Alexis America

Alexis America
As an antidote to yesterday’s scary monsters, I take you this morning to the tranquil beauty of a water garden, alight with the brilliance of water lilly blossoms, in botanical watercolor paintings by Alexis America.

America has a series of paintings of water lillies, lotus and related water plants, their bright blooms, colorful stalks and delicate floating pads rendered in fresh, crisp watercolor (image above, top). These are presented in a web site gallery called Alexis America botanical paintings.

The site provides little background information, but with a little digging I was able to find that America, originally from Connecticut and now living in Hawaii, also has a series of Water Paintings created as aqueous monoprints (image above, bottom).

Aqueous monoprinting is a process closely related to traditional Italian book marbling, in which oil based paints are floated on water, taking advantage of the old adage that oil and water don’t mix, and the colors are stirred or moved around with delicate wands or by blowing air through a tube to create intricate marbled patterns. A sheet of paper is then gingerly laid atop the paint, and carefully lifted off, preserving the pattern in a single unique impression.

I had a chance to see traditional marbling done when some Florentine artisans participated in a cultural exchange here in Philadelphia a few years ago, as part of the little known “Sister Cities” relationship between Philadelphia and Florence. If you ever get a chance to see the process demonstrated, it’s fascinating and quite demanding. In America’s monoprints, she has used the process in a more representational way that I have seen before, in images suggestive of rolling and breaking waves.

Both her botanical and water paintings sites offer limited edition prints, though there is no indication of whether the originals are for sale or have gallery representation (or the size at which they’re done). Oddly, neither site mentions or is linked to the other; leading me to wonder if she has other sites of themed paintings, though these are the only two I turned up with a quick search. I also found a mention of her on the Tiki Art Gallery, that includes a small bio and offers prints some of her older figurative work.

[Link and suggestion courtesy of Ocean Quigley]

Chet Zar

Chet Zar
Chet Zar’s site has a subtitle of “Painter of Dark”. In addition to being a good sendup of a certain franchise gallery painter, it’s a pretty concise description of the tone of his work.

In his gallery work, Zar paints monsters, gruesome, grotesque and deliberately disconcerting. His eerie “portraits” glare out at you with glazed, bloodshot, and sometimes absent, eyes; grimacing, grinning or open mouthed in apparent shock, perhaps from looking at the preceding or following monster, each more gruesome than the next.

He creates his monstrous faces with highly defined textures. High-contrast areas of light and dark combine to suggest leathery, wrinkled skin, sometimes dark and weathered, at other times veinous and pale, as if insufficiently protected against some caustic environment. His palette for each piece is controlled within a limited range, but rich with subtle variation.

Zar has also applied his talent for creating monsters, and other characters, to a career in movie special effects, creating sculptural prosthetic make up and effects for films like Planet of the Apes, The Ring, Darkman, Hellboy and X-Men 3.

There is also a gallery of Zar’s work on the beinArt Surreal Art Collective, and his work is included in their Metamorphosis collection (see my post on Metamophosis and the beinArt Collective).

Zar is an instructor at the Gnomon Workshop and their site includes a brief bio and a gallery of his work. It also features an instructional DVD, Digital Creature Painting with Chet Zar.

His most recent show is at the Copra Nason Gallery in Santa Monica until May 31, 2008. There is a gallery of image on the gallery’s site.

Wikipedia has a post on Chet Zar, through which I learned that he is the stepson of James Zar, a fascinating fantasy and still life painter who will undoubtedly be the subject of a future post.

Daniel Hauben

Daniel Hauben
My wife and I were in New York City on Saturday; and while walking through Columbus Circle we came across Daniel Hauben, his French easel balanced on the edge of a fountain, painting a complex and large scale pieln air painting of a view down Eighth Avenue.

Most often, plein air painting is associated with relatively small paintings that can be finished in one session, and a short session at that given the degree to which light can change a scene in a matter of a few hours. Presumably, Hauben works on paintings of this size and complexity over the course of perhaps several days, but I was still surprised to see an artist taking on a painting like this in such a busy public space.

I asked Hauben for his card, but didn’t distract him beyond that with questions, and looked up his web site when I got home. His confidence in taking on this kind of challenge comes from over 25 years of plein air painting, largely in the Bronx, but also in other states in the U.S. as well as several other countries around the world.

Hauben paints primarily in oil for his cityscapes, both plein air and in even more complex studio works that often depict large scale panoramas of the city.

Some of my favorites, though, are his richly textured and strong-hued pastel landscapes of more rural scenes. There is also a section of landscapes in oil, easy to miss as it’s only linked from the bottom of the page of pastel landscapes.

Likewise, it’s easy to miss the section of street scenes linked from the bottom of the cityscapes page, and more street scenes linked from the bottom of that page.

There is also a section devoted to Puerto Rican Life in the Bronx, others for portraits, world travels and September 11th, and section for graphics as well as work in bronze and oil relief paintings.

There is an interesting section outside the gallery, linked from the main navigation, for Inches From My Easel, excerpts from a series of anecdotes and stories of Hauben’s experiences over the course of painting on location for 25 years, and a section called Artist @ Work, with photographs of the artist painting on location across the Bronx and around the world.

Sky Doll (Marvel)

Sky Doll, Marvel Comics edition
I’ve long been a fan and advocate of European comics, a field in which I think some of the most exciting work in the comics medium is being done.

Japanese comics (“manga”) have made significant inroads into the U.S. market, becoming something of an obsession in some circles, but European comics have been slow to find acceptance, partly because it’s still difficult to find European comics albums here, and even harder to find translated versions of comics produced in French or Italian.

There have been attempts over the years to bring over some comics from France, Belgium, Italy and the UK (including Marvel’s very nice reprints of material from Jean “Moebius” Giraud in the 1980’s), but they never really captured the audience they might have.

To Marvel’s credit, they are trying again to import and translate some comics from France, this time in partnership with French publisher Soleil. They’ve started with one of my favorites, Sky Doll by Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa.

If you don’t have access to the French originals, and missed the quick reprint in Heavy Metal, here’s a chance to pick up on the series anew. (See my previous posts on Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa and Sky Doll in Heavy Metal, in which I post additional images from the series and describe it in more detail.)

I give Marvel extra credit here, not only for bringing French comics to the American audience, but also for starting out with an adult title, in both senses of the word. Sky Doll, though not as overtly sexual as some comics, is labeled with a Mature Content advisory and contains nudity and sexual situations.

Don’t be put off by what might look at first glance like a cheesecake sci-fi story; the series is actually mature in the real sense, and deals with those very subjects, the objectification of women as sexual objects, personal freedom, societal control, and individual resistance to unacceptable social norms. On the other hand, don’t let me give you the impression that the story is high-handed and preachy, it actually manages to deal with those subjects in the course of a fun adventure story, amid wildly imaginative settings and striking design work, rich with detail and sparkling with ebullient color.

The first issue of Marvel’s Sky Doll (a three issue limited series) reached the comic book specialty stores last week, and may still be on the shelves in those stores adventurous enough to have ordered it. If not, you may be able to order it directly form Marvel or from an online specialty store like Mile High Comics.

I also give Marvel credit for doing a good job with the reproduction, capturing the intricate details of Barbucci’s drawings and often subtle tones of Canepa’s colors despite the reduction in size from the original French albums to American comic book format.

There is an article on Newsarama about the series, that includes some pages from the story as well as some of the pages in this issue that preview upcoming Marvel/Soleil projects, Universal War One, Samurai and Scourge of the Gods.

The official Sky Doll site, that was up for several years, has gone offline. There is an unofficial site (FR) that contains a lot of art work if you click around a bit.

Barbara Canepa, writer and color artist for Sky Doll, keeps an active blog (in French, Italian and often English), in which she talks about Sky Doll and other projects. Likewise, Alessandro Barbucci now has a blog as well.

Note: Some of the sites linked here contain material that is NSFW and not suitable for children.

The Montclair Art Museum

Montclair Art MuseumI’ve written before in the course of other posts about the pleasures, and treasures, to be found in small art museums.

By small, I mean compared to the large museums we associate with major metropolitan areas. These smaller museums are sometimes in those same cities, but more often are in smaller cities or towns.

I had the pleasure yesterday of visiting the Montclair Museum in Montclair, New Jersey, about 30 miles outside of New York (correction: 17 miles, see this post’s comments).

Most small museums, and many larger ones, have their origin as the collection of an individual. In this case museum co-founder William T. Evans started the ball rolling with a donation of 36 paintings to the Municipal Art Commission of Montclair in 1909. The museum has a short history on its web site that is a textbook case in how art museums like this are established.

The museum’s collection now includes pieces by John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase (above, lower right), Edmund Tarbell, J. Alden Weir and Thomas Eakins (above, top right); as well as strong pieces from the Hudson River School, represented by Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey and a particularly striking work by Ashser B. Durand, Early Morning at Cold Spring (image above, top left).

I was impressed in the latter painting, not only by Durand’s skill at rendering large scale subjects, filling them with lush detail and moving your eye around the canvas as if on a guided tour, but also by the contrast between his detailed passages, areas of suggested detail and other areas in which he confidently executed large shapes with broad, painterly brushstrokes. After having recently seen large scale landscapes by Corot and other painters of the Barbizon School, I couldn’t help by draw comparisons.

The museum also has items from Surrealism (Man Ray’s hilarious Indestructible Object), Modernism, Abstract Expressionism and 20th century works by African-American artists.

The real star of the collection, though, is a dedicated gallery containing nine works by Montclair’s native son, George Inness, who not only settled in Montclair, but painted many of his well known works there.

The paintings in the collection cover a good range of the artist’s career and life and are arranged around the gallery chronologically. You can follow his progress from his early 20’s (at which point he looked more like a junior member of the Hudson River School than his mature self), through a developing period in which he was obviously highly skilled and accomplished at handling large scale, complex landscapes in a straightforward and painterly manner, deftly handling intricate detail in the process (Delaware Water Gap, image above, bottom left), to the more recognizable paintings of his mid and later career, in which he exhibited the stylized rendering he is noted for (the only style of Inness painting I have encountered in other museums.) The paintings continue up to just a couple of years before Inness’ death, in which his images dissolve into a poetic haze of tonalist color, and what appear to be indistinct smears of color at close range magically transform into representational images at a distance.

This is a remarkable little gallery of his work, and if you appreciate Inness, is worth a visit to the museum on its own. Combined with the museum’s other treasures, it’s a noteworthy destination if you’re in the New York area.

Another sharp contrast between museums like this and the huge scale museums in major cities is the comfortable atmosphere and warm personal approach. We met a few members of the museum staff and one of the new volunteers, and found them charming, friendly and obviously proud of the treasures their museum had to offer.

Will Elder 1921-2008

Will Elder from Mad Comics
I was sorry to hear that Will Elder died last Thursday. He was one of the best, and certainly one of the funniest, comic book artists (those of you in the expensive seats read “graphic storytellers”) ever to put pen to paper, and always one of my favorites.

For a brief appreciation, see my previous post on Will Elder.