Robert Heilman

Robert Heilman
When I came across the work of Pennsylvania painter Robert Heilman at the F.A.N. Gallery here in Philadelphia today, I was initially captivated by his direct, painterly approach, deft use of light and controlled color.

It was on further looking through the show that I began to notice some fascinating patterns in Heilman’s work. One is that he creates compositions that fly in the face of the usual conventions of composition — and pulls it off quite nicely.

He often defies the rule of thirds, placing significant objects in the composition almost on center, or in between thirds and centers. He plays with breaking the composition into squares, and frequently places tall vertical objects, most often utility poles, overtly in the foreground of his paintings, further dividing the canvas. He handles all of this defiance of the ordinary with aplomb, and the resulting compositions are fascinating.

Also fascinating is his interpretation of nighttime scenes. with glows of street lamps creating geometric patterns of light and dark that often recede in multiple planes. Combining both his fascination with light and dark and his penchant for defying the standard compositional rules are his paintings in which courses of dark and light recede like recursive frames, at times often almost dead on center in the composition.

All of this playfulness is within the context of small canvasses, in images of small town streets, alleys and corners.

Heilman apparently does not have a dedicated website or blog, but the F.A.N. gallery has a selection of his work on their website. There is also an article, A few words with Robert Heilman, on the F.A.N. Arts Blog

Unfortunately, I’m late in telling those in the Philadelphia area about the show, though you still have two days to catch it. Robert Heilman: Recent Paintings is on display until this Saturday, September 29.


Space Shuttle concept art

NASA Space Shuttle concept art
Concept art has a multitude of uses outside of the film and gaming industries, even out in the “real world” — theme parks for example, use concept art to plan attractions.

Another use is in the development of proposed space vehicles, this has been the case since Chesley Bonestell created images of potential spacecraft for an American space program that did not yet exist, working from sketches on graph paper by pioneering rocket scientist Wernher von Braun. (The concept paintings were initially used to convince Congress to fund the space program by showing them the possibilities.)

An article today by Robert Gonzalez on the excellent science fiction/science themed blog, io9, digs into the archives of the San Diego Air & Space Museum and comes up with a treasure trove of concept art from the proposal days of the U.S. Space Shuttle program in a Flickr set of Space Related Images from the museum.

The concept art, which shows many preliminary and alternate designs, is mixed in with photographs of actual launches, tests and related subjects, but there is enough art to make flipping through the thumbnails well worthwhile. The io9 article also showcases some highlights with links to large versions. These images are in the public domain.

You’ve probably seen images recently of the last Space Shuttle’s last flight atop a carrier plane as it was moved to its resting place in a museum. The image above, top, was a concept for how the spacecraft might be carried atop existing aircraft for transport that was created before the Shuttles existed. Concept to reality.


Is animation older than civilization?

Prehistoric animation, Marc Azema, Chauvet Cave Scientific team
Based on current evidence, the development of writing, and with it, “recorded history” goes back at least 5,000 or 6,000 years, perhaps further.

The development of agriculture, which we use to mark the beginnings of “civilization” can be set at roughly 10,000 years. (Those who choose to believe that the earth is 4,000 to 7,000 years old can put their fingers in their ears and chant “La la la la la…” until we’re done discussing science and history.)

In contrast, radiocarbon dating has established that art, in the form of sophisticated cave paintings discovered in France and Spain, is at least 35,000 years old.

Animation, the use of multiple images to give the illusion of motion, has generally been assumed to have been an invention, in various forms, of the early 19th century. (It’s interesting to note that animation, even if you assume it to have started in the 19th century, predates and is the parent of movies, not the other way around.)

A new paper by French archaeologist Marc Azéma and his collaborator, artist Florent Rivére, suggests that animation may in fact be almost as old as our oldest sophisticated examples of art, going back some 30,000 years.

Prehistoric animation, Marc Azema, Chauvet Cave Scientific teamBased on 20 years of research, a recently published a paper that summarizes their findings outlines how paintings on cave walls in Chauvet and La Baume Latrone, that show animals with multiple superimposed representations of legs, tails, heads or even body positions, may have been more than suggestions of motion, and may, in fact have been designed to be animated by the action of flickering firelight.

There is a video accompanying some of the articles listed below in which simplified examples of the cave paintings have been extracted and arranged in sequence to show how that effect may have worked.

Prehistoric Europeans may also have invented the “thaumotope”, an animation toy assumed to have been invented in the 19th century — essentially a disk with images painted on both sides that, when suspended on two strings (or strands of animal tendon), could be spun to make the images appear in rapid sequence, producing the illusion of motion or superimposition.

Perhaps this helps explain why France, out of proportion to its size and population, is such a strong center for animation today — they’ve been at it for 30,000 years.

[Via Jeremy Lipking, on Twitter as @lipking]


Picturing Autumn on

Picturing Autumn on Arthur Meltzer, Frits Thaulow, John Atkinson Grimshaw, George Inness
Here in the northern hemisphere, today is the first day of Autumn, AKA the Autumnal Equinox (and of course it’s the beginning of Spring down under, where they do everything upside backwards).

An equinox is a point in the Earth’s orbit in which the tilted axis of our planet’s rotation is neither toward or away from the sun and day and night are approximately equal length (hence “exquinox”, basically “equal night”), so I suppose we should feel straightened up and balanced at this point.

Autumn always seems a strange balance of bitter and sweet — Summer is fading, but the beautiful crisp and clear days of the season of some of the best of the year, and the dying leaves go out in a last triumphant explosion of color.

Picturing Autumn, an Equinox Celebration is the finale in a series of four seasonal posts over the course of this year by Irene Gallo, Creative Directory for and Tor Books, in which she asked a number of artists and art directors to give their suggestions for images that picture a given season. The series started with Picturing Winter and followed with Picturing Spring and Picturing Summer.

The new post is the most extensive of the series, with nearly 100 images. Like the others, it’s a cornucopia of art and artists that is wonderful not only for looking through, but as a jumping off point for investigating artists with whom you may not be familiar. The choices cut across a wide range of times, genres and styles.

As before, I’ll suggest that you follow the links Gallo has provided not only to the artists whose images are featured, but to the sites of the artists who made the suggestions; all of them will be rewarding.

I was delighted once again to be asked to participate, and my suggestions for images associated with Autumn for the article are shown above — by Arthur Meltzer, Frits Thaulow, John Atkinson Grimshaw and George Inness.


Canaletto — Guardi: The two masters of Venice

Canaletto ˜ Guardi: The two masters of Venice
“Veduta”, from the Italian for “view” is a subset of landscape painting and graphics in which the artist creates a reasonably accurate, usually large and detailed representation of a specific place. Most often the view is of a city that is remote and exotic to the intended audience for the works.

The genre reached a pinnacle of sorts in the 18th century, particularly in views of the astonishing and magical city of Venice as portrayed by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, and Francesco Guardi, whose works are less well known to contemporary audiences, but are also stunning.

These two masters of Venice are featured in a new exhibition by that name, Canaletto — Guardi: The two masters of Venice, at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris (my links are to the English language versions of the sites). The exhibition runs to 14 January 2013.

There is a dedicated website for the exhibition that includes six sections on the exhibition’s themes, each of which features several images that may be clicked on for versions that have mouse-over enlargement features (why they don’t just feature large images, I don’t know, these paintings are in the public domain).

It’s interesting to compare the views of Venice by these two artists, their similarities and differences, as well similar venduta by other artists in the show, and “capricci” or imaginary landscapes by the two main artists.

I’ve also linked below to some additional resources for images by Canaletto and Guardi, as well as my previous post on Canaletto which include additional image resources.

(images above: Giovanni Antonio Canal [Canaletto], top five, Francesco Guardi, bottom five)