling complex architectural subjects or cityscapes; rendering them in confident but sensitive lines and arranging them in interesting compositions.

Many of his sketchbook drawings are annotated with notes or dates, but for some reason they have been flopped in posting so that they read backwards, along with signs in the images. That does little to reduce their charm, however, and at the end of the available blog posts you’re left looking in vain for more.

Unfortunately, neither Otto’s blog, or the group blog from which it is extracted, have been updated since July. We’ll have to hope that Otto and his fellow artists get inspired soon to resume posting.


Pieter de Hooch

Pieter de Hooch
Pieter de Hooch (pronounced de HOOGH, with a hard “g”) is a fascinating painter, both for his own oeuvre and for the inevitable comparisons to his brilliant contemporary Johannes Vermeer.

Like Vermeer, de Hooch is noted for his paintings of quiet, light-filled interiors, and occasional tranquil street or courtyard scenes. De hooch was for a time in Vermeer’s home town of Delft, where he painted many of his best known works, and was a member of the Painter’s Guild there.

Though little is actually know about either man, it’s a fair assumption that the two painters were influential on one another, if not in friendly competition, as many of their subjects and scenes are remarkably similar.

Many of the same themes are present in both painters’ scenes of domestic life within the tiled and wood beamed interiors of Delft homes: people reading a letter, sharing a drink or performing household chores (even, in the case of de Hooch’s painting above, de-lousing a child’s hair).

The two painters have different palettes, Vermeer choosing cooler backgrounds against which his brightly attired figures glow with the colors of rich fabrics, brilliant highlights and, yes, luminescent pearls; and De Hooch opting for warmer earth tones for his interiors, in which his more plainly clothed figures seem integral to their environment.

De Hooch’s depiction of the people in his scenes is warm and sensitive, but he doesn’t have the psychological insight of Vermeer’s intense personality studies, or the sense of mystery they invoke, and de Hooch’s figures are a bit stiff, almost as if they are portrayed as part of the rooms they inhabit, which are, I think, the real subject of his work.

De Hooch painted Dutch middle class life with a calm, steady eye and a remarkable skill for painting light and the texture of materials. He was a master of perspective, and the complex lines of his interiors are marvels of linear geometry.

Though he never achieved the transcendent mastery of time, space and light that made Vermeer so singular, (who did?), de Hooch was a master of light in a different way. Where Vermeer would bathe his serene interiors with a single golden source of light, that flowed in from windows on the observer’s left and spread through his compositions like atomized honey, de Hooch revels in multiple sources of light, bursting in though windows and doors, cascading through hallways and splashing on tiled floors in a complex dance of interior atmospherics.

De Hooch’s paintings are wonderfully layered; rooms give way to antechambers, which give way to other rooms, which lead through doors to courtyards; each with their own sense of atmosphere and light, worlds within worlds. This is what I love about de Hooch, and once I started reading about him, I discovered that many others do as well.

You will often hear reference to his “keyhole” paintings, compositions that offer glimpses of other scenes through open doors or windows. De Hooch, like Antonello da Messina in his amazing St. Jerome in his Study, invites us to walk into and through his paintings, beckoning us on a journey within a single image, and tantalizing us with glimpses of other vistas just beyond where we’re standing.