Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin
 

 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Larry Francis

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:16 am

Larry Francis
Scale is an interesting aspect of painting and drawing. I’m always fascinated when artists choose to work at both relatively large and relatively small size, particularly when working with the same subject matter (see my posts about Thomas Paquette and his large oils and very small guoache paintings).

Philadelphia area painter Larry Francis also paints fairly large oils (perhaps 48×60″; 121x152cm), and small gouache paintings (around 11×14″; 27x35cm) . His subject matter, which is consistent in both types of paintings, includes an interesting range of ordinary subjects in and around Philadelphia.

By “ordinary” I mean commonplace scenes that would not be thought of as particularly scenic, like images of suburban houses and yards, typical city street corners, small sections of parks, neighborhood stores, bridges and other views, the like of which we pass by every day without thinking.

This, of course, is one of the things that art does best, to wake us to more alert observation of our surroundings and remind us that the ordinary is extraodinary, the commonplace worthy of notice and appreciation.

Even Francis’ views of the Schuylkill river, which could have been chosen from more scenic vantage points, instead are often views of bridges and bridge piers, the kind of view commuters might glance at without noticing day after day as they make their routine trips into center city along the river drives.

I particularly like his paintings of Schuylkill river bridges, which perhaps can be thought of as in the tradition of Thomas Eakins, who often included Schuylkill river bridges in his portrayals of scullers. Eakins obviously couldn’t have painted the Route 1 expressway bridge (foreground of the image at top, larger version here), though I have to think he might have included it had it existed at the time.

Francis consistently reveals beauty in the ordinary, with geometric arrangements of houses and commercial buildings arrayed in planes of light, broken with dappled shadows from vegetation and the horizontal bands of color in streets and sidewalks.

I was struck but the issue of scale because I had encountered an oil painting of his at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he is an instructor, showing a view of the Schuylkill river from the same vantage point as the one above, though wider in aspect and much larger in size, perhaps 4′x12′ (121x365cm). I was struck by the painting, and delighted to have the chance to see his small gouache paintings of the same area at his current show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery, which is focused in particular on his small gouaches.

I was also glad I had a chance to meet the artist at the opening, and I asked him about his approach. I had made an assumption because of the finessed attention to detail, and the unhurried feeling of relaxed observation evident in these small works, that he was working, at least in part, from photographic reference. He paints these gouache paintings on location, however, working perhaps two paintings a day to catch the different states of light, and returning to the scene two or three times to finish them.

Those in the Philadelphia area still have a chance to catch the show at the Gross McCleaf Gallery, which runs until this Saturday, January 24, 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

American Presidents (Patrick Moberg)

Posted by Charley Parker at 3:14 pm

November 4, 2008, U.S. presidents by Patrick Moberg
In a somewhat different take on a series of portraits of the former and present presidents of the U.S than my previous post on Presidential Portraits, illustrator Patrick Moberg has a piece that I believe is titled November 4, 2008.

It gives a nicely striking comparison of certain physical characteristics of the American presidents to date.

On Moberg’s site you can purchase signed prints of the image. You can also see Moberg’s portfolio of whimsical, cartoon style illustration.

[Via Coudal Partners]

Posted in: Illustration   |   6 Comments »

Presidential Portraits (Rick Tuma)

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:37 am

Presidential Portraits by Rick Tuma
With lots of attention being paid to the inauguration of the new American President today, here’s a set of portrait drawings of the 43 former U.S. presidents by Rick Tuma, a staff artist for the Chicago Tribune. The series is posted as a special feature called Presidential Portraits on the Tribune’s web site.

Tuma painted his series of presidential portraits in ivory black watercolor on bristol board. If you go to his web site and choose “Other Things” at the bottom of the portfolio pages (easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it) you can flip through the thumbnails to the page about the series.

Tuma also does a variety of illustration for the Tribune, from info-graphics to cartooning, and also does freelance work in addition. His online portfolio is divided between watercolor, pencil and digital. (He also apparently collects toys, you can see a QTVR view of his toy-filled work station at the tribune here.)

It’s interesting to see the range of presidents’ faces as portrayed by a single artist. Some of them are of course more interesting as subjects for drawings than others. I’ve selected a couple of the images above for that reason and a couple for relevance to current events.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Andreas Aronsson

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:41 pm

Andreas Aronsson
Whenever we look at a representational drawing or painting that appears to have depth or dimensionality, we are looking at a “projection”, a two-dimensional representation of a three dimensional object or scene.

There are several types or projections, the most familiar are “perspective projection” (traditional linear perspective), in which lines drawn from the sides of parallel objects converge on vanishing points, and “oblique projection”, in which those lines remain parallel (the “Sim City” look).

In any of them it is possible to create an image that superficially seems reasonable, but would actually be impossible as a three dimensional object. Many of us are familiar with these in the form of traditional “optical illusions” and in the graphics of M.C. Escher.

Andreas Aronsson is, in his words, a “Professional IT‑technician. Spare time multimedia experimenter. In Sweden.” He has a fascination with impossible objects, and regularly posts his own playful “Impossible Figures” to his blog.

These often take the form of objects (usually done in perspective projection) with shared sides or lines of connection that defy real-world geometry. They make for fun visuals; and examination of them generates a playful brain-tickle that gives us pause to reflect on the nature of the visual presentation of objects, what we take for granted and how easily our eye can be fooled into accepting the three dimensionality of lines in a two-dimensional surface (even if that surface is a screen).

You can flip through the posts on his site tagged with “Impossible Figure“. You can also read his page “About Impossible Figures” in which he talks about his fascination with them and his working process in creating his images.

[Via Neatorama]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charles Leickert

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:25 pm

Charles Leickert
Charles Henri Joseph Leickert was a painter who would have been well suited to painting scenes of the freezing weather we’re currently experiencing in much of the United States.

Leickert was a Belgian born painter who lived and worked most of his life in the Netherlands. He specialized in winter landscapes, often with a “street scene” kind of view down a frozen river, lake or canal (image above with detail, larger version here). Most of his frozen river or lake paintings portrayed bustling activity, in which the citizenry would be out skating, ice fishing, pushing sleds filled with goods, and otherwise utilizing the frozen surface as a street.

He romanticized his scenes, frequently with towering dark clouds or brilliant dramatic lighting. He reveled in the eye candy of architectural details and the textures of brick, tile and stone.

He did balance out his oeuvre with images of summer, painting similar river or street scenes teeming with warm weather activity, and framing them with similarly dramatic skies filled with billowing clouds.

Leickert moved the Hague at a young age, and studied there under several Dutch landscape painters, including Andreas Schelfhout, who had a similar speciality in winter scenes, which had proved to be more popular than his other subjects.

The 19th Century Dutch art market seemed to have an appetite for winter scenes in which life appeared to go blithely on in spite of the cold.

Get the skates out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Andrew Wyeth, 1917 – 2009

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:51 pm

Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth, an American realist painter who in some ways epitomized the conflict between late 20th Century Modernism and the Realist tradition, died today in his sleep in his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania at the age of 91.

Wyeth was the son of the great American illustrator N.C. Wyeth. Those familiar with the elder Wyeth’s work will know that he cast a mighty big shadow. Son Andrew, one of five children, differentiated himself from his father by working in watercolor and tempera instead of oil, replacing his father’s bold colors with a subdued, almost suppressed palette, and emphasizing texture in place of color.

His quiet depictions of the Brandywine Valley countryside and the area around the family’s summer home in Maine, along with his often melancholy portrayals of residents of those areas, made him prominent as one of the public’s most admired American artists in the 20th Century.

Of course that very popularity, and the simple matter of his realist (though sometimes surreal) subject matter, and traditionalist technique, made him a target for derision among modernist critics, who denigrated classical traditions with a vengeance during their time of dominating the art world. Though his early watercolors were well received, and Christina’s World was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art, the modernists eventually felt the need to tear him down. They hurled at Wyeth the intended insult of calling him a “mere illustrator”, as though there were no more vehement way to say “not an artist”, and in the process, of course, belittling his father’s accomplishments.

Wyeth quietly persisted in the face of the post-war Modernist tides, and continued his pursuit of contemplative scenes, keen observation and command of the somewhat arcane techniques of egg tempera, a demanding and difficult to master medium that predates oil painting by centuries.

It didn’t hurt, of course, that Wyeth’s paintings were in demand and sold for high figures during the artist’s lifetime (a relatively rare thing in the history of art); and he became one of the best known American artists ever, eclipsing his father’s fame from previous generations. Wyeth eventually had the last laugh, as a good deal critical attention eventually came into line the popular acclaim after the Modernist wave had crashed and the fab foam began receding under the currents of the return of traditional artistic values.

I personally run hot and cold on Andrew Wyeth’s work, finding less appeal in his major tempera paintings than in his intimate and informal watercolors and drawings, particularly those of the Brandywine Valley, near where I grew up. Wyeth at his best was a keen eye and a careful observer, letting nature guide his hand. His figure paintings and drawings almost always included something of the countryside, or the rustic buildings and interiors associated with it, as an integral co-subject, more than simply a backdrop.

The painting above, Dryad, painted in 2000 (more detail and info here), reverses that situation; in a way sublimating the figure and nominal subject of the painting, model Senna Moore, to Wyeth’s intensely focused rendering of a great oak on his Chadds Ford property that had been split open by lightning.

Admittedly, I have trouble viewing Andrew Wyeth without making comparisons with his father. Because of the high regard I have for his work, N.C. Wyeth is my favorite illustrator and one of my favorite painters in general, it’s a difficult and probably unfair comparison.

If you want to see Andrew Wyeth’s work in the context of his artistic family, the Brandywine River Museum, near his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, has a terrific collection of work by Andrew, his artistically inclined sisters, his son, Jamie, also a noted artist, and, of course, his father, N.C. Wyeth. (If anyone puts the lie to the phrase “mere illustration”, it’s N.C. Wyeth, who was to my mind one of the finest American painters, period.)

There is also a nice, and inexpensive, book that puts the three generations of Wyeth’s, N.C., Andrew and Jamie, in one volume, An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Wyeth.

For more, see my post on Andrew Wyeth from 2006.

Addendum: Katherine Tyrrell has an extensive Squidoo Lens of information and resources relating to Andrew Wyeth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Frank E. Schoonover

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:50 pm

Frank Schoonover
Frank Earle Schoonover as one of the notable students of the great American illustrator Howard Pyle.

Though not the equal of Pyle’s most accomplished student, N. C. Wyeth (who was?), Schoonover was nonetheless one of the most prominent and successful American illustrators from the “Golden Age” of American illustration; and left a legacy of more than 2,500 illustrations in over 100 books and many of the most popular magazines of his time.

Schoonover, who was born in New Jersey, grew up admiring Pyle’s dramatic illustrations, often copying them as he learned to draw and paint. When he found that Pyle was teaching classes at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia (primarily because the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in a demonstration of the stupidity of artistic snobbery, had declined Pyle’s offer to teach there, not wanting to lower their standards to include a “mere illustrator”), Schoonover jumped at the chance so study with the man who had revolutionized American illustration and he abandoned his plans to become a minister.

Schoonover was largely self taught when he started among Pyle’s early students at Drexel, where his classmates included such eventual luminaries as Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and Violet Oakley; but Pyle, with his keen eye for talent, picked Schoonover out as one of the ten extraordinary students awarded scholarships to Pyle’s Summer classes in nearby Chadds Ford in 1898 and 1899, and Pyle’s confidence in him resulted in assignments for the young artist soon after.

Pyle stressed “You must experience, you must put yourself into the painting, or it’s not believable.”; and, when one of Schoonover’s early commissions involved a setting in Canada’s Hudson Bay wilderness, Pyle encouraged Schoonover’s desire to travel there as part of his research.

Schoonover spent several months hiking and dogsledding through the wilderness, gathering experiences that would inform a lifetime of illustration, and sparking a lifelong love for the outdoors. He also came away with an abiding respect for Native American culture, and scenes of bark canoes were among his favorite themes.

Schoonover’s travels extended to other parts of Canada, the American West, the Louisiana Bayou and Europe.

He kept a studio at Pyle’s school in Wilmington, Delaware (my home town, perhaps one of the reasons I love the artists of the Brandywine School so much), where Pyle had set up classes near his own studio after leaving Drexel. Schoonover’s studio mates included Henry Jarvis Peck, Harvey Dunn and N. C. Wyeth.

Schoonover himself became a noted teacher, contributed by correspondence to a school of illustration in Indianapolis, Indiana, and eventually started his own school in his studios on North Rodney Street in Wilmington. Schoonover Studios are still working artist studios, as well as including an art gallery and a tribute to Schoonover, maintained by Schoonover’s grandson, John Schoonover.

Frank Schoonover was noted for his scenes of wilderness adventure, for which he certainly had accomplished Pyle’s maxim of putting his own experience into the work, as well as a wide range of other topics. His illlustrations for classics included Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and Ivanhoe and his western illustrations enlivened the covers of Zane Grey’s extremely popular novels and serials.

His work always showed the admiration he had for his mentor, though he developed his own style and notable characteristic techniques. Illustrators will often speak of “Schoonover red” a particular application of Cadmium red with careful varnishing to bring out the drama of the color.

In the later years of his long career (he lived to be 95), Schoonover devoted himself to landscape painting, focusing on the Brandywine and Delaware River areas. Schoonover was also a watercolorist, muralist, cartographer, photographer and designer of stained glass windows. Sixteen of his windows were created for Immanuel Church in Wilmington.

There is a new two volume, 840 page Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raissonné due to be released in March. The book set is $195 and can be ordered from the Delaware Art Museum or Oak Knoll Press. The Oak Knoll Press site includes a Flash slideshow of images from the set, as well as PDFs of the Table of Contents and an except.

There is a Raissonné database at www.schoonoverfund.org, which can be accessed by simply applying for a password.

If you want something more immediate and less costly than the full Catalogue Raissonné, try Visions of Adventure: N. C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists by Walt Reed, which features several pieces by Schoonover with biographical information, as well as art by and information on many of the most important Brandywine School illustrators. You may also have some luck finding other books about Schoonover from used book sources.

There is currently a show of Schoonover’s work at the Delaware Art Museum, Frank E. Schoonover: An Artist for All Seasons.

Though the show is intimate rather than grand, the 25 or so works, many of which are from private collections and not usually on display, give a nice cross section of his career, including some impressionistic landscapes from the Delaware River Valley and Bushkill, PA, where he spent time as a child and as an adult.

The exhibition runs until February 1, 2009.

It’s particularly nice to see his work in the context of the museum’s collection of Howard Pyle, which he was instrumental in in creating through his chairmanship of the fundraising committee. The collection, along with the Bancroft collection of Pre- Raphaelite Art (see my post on the Delaware Art Museum’s Pre-Raphaelite collection), formed the core of the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, which grew into the current Delaware Art Museum.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Jen Stark

Posted by Charley Parker at 8:43 pm

Jen Stark
Many artists are fascinated with paper, it’s many forms, characteristics, tones, surfaces and colors; and the way it provides a platform and co-meduim for various kinds of drawing and painting.

Jen Stark has chosen to make paper itself her primary medium, creating vibrant, intensely hued sculptures out of hand cut stacks of colored paper.

Her sculptures often drawing on the visual vibrations of complimentary colors and the appeal of hues in the order of the spectrum to give her cut paper arrangements a visual snap that is immediately arresting.

In looking through her gallery in photographs, you can see the dimensionality of some pieces easily, but others lend themselves less well to photographic reproduction (as is often the case with sculpture) and you need to project a bit to get an idea of what they might be like in person.

Her online galleries also include a selection of colorful drawings, which sometimes follow the sculpture into themes of repeated patterns and bands of brilliant color.

There are also a couple animations, or “papermations”, with animated arrangements of cut paper.

Stark studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where she received a BA in Fibers and also studied animation, and at the Center for Art and Culture in Aix-en-Provence, France.

In addition to her web site, Stark maintains a blog, with news and information about her projects and exhibitions.

Both the web site and the blog currently feature a video interview with the artist (also on YouTube), in which she talks about her process. The moving camera also allows you to get a better idea of the dimensionality of some of the pieces.

 
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