George Gardner Symons

George Gardner Symons
George Gardner Symons was an Amreican painter active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He was born in Chicago and was one of the early artists to live and work in California in the 1890’s, after the trans-continanal railroad made the previously remote section of the U.S. more accessible (see my posts on Guy Rose, Granville Redmond and Hanson Puthuff).

Symons studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and later extended his studies in London, Paris and Munich before returning to the U.S. and California.

He also maintained a studio in New York City and another in the Berkshires, traveling between there and Laguna Beach, where he was an active participant in the thriving art community.

He worked as an illustrator for a time and was commissioned by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1914 to create paintings of the Grand Canyon for promotional campaigns.

Symons’ exposure to Impressionism in Europe has a lasting influence on his work. He painted “en plein air” and is generally classified as an “American Impressionist”. Though he is noted in particular for his scenes of New England in the Winter, he is considered a member of the California School of American Impressionism.

Confusingly enough, you might also find him associated with the Impressionist influenced painters who worked in New Hope in Bucks County, PA; and labeled as a Pennsylvania Impressionist (see my posts on Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield and Fern Coppedge).

Though there is obvious commonality in his approach and subject matter, the definitive book on Pennsylvania Impressionism says there is no evidence for this; and all of his known winter scenes were painted in new England. (The upside of this is that Encore Editions includes him in their catalog of images and inexpensive prints.)

Wherever he painted, Symons rendered his landscapes in clear, strong compositions, with a vibrant color sense, and the kind of crisp, deliberate brushwork that makes the work of so many American Impressionist painters wonderfully appealing.

Al Jaffee

Al Jaffee
Al Jaffee is a cartoonist and comics artist who is best known as a long-time contributor to Mad magazine. Early in his career, Jaffee worked for Timely Comics and then Atlas Comics, which were early forms of the company that became Marvel Comics.

Jaffee joined Mad magazine in in 1955, shortly after editor Harvey Kurtzman transformed it from a comic book to magazine format to dodge the restrictions of the anti-comics backlash that had been stirred up against Mad’s sibling E.C. horror comics.

Jaffee is the longest running contributor to the magazine and may have been in more issues than any other single artist. He also joined Kurtzman on his other humor magazines, Trump and Humbug.

Jaffee is a writer as well as an artist and has created many series and single features for the magazine over the years, including Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, many of which have been published as a series of collections. There have also been collections of some of Jaffee’s other work for the magazine published as Mad’s Vastly Overrated Al Jaffee and Al Jaffee Gets His Just Deserts.

Jaffee always seemed to be part cartoonist, part inventor, and many of his features have been based on weird gadgets, outrageous fake inventions and clever designs for things. Jaffee is most associated with one of his own “inventions”, the “Mad Fold-in”, which is one of the longest-runing features in the magazine, started in 1964 and continuing today. There is also a collection of those: Mad Fold This Book!: A Ridiculous Collection of Fold-Ins.

These were originally a parody of “fold-outs” in Playboy and other men’s magazines, in which an extra, originally folded over page would fold out to allow an extra large photograph to be printed across three pages (bringing to mind Martin Mull’s quip: “Playboy is like National Geographic — lots of nice pictures of beautiful places you’ll never visit.”)

Jafee’s Mad version was, of course, the opposite, a fold-in in which the image became smaller, but in the process changed its meaning by becoming a different image altogether. This requires some cleverness and careful planning, a task to which Jaffee’s inventive mind is adroitly suited. The idea was a hit, and has become, in essence, the toy prize in the Crackerjack box for each issue the magazine. Jaffee has used the idea both for fun and for sometimes biting social commentary that has ruffled more than a few feathers.

Jaffee has won major cartoonists awards from National Cartoonist Society and is one of three nominees for this year’s Ruben Awards.

Much to the delight of Jaffee fans everywhere, he’s still at it today at the age of 87. In 2006, on his 85th Birthday, Steven Colbert invited Jaffee on his show and presented him with a fold-in birthday cake, which had typically complimentary wishes written on the icing that, when the middle section of the cake was removed, became reduced to “Al, you are old.”

The New York Times has just published an article on Jaffee, along with a great interactive feature of Al Jaffee’s Fold-ins, Past and Present, that showcases a dozen or more of his clever pieces, starting from the early 1960’s, in an Flash module that lets you fold them over.

This, of course, neatly sidesteps the dilemma we had as kids of whether to fold in and crease your copy of the back cover, or try to figure out what it was without folding, or hope your friends had already folded theirs.

Kurt Weiser

Kurt Weiser
The history of the art of china painting is a long one. It is an art in which the application of paint and glazes was initially used to decorate ceramic vessels with patterns and eventually with images of varying degrees of representational detail and complexity.

Kurt Weiser is a contemporary ceramics artist and painter who creates unique pottery, both vessels and objects, that are painted with detailed representational imagery.

The paintings, inspired by the styles of old master paintings, depict allegories and scenes related to the relationship of man and nature. They are painted in a painstaking china painting technique that requires careful planning of the order and placement of colors, the application of overglazing and multiple firings.

The result is objects that are striking in their shape and physical characteristics as well as carrying the visual and emotional impact of representational imagery.

Some of his pieces are almost straightforward vessels — vases or jars that look as though they could be functional. Others are skewed away from functionality in a way that leaves no doubt that this object only exists as an art object.

Some of them seem to be the fusing of two separate vessels that inadvertently touched in some pan-dimensional way, and are now warped along with the distorted juncture of space-time in which they sit; a surreal effect that is heightened by the spacial sense within the representational paintings wrapped across their surfaces.

There are several series of globe-like objects, irregularly shaped, almost amorphous variations of spheres with paintings on their surface depicting continents, animals and people in juxtapositions that carry multi-leveled musings on the natural world. These are suspended in mountings that function like traditional globe-holders, but curved to match the unique non-speherical shapes of the ceramic object.

The Belleville Arts Museum in Belleville, Washington is currently presenting an exhibit of Weiser’s work: Eden Revisited: The Ceramic Art of Kurt Weiser that runs through April 20, 2008.

In it, you will see globes that span ephemeral worlds and vessels that are made as containers for ideas and emotions.

[Link via Art Knowledge News]

Heinrich Zille

Heinrich Zille
Heinrich Zille is an artist I was unfamiliar with until I came across this article in the New York Times.

Apparently, I’m not alone, in that he is not well known outside his native Germany. There, however, he is not only well known but celebrated, particularly in his adopted home of Berlin, where he came to be revered as something of a symbol of the spirit of the city at the time he was active, in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Zille was an illustrator and photographer noted for celebrating common people at a time when their lot was a difficult one, particularly in his portrayals of life in the Berllin Mietskasernen, or tenement barracks, roughshod buildings crammed with desperate peasants who had fled a life of toil and poverty in the farmlands and fallen into deeper poverty in the industrialized city.

On moving to Berlin, Zille became familiar with some of the noted artists of the time, including Max Beckmann, Käthe Kollwitz, August Gaul and Max Liebermann.

Zille became Liebermann’s protege and created a reputation for witty but incisive social commentary in the form of cartoon-like illustrations about the life of the common and poor in turn of the century Berlin. He became known as “Pinselheinrich”, or “Heinrich the Brush”.

He frequented the bars and cellars of the seedier quarters of the city and became a familair figure there, often called “Papa Zille”, taking in that life in all of its rough character and honesty. He would later say “No one would believe all the things I’ve seen.”

He also documented the Berlin he knew as a photographer. Less well know are his forays into erotic drawing.

Berliners are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Zille’s birth this year with events and exhibitions. There is a small museum there devoted to his work.

There are some resources on the web, including a dedicated Heinrich Zille web site, but the best images I’ve found are in the slideshow accompanying the NYT article.

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy - Portrait of Ivan Shishkin
Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy was the leader of the 19th Century group of Russian realist artists known as the Peredvizhniki, (in English the “Itinerants” or the “Wanderers”), who mounted joint traveling exhibitions in protest of the restrictive policies of the official Russian Academy (somewhat parallel to the French Impressionists’ participation in the “Salon des Refusés”).

Members of the Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions, as it was formally named, were among Russia’s finest painters, not only of the time, but in general. Among them were such notable figures as Ilya Repin, Vasily Surikov and Ivan Shishkin.

Kramskoy was primarily a portrait artist, and his portraits are quite remarkable; they can feel formal at times but at other times can be penetrating to the point that they seem to be painted from the bones out.

They were not limited, however, to one strata of society, as is often the case with portrait painters. Kramskoy’s portraits included royalty, peasants, family members, actors, writers (like Leo Tolstoy) and a number of portraits of his fellow Itinerants artists, including several portraits over time of painter Ivan Shishkin (image above).

Kramskoy’s portrait session with Leo Tolstoy, who was initially reluctant to have his portrait painted, resulted not only in the incisive painting, but in Kramskoy serving as the model for Tolstoy’s character of the portrait artist Mikhailov in Anna Karenina.

Kramskoy and the Itinerants were tremendously influential on the course of Russian art, and their work, along with the academicism they turned away from, formed much of the realist foundation for Socialist Realism.

Kramskoy’s own leanings were democratic, an important movement in the later part of the 19th Century in Russia, and he was an art critic and theoretician as well as a painter and teacher.

Though he painted his portraits from life, he painted a few portraits of an individual he did not meet directly, at least in the usual sense. He said of his his hauntingly visceral portrayal of Christ in the Wilderness (detail here), that the image appeared to him as a vision of almost hallucinatory intensity, and he painted it without reference to a model.

Kramskoy’s most famous painting is a portrait of an Unknown Woman, whose enigmatic gaze and uncertain origin made her the subject of much speculation, and, eventually, adulation by the Russian public, who came to see her as a symbol of themselves.

Alan Pollack

Alan Pollack
After studying as several colleges, including the School of Visual Arts and the New York Academy of Figurative Art, fantasy artist Alan Pollack decided to focus on illustrations for role playing game companies.

He worked for a while for TSR, the company responsible for Dungeons and Dragons, and has since gone freelance, adding companies like Del-Rey, ROC, Tor Books and Wizards of the Coast to his client list, book covers to his ouevre and science fiction subjects to his subject matter.

His web site galleries include role playing game art, collectable card game art, unpublished art, book covers and available originals. Though he applies his detailed realist style to each genre with equal aplomb, it is the book cover art I find most appealing, particularly in cases where he plays with areas of color as compositional elements, as in the image above, Memory of Fire.

Most of his paintings are in oil on illustration board and are sometimes done at a fairly large size (30″x40″, 76x100cm).

Pollack seems to have a fun sense of the lineage of classic science fiction and fantasy illustration that developed out of pulp illustration of the early to mid 20th Century, and cites his early fascination with somewhat more modern influences such as Frazetta, Boris, the Hildebrandt Brothers and Michael Whelan, and the later discovery of artists like Brom, Keith Parkinson, Robh Ruppel and Donato Giancola.

For me, one of the most appealing factors in Pollack’s work is his sense of fun. You get the impression he is having a blast painting the kind of subjects he grew up fascinated with, and that enthusiasm comes through in the finished paintings.