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


Friday, February 18, 2011

James Hart Dyke, artist who spied on the spies

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:46 pm

James Hart Dyke
Hart Dyke, James Hart Dyke, was offered a mission by Her Majesty’s Government: to go undercover with MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, and report on the life of undercover agents in paintings and drawings.

Hart Dyke has been official artist on four royal tours with Prince Charles and has been embedded as a war artist in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was surprised by the request “go undercover” for several months, travel with MI6 agents to places like Iraq (image above, 3rd down), visit their headquarters (above, top) and convey in paintings the day to day life of agents in the British foreign intelligence service.

The agency had decided this was a way for the public to get a better understanding of this often misunderstood part of their government.

Hart Dyke found the actual experiences of the field agents not very James Bond like, but became fascinated with the way the unexpected (and potentially dangerous) lurked beneath the ordinary. As a result many of his paintings portray ordinary scenes, in which agents wait, or look for significant events or information.

The show of the work consists of 40 paintings, 25 drawings and a number of prints. Some of them can be seen on Hart Dyke’s site (along with his landscapes, image above, bottom; and other work) as well as in a slideshow accompanying an article about his experience on The Guardian.

Hart Dyke’s color palette ranges from rich and brilliant to softly atmospheric and almost monochromatic. All of his work, his painting particularly, carries a strong feeling of geometry, both underlying his forms and in the bold, textural chunks of color in which he applies his paint.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator’s Illustrator

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:58 pm

Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator's Illustrator
Robert Fawcett, though quite successful and in demand, was not the most popular illustrator of his time or the highest paid. He was, however, probably the most respected (and perhaps envied), by his peers.

Fawcett earned the appellation “the illustrator’s illustrator” from that admiration. Highly skilled, independently minded, and committed to quality and mastery in his work to a degree rarely encountered, Fawcett earned a place at the pinnacle of early 20th Century illustration.

At a time when modernist faddism and stylistic meanderings in the name of popularity were strong undercurrents in the field, which was facing increasing pressures from a publishing industry that was turning to photography for more and more of its illustration needs, Fawcett remained steadfast in his ideals. Those same ideals are likely what propelled him into the field originally.

Encouraged by his father from an early age (or even “over-encouraged”, as Fawcett himself puts it, by a father who was himself a frustrated artist), Fawcett traveled back to his native England, from which his parents had emigrated to Canada when Fawcett was a teenager, to attend the well respected Slade School of Art. I don’t know if the curriculum there was strictly academic, but the school had a reputation for unstintingly rigorous training in the traditional fundamentals of art.

It was this training that formed the foundation for Fawcett’s art, which was always grounded in traditional draftsmanship. Fawcett found his original intention to be a gallery artist frustrated, in kinship with many classically trained artists who were facing an art market increasingly dominated by the anti-academic forces of modernism.

Fawcett’s emphasis on draftsmanship, and his command of drawing skills, were the underpinning of all of his work, emphasized and extended by his mastery of value and composition.

Throughout all of his illustrations, paintings and drawings is an underlying strength that is often not found in the work of his contemporaries, perhaps part of the source of their admiration, coupled with his insistence on doing work to his own high standards, even if it meant turning down more lucrative jobs.

Much of the kind of admiration other artists felt for Fawcett and his work is brimming from the covers of a wonderful new book, Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator’s Illustrator from Auad Publications.

Auad is a small specialty art publisher, whose titles I have long admired and written about previously (see my posts on Frank Brangwyn, R.A.: The Way of the Cross, Franklin Booth, Alex Toth and Alex Niño).

I was delighted to receive a review copy from Manual Auad, the publisher, who has for years wanted to do this particular book.

Working from his own deeply held regard and affection for Fawcett and his work, Auad has enlisted the cooperation of David Apatoff, author of the superb blog, Illustration Art, who wrote the text. Auad selected the images, edited and arranged the book. The reulting volume is what must now be considered the definitive work on this great American illustrator.

That the book is a labor of love, I think, shows in every page. Sharply written, wonderfully designed and printed with great attention to production values, the book shines, a fitting tribute to an artist whose own standards were so high.

It gives a broad overview of Fawcett’s career and is filled to overflowing (profusely illustrated, as I love to say) with over 100 of Fawcett’s beautiful color illustrations, and numerous black and white plates. Many of the images have been photographed from the original artwork.

Fawcett was one of the founding faculty of the Famous Artist School, and the introduction to the volume is by Walt Reed, our foremost authority on American illustration, who worked alongside Fawcett as a member of the faculty and speaks glowingly of Fawcett and his skills.

Fawcett was also the author of a highly regarded instructional book, The Art of Drawing, which is still in print and available from Dover Books.

Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator’s Illustrator, though obviously enjoyable as a coffee table book of superb illustrations, might also serve as a master class in illustration, just from the power of Fawcett’s skill, aided by Auad’s selections of rare life drawings and a number of preliminary sketches. The stylistic influence Fawcett exerted on mid-20th Century illustrators (not to mention great comics artists like Alex Raymond and Al Williamson, to name just two) is obvious in the style that emerges as you move through Fawcett’s career.

Auad has made an unusual, and I think brilliant, choice in the way the work is arranged and presented. Though the initial chapters on Fawcett’s life, drawing style and approach to composition and painting are accompanied by specifically appropriate illustrations (as well as an interview with Fawcett), in the second half of the book, more or less the “gallery” section, instead of arranging the work chronologically or by subject matter, Auad has presented the work by series, like the famous series of Sherlock Holmes illustrations that cemented his reputation, his stint as the premiere illustrator for Agatha Christie’s stories as they were originally published in Colliers and a selection of his advertising work. He then has arranged the other selections by publication. These gather and highlight work for Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, This Week Magazine and Cosmopolitan.

Apatoff nicely gives us a picture of Fawcett’s (sometimes difficult) relationship with the magazines, the demands of doing illustration for each particular publication and in the process provides a context that I think is much more instructive about the nature of Fawcett’s devotion to his work, and refusal to bend to the vagaries of popular taste, than could be provided any other way.

The Auad Publishing page has a slideshow of images from the book (accessed by clicking on the cover image) but they are too small and brief to do the book, or Fawcett’s work, justice. (The same should be said for my too-small images above.)

For more, see David Apatoff’s post on the book and on The Training of Robert Fawcett. For a good selection of Fawcett’s work, see Leif Peng’s Flickr collection, as well as his blog post with an excerpt from the book, another with an overview and some additional images, and another titled “Robert Fawcett, Abstract Artist“.

Also see my previous post on Robert Fawcett, which includes additional resources.

Posted in: Illustration   |   3 Comments »

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Eric Drooker

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:27 pm

Eric Drooker
It’s worth a visit to the website of illustrator, painter and graphic novel artist Eric Drooker for his beautifully realized, humorous and thought provoking New Yorker covers alone.

You can add to this his expressive paintings and graphically powerful drawings, along with previews of some of his illustrated books, notably Howl (images above, 3rd from bottom), a graphic novel illustrating Allen Ginsburg’s landmark poem, based on the animation Drooker designed for the recent feature film.

Drooker has collaborated with Ginsburg before on a volume called Illuminated Poems, and the poet wrote a bio of Drooker that appears on his website.

One of Drooker’s other graphic stories, Flood! A Novel in Pictures, is drawn in his stark, woodcut-like black and white style, in some ways reminiscent of the groundbreaking graphic stories of Frans Masareel.

When visiting Drooker’s website, be sure to note that the sections devoted to individual books include previews of the books and more, often with additional illustrations.

Many of his drawings and paintings share with his New Yorker covers a “stop and think” visual twist, like the wonderful “X-Ray Manhattan” (images above, 2nd from bottom and detail, bottom).

There is an additional gallery and a brief slideshow about his process on the site of his artist’s representative, Richard Solomon.

In addition to The New Yorker, his illustrations appear in publications like The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Nation, The Guardian and Heavy Metal.

Drooker often gives lectures at colleges, universities and similar venues, and will be appearing at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco on Wednesday, March 16, 2011, for an event called The Surreal World of Eric Drooker, described as “a slide lecture with live musical accompaniment by the artist”.

Posted in: ComicsIllustration   |   7 Comments »

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Watercolour” at the Tate Britain

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:49 pm

Watercolour at the Tate Britain: JMW Turner, Rachael Pedder-Smith, Paul Sandby, JMW Turner, William Blake, Thomas Girtin
Watercolor, or watercolour, with an added “u” if you learned your English in England (grin), has a long history, perhaps going back to cave paintings that predate most of recorded history.

Watercolor involves the creation of paint by suspending pigment in a water soluble binder, for a long time animal hide glues or plant sugars, but as of the 19th Century, gum arabic, made from the sap of acacia trees.

Though watercolor has been around for all of that time, its use by artists was predominantly relegated to studies, location sketches and personal notation. It wasn’t until the 18th Century that artists, most notably in England, brought watercolor to the fore as an artistic medium for finished works.

A new exhibition at the Tate Britain seeks to celebrate and expand on that heritage. Simply called “Watercolour“, the exhibit traces the history of watercolor back over 800 years, features a wide variety of artists, styles, periods and subject matter, and of course brings forward the greats of the “English School” of watercolorists, including William Blake and JMW Turner along with the Pre-Raphaelites and a number of contemporary painters.

It seeks to broaden the perception of watercolor as a medium, beyond the bounds of the common association of watercolor with landscape, amateur painters and sketches.

Unfortunately the Tate hasn’t put much of the exhibition online, but there are a few images and some videos on the site (one of which shows you Turner’s portable watercolor palette), as well as other images on the Tate Blog.

The best selection of images from the exhibition is probably in the Guardian article, Watercolor at Tate Britain – in pictures, and accompanying the text articles Tate Britain makes a splash with watercolours and Tate Britain’s Watercolour: Awash with inspiration (they’re so witty, those British), and Watercolour at Tate Britain – review.

There is a book accompanying the exhibition, also simply titled Watercolour (also here), authored by its curator, Alison Smith.

Watercolor at Tate Britain runs until 21 August 2011.

(Images above: JMW Turner, Rachael Pedder-Smith, Paul Sandby, JMW Turner, William Blake, Thomas Girtin)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Van Gogh’s yellows turning brown

Posted by Charley Parker at 7:22 pm

Van Gogh's yellows turning brown
Much has been made of the advances over the centuries, and particularly in the last century or two, in paint chemistry, allowing artists to work with an ever-broadening array of pigments, and often providing much needed replacements for older, plant-based pigments that were fugitive over time.

Not all advances in paint technology are for the better in that respect, however. A case in point is the mystery of why the brilliant yellows in many of Vincent van Gogh’s paintings have been turning brown with age.

A recent study, carried out with an ultra high-tech process, using high intensity x-rays generated by a synchrotron at the ESRF, a center for the study of materials in France, has found the chemical reaction responsible for the unfortunate degradation.

It turns out that Van Gogh was fond of using the relatively new color, chrome yellow (also here), made from lead chromate. This is an inexpensive pigment that produces a bright orange-yellow (think school bus color), but is prone to darkening. Presumably, Van Gogh choose chrome yellow over the also relatively new cadmium colors (also here) because of their relative expense.

The mystery in the pronounced degree with which Van Gogh’s yellows have been turning brown is apparently due to his penchant for adding white paint, of a kind that contained barium and sulphur, to his yellow. The combination of the other materials accelerated the darkening of the chrome yellow.

Research is continuing into how to stop, and possibly even reverse, the changes to his paintings.

The Van Gogh Museum has for some time been studying his materials, and their sources, in an effort to better conserve the works, and conservators have encountered other uses of fugitive pigments (see my post on the Restoration of Van Gogh’s The Bedroom).

One of the paintings examined in the recent study was Van Gogh’s Bank of the Seine (above). The Van Gogh museum’s page for this painting also has an interesting video about their comparison of the work, and the techniques used, with that of his contemporary, Monet.

[Via io9]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Olga Antonenko and Arseny Gutov (update)

Posted by Charley Parker at 12:04 pm

CGpolis: Olga Antonenko and Arseny Gutov
When I first wrote about Russian concept artists, matte painters and illustrators Olga Antonenko and Arseny Gutov back in 2006, I was disappointed that their shared website, CGpolis didn’t assign credits for individual pieces, so it was impossible to determine which works were by one artist or the other, or whether any or all were collaborative.

The bad news is that I still can’t find much about the two artists individually, short of a small gallery on CGSociety credited to Antonenko, and two digital portraits on CGSociety and a small deviantART gallery devoted to Gutov.

The good news is that the CGplis site has been expanded and added to with more of their work. It’s divided into sections devoted to concept art, matte painting, 3D Graphics, compositing, cartoons and personal artworks in both digital and traditional media.

Of particular interest to me were the cartoons and concept art sections, where their boldly colorful and wonderfully stylized work for a number of projects comes to the fore.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Caravaggio in Rome

Posted by Charley Parker at 5:49 pm

Caravaggio in Rome
Michelangelo Merisi, AKA Caravaggio, was one of history’s great painters. Born in Milan, his later assigned name come from his father’s association with the town of Caravaggio.

Caravaggio spent a good part of his checkered life in Rome, where an exhibition of his work goes went on display on the 20th of February and runs ran until 13 June, 2011 2010. [Sorry: got the year wrong - this was last year, I got caught in an internet time warp. I've changed tense in the rest of the article See addendum below.]

The exhibition marked the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death and was at the Scuderie del Quirinale, a museum housed in what was once stables for a palace.

The exhibition consisted of 24 paintings, seemingly a small number for a major exhibit, but the curators eschewed the usual practice of including works “related to” or “of the school of, or “from the workshop of” and limited the selections to works accepted without question to be from the master’s hand.

On loan from a number of sources were some of Caravaggio’s most striking and iconic works, a surprising accomplishment given the anniversary year.

The museum’s pages for the exhibition have information and a viewer for the works. The latter is unfortunately a poorly designed Flash module, in which you must painstakingly click through the thumbnails three at a time (how much simpler a page of linked thumbnails would have been, but museum sites love their little widgets).

The reward, after clicking on the larger preview image, is a pop-up with a reasonably large image of the painting. It’s tedious, but worth clicking through just to see the impressive selection of works included in the exhibit.

For better reproductions, see a resource like the Web Gallery of Art, or one of the many other resources for Caravaggio listed on ArtCyclopedia.

[Correction: I saw a notice about this exhibit in Rome, that is current and runs to 15 May, 2011. I did a Google search and came up with the other one from last year. Sorry to disappoint, but the online resources are still there and make a good jumping off point for digging into Caravaggio, always a worthwhile pursuit. - Charley]

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Lighthouse Keeper

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:11 am

The Lighthouse Keeper
The Lighthouse Keeper is a beautifully realized short (3 minute) animation that won the award for “Best Graduation Film” from the 2010 Annecy festival.

The film was created by a team of students (credits on the Vimeo page) graduating from the amazing Gobelins, l’école de l’image in Paris.

(See my previous posts about Gobelins students’ animations for Annecy, or a general search of Lines and Colors for other mentions.)

[Via Irene Gallo's Saturday morning cartoons]

Posted in: Animation   |   3 Comments »
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