Chris Turnham (update)

Chris Turnham
The good new is that since I last wrote about Chris Turnham back in 2006 his website has been updated with more of his wonderfully graphic, superbly designed and beautifully colored illustrations.

The bad news is that, for reasons that continue to elude me, they are displayed in a “pop-up-and-close” style navigation from a scrolling list of thumbnails in a cramped little frame. This makes the process of looking through them less convenient than it might be.

Even his News and About pages are scrunched up in that little frame. Fortunately, Turnham now also has a blog, which is not hampered by that restriction. In the blog you will find additional art, including examples of his work as a concept and production artist.

Turnham has for several years been involved in a collaborative project with illustrator Kevin Dart called Fleet Street Scandal. Originally focused on a book showcasing their work, the project has expanded into limited edition prints, giclees and a line of apparel. You can also find Turnham’s limited edition prints at Gallery Nucleus.

Turnham currently works for Laika, the production company responsible for the wonderful Coraline animated feature film.

His work was featured prominently in the concept art reproductions of the magical garden and plants from the movie that were included in the remarkable Coraline Mystery Box that I received as part of Laika’s viral promotion campaign for the film.

You can see some of Turnham’s work on the film (image above, bottom) by searching for “Coraline” on his blog.
[Addendum: I just found out that Chris Turnham has a new TumbleLog with a section devoted to Coraline Production Art.]


Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time

Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time, top three: Edward Hopper, bottom: Everett Shinn
Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time is the title of an exhibition currently on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

The exhibition focuses on realism in American art between 1900 and 1940, a time when European Modernism was becoming a dominant force in the art world, pushing realism into a minor role.

The show, drawn primarily from the Whitney’s own collections, includes a number of works by Hopper and his contemporaries, including Everett Shinn, John Sloan, Charles Burchfield, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler and Reginald Marsh (see my posts on Edward Hopper, Everett Shinn, John Sloan and Charles Burchfield).

The Whitney’s website feature in the exhibition includes a small image gallery, but there are more images, along with interesting accounts of the artists and art styles of the period, in the History section.

Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time is on view until April 10, 2011.

(Images above: top three: Edward Hopper, bottom: Everett Shinn)


Mailbag Art Museum (Sarah Musi)

Mailbag art museum, Sarah Musi, Robert Hargrave, Tiffany Bozic, Allison Sommers
Sarah Musi, an illustrator and comics artist based in Washington State, has come up with one of those “don’t you wish you had thought of it” ideas, and recently embarked on a project she calls “mailbag art museum“.

In August of this year Musi created a list of her “favorite artists in the whole wide world“, and over the period of a few weeks sent each of them an original work painted on an artist trading card (see my post on artist trading cards).

These were accompanied by a blank card and an invitation, in comic strip form, to return the card with a corresponding piece of original work, however simple or elaborate, and an answer to a question posed with the original letter.

To date she has received 6 responses and has posted them on the project’s blog along with the original piece she sent to them, a brief description and a short bio of the artist.

In the images above, I’ve placed Musi’s original piece on the left, next to the pieces received in response — top right: Robert Hargrave, middle right: Tiffany Bozic, third right: Allison Sommers. I’ve also taken the liberty of reproducing a photo from Sommers’ blog showing the relative size of the cards.

[Via MetaFilter]


Vasili Nechitailo

Vasili Nechitailo
Like many of his contemporaries, Vasili (or Vasliy) Nechitailo, a Russian painter active in the middle of the 20th Century, is not well known outside of his homeland. One reason for this is that little in the way of cultural exchange was allowed during the era of Soviet Russia.

Nechitailo studied at the Krasnodar Art Tekhnikum, the Surikov Institute and the Moscow Art Institute. He later returned to the Surikov Institute to teach.

Generally considered a realist, the painterly brushwork, bright colors and economically suggested subjects of Nechitailo’s later work also put him in the company of painters considered to be Russian Impressionists.

To the casual observer, Nechitailo’s idylic farms and fields, glowing under the sun of a Russian Summer, seem in keeping with the Impressionist’s portrayals of the French countryside, but the circumstances under which they were painted could hardly have been more different.

In Nechitailo’s case, the idealized fields, and the ennobled workers who toiled in them, were used as propaganda, extolling the virtues and hard work, dedication to the state, and the bounty of the Soviet farming economy. The approved style was called Socialist Realism and was meant to promote the ideology of the Soviet state.

In addition to those subjects and official portraits of government figures, Nechitailo also found time to pursue subjects of his own, without the political overtones, including scenes of Venice.

There is a show of Nechitailo’s work, the first solo show of a major Soviet era painter outside Russia, at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Art of Vasili Nechitailo is currently on view and runs until February 27, 2011. The museum’s site has a small slide show of paintings, but I’ve listed some other, more extensive resources below.

Ironically, the exhibition was assembled by Masha Zavialova, curator at the museum, who emigrated to the U.S. in 2001. Her childhood experience of growing up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) under Soviet rule was one of an oppressive, closed society, in which work like Nechitailo’s was another arm of the government, pushing its ideological message into the lives of the citizenry with state approved art and propaganda posters.

She hated it at the time, but has now been able to look back with a fresh view, seeing it both within and outside of its original context.

There is an interesting article about the exhibit in the Minneapolis – St. Paul StarTribune, in which Zavialova is quoted:

“Before I just looked at the [Nechitailo] subjects and they were oppressive to me,” she said. “Now, I look at the canvases and brushwork and find them very interesting and they’ve stopped being threatening. (…) It’s the nature of time. Now I love his work.”


Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, James Gurney
Color. What other factor in art is so simultaneously fascinating and frustrating for artists?

Numerous books have been written on the subject; some are less than worthwhile, some are good, some are excellent, and a few have become so relied on that over time they have become standards.

Each takes a certain approach to the subject, emphasizing color choices, color mixing, experimentation, analysis, etc., but of the many books on color that I’ve encountered over time, there always seemed to be key parts of the puzzle that hadn’t been addressed yet — a certain kind of book on color that was missing.

I didn’t really know what that book was until James Gurney wrote Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter.

In Color and Light, which has just been released, we get the printed version of having an experienced painter leaning over our shoulder, giving us his best advice and taking us beyond the basics into the subtleties of the practical application of color in the process of creating paintings.

This is the “other” book on color, the one that takes the practice of working with color, and the understanding of color and light and how we perceive them, to the next level.

Gurney, who I have written about previously on several occasions, has culled a treasure trove of insightful observations, practical tips, experimental trials and artful technique from years of painting a wide range of subjects in a variety of visual approaches.

He has been a renowned illustrator, portraitist, landscape artist, plein air painter and scientific artist; and beyond that has for years been a restless experimenter, investigating the work of master artists, thinking about and working with color in all of its aspects as related to painting.

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, James GurneFor the past several years, Gurney, best known as the creator of the popular Dinotopia series of illustrated fantasy stories, has been writing a blog called Gurney Journey. Those of us who have been following Gurney Journey since its inception have reaped the benefit of a generous bounty of art related information, advice, observations, experiments, discoveries, and links that he has made available in his frequent posts over the past few years.

Some of this material, along with new material culled from Gurney’s expertise as an illustrator, were codified into a book in 2009 called Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist, which I reviewed here.

In Color and Light he has also pulled from those observations and expositions (you can see some of the topics by searching for Color and Light book, or simply color on the GurneyJourney blog), but gone well beyond that into a great deal of new material written specifically for the book.

While I think of this book as advanced in many ways, Gurney does go into many of the fundamentals of color and color theory, with succinct chapters on the history of color theory, pigments, the academic tradition, plein air painting, magazine illustration, chroma and value, warm and cool, local and reflected color, atmospheric perspective, color schemes, limited palettes, reflections, highlights and shadows and many others. Beginners as well as advanced painters will find a wealth of information.

However, he goes beyond the ordinary with thoughtful excursions into topics like understanding gamuts, subsurface scattering, specular reflections, different natural and artificial light sources, and expert techniques for handling difficult problems like reflection and transparency, fog and mist, skies and foliage, nocturnes, cloud shadows, and premixing colors for a painting.

Though some of the information may be familiar, I think that most artists will find the book to be a treasure trove of small but significant revelations, as if dozens of little “Ah-ha!” lightbulbs (of varying spectrums) were appearing over your head as you read.

I consider this book, if not a “must-have”, at the very least a “must-see” for any representational painter. I urge you to pick it up and look through it in a bookstore.

Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, James GurneyI’m a little concerned that “fine art” painters might assume from a casual leaf-through that the presence of fantasy illustrations would indicate the focus of the book is not in their direction, particularly because the fantasy illustrations often have a “jump off the page” quality to them and seem dominant. Nothing could be further off the mark, the material is exactly on target for realist painters of any background who want to get a better handle on light and color.

You can get a virtual “pick up and leaf through” from the nicely extensive preview on the listing (click on the “Look Inside” cover image), as well as a video flip-through from Spectrum, reposted on Gurney Journey, and another on Parka Blogs.

In addition to being available through bookstores and online booksellers, you can order directly from the the Dinotopia store and have your copy signed by the author.

Like any book from James Gurney, this one is a visual treat; in this case illustrated with works from great painters and illustrators of the past, as well as Gurney’s own illustrations, sketches, diagrams and paintings. Just like his previous instructional book, it can also be enjoyed as a coffee table art book.

Only time will tell, of course, but I think Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter will take a place as a new standard text among books on color, destined to be a fixture on the bookshelves of painters and illustrators for years to come.


Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

Rockwell's Four Freedoms
Most Americans associate Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting of the formal family meal, shown above, top, with today’s holiday of Thanksgiving, and its traditional signature main course of roast turkey.

The painting, however, was painted with a different intention (even though the model for the turkey was actually the turkey from his own family Thanksgiving dinner).

Titled Freedom From Want, the painting was originally part of a series of four; I’ve pulled the top one out of it’s usual third position in the sequence here. The others were Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom From Fear.

They were Rockwell’s response to a speech delivered by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Congress in January of 1941, in which he spoke of four essential freedoms that should be recognized and guaranteed everywhere in the world:

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want — which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear — which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

The speech was meant to prepare Congress, and the American public, for Roosevelt’s intention that the country should become directly involved in opposing Nazi Germany in its widening military domination of Western Europe, which the U.S. did, with a declaration of war (such an old fashioned notion these days) in December of that year.

Roosevelt used the image of American ideals of freedom as a symbol of the individual liberties being suppressed by the Fascist regime. (On a side note, “Fascist” has become a popular epithet with which some American political figures attempt to brand their political enemies these days. Most people who use it, or at least those who listen to them, apparently have no idea what the term actually means. Look it up.)

Rockwell, at the time the dominant star of American illustration, had a strong response to Roosevelt’s speech and two years later painted a series of four paintings depicting the four freedoms as scenes from American life.

He originally conceived the series in 1942, and attempted to volunteer his services to the government agencies responsible for war propaganda, but was met with lack on interest. (“Propaganda“, by the way, is another term whose actual meaning is often lost in its buzzword connotations and popular interpretation. Again I suggest looking it up.)

Rockwell instead submitted the paintings to the Saturday Evening Post, for which he had been regularly painting covers, and their publication was met with great popular response and millions of requests for reprints.

The government eventually recognized the power of the images and used them on posters for the efforts to support the expense of the war with the sale of War Bonds (another quaint notion these days).

Rockwell himself reportedly struggled with the paintings, never entirely happy with them and concerned that they lacked sufficient power. He worked on them over a seven month period, during which he reportedly lost several pounds from the strain of working on them so intensely.

The public, however, loved them. They were reprinted on four million posters and were displayed in a touring exhibition that drew over a million visitors. They are now considered among Rockwell’s signature works, and were the subject of a book published in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of their original publication.

The four paintings are currently in the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the director of which recently participated in the International Four Freedoms Award ceremonies in the Netherlands.