Sean Cheetham

Sean Cheetham
Portrait and figure painter Sean Cheetham is another artist whose own blog and web site tell me virtually nothing about him, other than that I like his work. Perhaps that’s the most important thing, but one might hope for a little additional info.

I was able to come up with some through a little digging. It turns out that Cheetham is a workshop instructor at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. His short bio there mentions that he has BFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England and at the Mendenhall Sobieski Gallery in Pasadena.

There is also a short bio on the Morseburg Galleries site that additionally features a gallery of his work.

Cheetham’s own site is just a horizontally scrolling page of unfortunately not-very-large images. Fortunately, the ones in the posts on his blog are linked to much larger versions in which you can begin to get a feeling for the painterly qualities of his work.

Cheetham is an accomplished draftsman, and his painting approach shows a debt to academic painting traditions. His portraits are frank, direct portrayals of his subjects, unapologetic and seemingly without comment.

He doesn’t flatter or criticize, focusing unblinkingly on his subjects and their environment. In the latter, he seems attracted to the textures and colors of gritty urban interiors, the rough surfaces of thinly painted walls, chipped formica, scuffed floors and rough cloth.

Some of his portraits are of individuals with tattoos, and I get the impression that the tattoo art is represented with the kind of fidelity that a painter might apply to the portrayal of a famous painting in the background of a portrait set in an art museum gallery.

Cheetham’s work has also been featured in American Artist’s Workshop magazine. The American Artist site has a gallery of his portraits and online versions of the article Sean Cheetham: Using a “Mud Palette” to Achieve Harmony and the short Sean Cheetham: Common Weaknesses in Figure Paintings

There is also speed painting video on YouTube in which he paints a full portrait.

(Note: some images may be NSFW)

[Suggestion courtesy of Bill Sharp]

Thomas Thiemeyer

Thomas Thiemeyer
I had the pleasure Friday of attending a reading at the Barnes & Noble bookstore on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia by fantasy author Gregory Frost. Frost did an excellent reading, with just the right degree of theatricality, from his new book Shadowbridge. The book is based on a fascinating concept involving stories within stories, and is played out on a fantastic world with few large land masses in which life unfolds on a sprawling and complex system of enormous bridges.

The task of representing these bridges on the book’s cover fell to German illustrator Thomas Thiemeyer, who, according to Frost, did a superb job of capturing and conveying his vision of the Shadowbridge world.

You can see Thiemeyer’s oil on Masonite painting for the wrap-around Shadowbridge cover (image above, with detail, below) in more detail on his web site, along with preliminary sketches and the front of the finished cover.

Frost’s Shadowbridge is a two part story; the second book, Lord Tophet, is due out in July. Thiemeyer has also done a dramatic painting for that book’s wrap-around cover, envisioning this world-spanning bridge system from the underside, which you can see here.

Theimeyer has a knack for taking on subjects on a grand scale, envisioning alien worlds with dazzling geography, towering cliffs, bizarre animals, wonderfully sleek futuristic cities and beautifully textured combinations of medieval and classical architecture.

When browsing through his online galleries, don’t be put off by the somewhat awkward arrangement that often sends you to pages of images you’ve seen before; some of the images you haven’t seen by that point will be worth your perseverance, with eyebrow-lifting vistas of beautifully imagined worlds lurking just under the next link.

Thiemeyer works both in oil and digitally, sometimes combining the two techniques in the same image. He has a subtle command of color, particularly in scenes at dusk in which the fading light of early evening mingles with pools of artificial illumination or fire. He displays remarkable finesse when portraying the the textures of rock, sand, cliffs and mountains; perhaps a side benefit of his joint study of art and geology in college.

His illustration clients include HarperCollins, Random House, Heyne, Arena and Wizards of the Coast; and his work has been in several of the Spectrum collections of contemporary fantastic art.

Thiemeyer is also an author in addition to being an artist, and has penned several high-selling novels, including Medusa, Reptillia and Magma.

Giorgio de Chirico

Giorgio de Chirico - The Disquieting Muses
I’ve tried in a number of previous posts to look at some of the predecessors of Impressionism, making a point of showing that styles of art progress from previous influences. Like Impressionism, and most other schools or movements in art, Surrealism also didn’t spring full-flowered from the minds of those most closely associated with the movement; it had antecedents both immediate and historical.

One of the key immediate precursors of Surrealism was actually a slightly older contemporary of the Surrealist artists, Greek painter Giorgio de Chirico; who they admired to the point of inviting him to join the movement officially, which he did for a time.

De Chirico’s “metaphysical painting” had a profound influence on better-known painters like Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dalí, whose styles show the obvious adoption of may of his visual inventions. Yves Tanguy, in fact, wrote that his chance encounter with a De Chirico painting in a gallery window was the spark that inspired him to pick up a brush for the first time and become an artist.

It’s hard to view the past in sequence sometimes, but if you look at De Chirico’s work, and then look at the early work of these and other Surrealist painters, and compare dates, you’ll see how influential he was on the visual style we associate with Surrealism.

De Chirico himself was influenced by Max Klinger, Arnold Böcklin and possibly other Symbolists, many of them artists who the Surrealists later adopted as “official precursors” (they were quick to hang the Surrealist sign of approval on artists they felt embodied their ideals).

De Chirico’s work was first noticed in Paris art circles by Pablo Picasso and poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and it was Apollinaire who introduced him to art dealer Paul Guillaume and later to the Surrealist writers and painters. (Surrealism was both a literary and visual art movement, and the literary component was actually primary.)

De Chirico played with the conventions of painting to unsettling effect, intending to create enigmatic images that bridged the chasm between rationality and metaphysics. Perspective was one of his primary tools for this, and he would often make the ground plane “point” well above the horizon, play with the relative size of objects in the distance and set the edges of structures at impossible angles.

In his metaphysical paintings, shadows, sometimes in directions indicating impossibly conflicting light sources, lay across deserted plazas surrounded by colonnades and rows of arches, spaces filled with the kind of haunting, echoing silence that feels almost like a physical thing, and emphasizes the emotional emptiness (leading some to draw comparisons to Hopper’s later paintings).

De Chirico would also place odd mannequins and other enigmatic objects in his compositions, juxtaposing them in odd relationships and sizes, often using overt triads of colors like yellow red and green to reinforce their iconic presence, as in The Disquieting Muses (above).

De Chirico’s metaphysical painting period was relatively short, basically ten years. Preceding it were less overtly enigmatic works, often straightforward portraits and scenes of Mediterranean towns, but sometimes with mythical themes. He eventually broke with the Surrealists and went back to more realistic painting, but never with the same success or critical praise of his metaphysical works.

He subsequently came to resent this, feeling that his later works were better and more deserving of recognition; and at one point created “self-forgeries”, paintings in his older style with false dates, both out of disdain for the critics and for the higher profit they brought him.

Inspiration, like the dreams the Surrealists chased, can itself be an ephemeral enigma.

Addendum: Thanks to Marco Bresciani for informing me about the Giorgio and Isa de Chirico Foundation (in several languages, English version here), which has lots of information about De Chirico and the De Chirico House Museum, adjacent to the Spanish Steps in Rome (which I unfortunately was unaware of when I visited a few years ago).

Marco also points out that, though I describe him as a Greek painter (as he is often referred to), De Chirico was actually Italian, born in Greece to Italian parents, in much the same way that Alfred Sisley was English, though born in Paris.

News Flash: Oil painting invented in Asia, not Europe

Oil painting invented in Asia, not Europe
Yes, I know that Europe and Asia are actually one land mass, but the Earth’s supercontinent is so vast and diverse that it still makes sense to think of it as two separate continents, particularly culturally. I do think of the “mid-East” or “near-East” as being part of Asia, though (which, interestingly, makes Christianity an “Eastern” religion, not a Western one, but I digress).

A recent scientific discovery, sadly based on a cultural atrocity, has brought to light new evidence that places the development of oil painting in Asia, and several centuries earlier than the previously assumed development in Europe in the 15th Century.

In 2001 the Taliban thought it was in the interest of their God to destroy two huge statues of the Buddha (somebody else’s God, and so, unworthy of existence), in a region of Afghanistan north of Kabul. The statues were up to 180 ft (55 meters) in height. Along with cave murals in the area, that have also been the target of Taliban attacks, they date back to hundreds of years before the European Renaissance.

This kind of violent intolerance fits in with the mindless, hind-brain driven actions common to religious fanatics everywhere, but developed to a particularly extreme degree by the contemptible thugs of the Taliban, members of which have set out on a campaign to destroy treasured artifacts of other cultures that don’t fit into their pin-headed view of what’s “correct”.

The upside was that interest in the sites was sparked among rational human beings, and archeological and scientific investigation was focused, in particular, on the Buddhist cave murals.

An X-ray identification technique, carried out at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, was able to determine that about a dozen of the 50 or so caves were painted in pigments suspended in drying oil, possibly walnut oil or poppy seed oil, mediums still in use today.

The results of this investigation were just published in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry on Tuesday, though they were presented at a scientific conference in Japan in January.

Although these oils had been in use previously in Rome and Egypt, they were used for medical and cosmetic applications, not art.

The cave oil paintings, depicting Buddhas with settings of palm leaves and mythical animals, date back to the middle of the 7th century, making them by far the oldest established examples of oil painting known.

The use of oil painting in Europe most likely was developed independently, but like the “discovery” some time ago that paper, ink and even movable type, existed in China well before their use in Europe, cultural prejudices have to be readjusted as the past continues to change.

As disconcerting as this can be, it reinforces one of the best things about rationality and scientific method; at its best it can break down cultural prejudice with the clear light of scientifically tested fact, in sharp contrast to the willful, self-inflicted blindness of fanaticism.

Religion is better than science at inspiring art (though science and technology are an integral element in the creation of artworks), but rationality is a better protector of art once it exists.

Let’s hope humanity can maintain a balance.

Thugs on Film

Thugs on Film
Thugs on Film is one of my favorites of the crop of independent Flash animation short series that have come and gone over the past few years.

Distributed by Mondo Mini Shows, Thugs on Film is lamentably no longer being produced. Mondo’s awkward an inelegant distribution and promotion model always confused me, and evidently, other potential viewers as well. They now seem intent on putting most of their efforts into Happy Tree Friends, a series whose appeal is lost on me.

No so with Thugs on Film, a wonderfully snarky setup in which a couple of British thieves, er, independent small businessmen, sit around in a warehouse full of loot merchandise and review movies, awarding the reviewed feature a rating at the end based on the number of pilfered recently acquired Rolexes up their sleeves. Thugs on Film is just up my alley, irreverent, funny and drawn with a style that has a nice springy feeling of rough line work and is designed with the requirements of inexpensive limited animation for Flash in mind.

The designers and animators take advantage of color and simple shapes to create mood and settings, and the limited animation is used to best advantage to compliment the writing. The characters, Stubby and Cecil, are well designed, both visually and conceptually, and play well off of each other.

For a while, you couldn’t even find these animations. Mondo’s misguided attempts to keep them monetized instead kept them out of reach, and confused even devoted fans trying to search out the episodes.

Some of them (though certainly not all) are now available again on the Thugs on Film section of the Mondo Mini Shows site, even if it’s in a less than wonderful interface. Wait for a short eSurance spot and the episode plays. You can choose more from the scrolling menu below the main screen.

The older ones ended with an interactive quiz, with a different short snippet shown in response to your answer, but these seem to be short circuited now into ads for Happy Tree Friends and eSurance.

Some of the older episodes are also better and more elaborate, they apparently got a little tired of the formula after a while.

You can also look through the other Mondo cartoons, though except for an occasional episode of Like, News, none of them has particularly grabbed my attention.

Created by Dan Todd, Thugs on Film was a group effort. I’m not sure how consistent the team was throughout its run, but here are some of the credits from a middle period episode (in which they reviewed The Mummy Returns): Directed by W Kamu Bell, Design by Rhode Montijo, Storyboards by David Donar, Backgrounds by Jenny Hansen and animation by John Cimino, Mark Giambruno and Mark West.

I give Thugs on Film five Rolexes.

Stanhope Forbes

Stanhope Alexander Forbes was an Irish painter who was considered to be the leader of the Newlyn School of painters. This was more of a loose artists’ colony than a concerted school of painting style.

Forbes studied under John Sparkes, and then enrolled in the Royal Academy School, where he briefly studied with Frederick Lord Leighton and Alma Tadema.

He continued his studies in France, where he came into contact with some of the French painters who were beginning to paint “en plein air”. He would eventually devote himself to the demanding practice of plein air figure painting, composing large scale canvasses, often with multiple models, that sometimes took months to complete.

He moved back across the channel and, looking for a place that afforded good light, abundant scenery and village life to paint, settled in Newlyn, which was convenient to Penzance, Cornwall. The new railway station there allowed easy travel to London and its galleries.

Other artists were attracted to the area for the same reasons, similar to the way plein air artists of the time were in France attracted to Barbizon, near Paris, in the US to New Hope, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia and various places in California that were also accessible by rail.

In Newlyn, Forbes painted outdoor scenes of working fishermen and village life, and when the weather was inclement, painted indoor scenes. He usually had at least two paintings in progress at any time, one outdoors and one indoors.

Forbes is often credited as the father of the Newlyn school, and was the most renowned of the painters working there at the time. His style never became “impressionistic” but his brushwork loosened as time went on, and he was devoted to the qualities inherent in plein air painting, saying it afforded “…that quality of freshness, most difficult of attainment by any other means and which one is apt to lose when the work is brought into the studio for completion”.