Stephen Magsig (update)

Stephen Magsig, cityscape and industrial landscape paintings, NYC and Detriot
Maybe it’s because I grew up next to a steel mill in Northern Delaware, or from my current wanderings in and around Philadelphia, but like many who live in the industrial northeast or upper midwest, I find a particular appeal in the industrial landscape of warehouses, factories, refineries, bridges and railways that were created during the manufacturing heyday of the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Painter Stephen Magsig, who I initially profiled back in 2008, has long been mining these subjects in his paintings of Detroit and New York City.

To say that his paintings have a strong geometric basis is something of an understatement. But it’s more than just the the visual power of geometric shapes that can make these scenes attractive to a painter; it’s also their rich array of textures and colors, particularly in the older structures that have become rusted and weathered. Magsig embraces both in his explorations of industrial subjects.

In his latest series, he focuses on storefronts and building facades in New York City. He often features buildings that appear to have the kind of fascinating architectural details offered by the cast iron fronts that were common in cities like New York and Philadelphia in the 19th century, prior to the widespread use of modern structural steel. These are sometimes brightened with modern paint and at other times show the weathered and graffiti marked fate of less well maintained buildings.

These subjects, along with a number of other scenes of New York, will be highlighted in the show of Magsig’s work that opens at the George Billis Gallery on May 2 and runs until May 27, 2017.

The gallery has a selection of his paintings online, most of which will presumably be in the show.

You can find more of them on Magsig’s own website, along with a section on paintings of Detroit — in which you will find more of the industrial landscape subjects — as well as western landscapes (also strongly geometric), pantings from Italy and prints in drypoint, mezzotint, monotype and linocut.

On Magsig’s his long running painting blog, Postcards from Detroit, you will find hsi small, immediate daily paintings, as well as in the related section on his website and on his store on Big Cartel.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Kawase Hasui’s The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba

The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui
The Pond at Benten Shrine in Shiba (Shiba Benten ike), Kawase Hasui

Woodblock prints, roughly 11 x 16 inches (27 x 40 cm). As with most woodblock prints, there are several different “pulls” from the same block for this beautiful image designed by Japanese Shin hanga artist Kawase Hasui.

I’ve selected two versions to show you here. The first, which is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has more color in the blossoms. The second, which you can see on the Ukiyo-e.org website (larger here), has more definition in the leaves.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt etching of farm scene with a man sketching

Cottages and Farm Building with a Man Sketching, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, etching
Cottages and Farm Building with a Man Sketching, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

Etching, roughly 5 x 8 in. (13 x 21 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, which has both a zoomable and downloadable version of the image on their site.

Remarkable though they may be, Rembrandt’s etchings of Biblical scenes are somewhat formal and tightly composed. Sale of those etchings was an important part of Rembrandt’s stock in trade an an artist.

His etchings of landscapes, however, seem an extension of his apparent love of sketching on location; they carry much of the relaxed and confident charm of his landscape drawings.

In these etchings, like his reed pen landscape drawings, I get a sense of pleasure in the act of drawing — the fun of hatching in the dark tones, the joy of his needle scratching across the plate, searching out the gestural shapes of the tree and the animals, and the quiet satisfaction of spending time out sketching the countryside with another artist.

 
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Belshazzar’s Feast, John Martin

Belshazzar's Feast, mezzotint and painting; John Martin
Belshazzar’s Feast, mezzotint; & Belshazzar’s Feast, painting; John Martin

John Martin was a 19th century British artist noted for his dramatic depictions of disasters and/or impending disasters.

Here are two of his interpretations of the Biblical story of Belshazzar’s Feast, in which the arrogant ruler of Babylon shows his disdain for the enslaved population of Israelites by using their sacred vessels — stolen from their temple — to serve wine at a huge celebratory feast.

A hand appears and foretells Belshazzar’s destruction and punishment for his arrogance by writing on the wall (from which we get the modern usage of the phrase) in cryptic glowing inscriptions.

Belshazzar is unable to read the writing on the wall. The prophet Daniel is summoned to interpret the inscriptions, and informs Belshazzar of their meaning. Belshazzar, unwilling to be taught humility, ignores the warning and soon after meets his fate.

The mezzotint is a plate from Martin’s “Illustrations to the Bible” and is in the collection of the Tate, Britain. The painting is in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, and is actually a small version of a monumentally large painting that is in a private collection.

I actually think the dark composition of the mezzotint is more successful at conveying the sense of dread and impending doom.

 
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The Nativity, Albrecht Durer

The Nativity, Albrecht Durer engraving
The Nativity, Albrecht Durer

Engraving, in the collection of the national Gallery of Art, DC, which has both zoomable and downloadable files. There is also a zoomable file on the Google Art Project and a downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons.

In this beautiful early 16th century engraving by one of the great masters of printmaking, Durer seems more concerned with the setting than the event. Perhaps he was simultaneously indulging his patrons’ preference for religious themed prints and his own preference for exploring the visual world around him.

I love the little bird on the signpost on which Durer has hung a sign with the date and his monogram.

The Nativity; NGA, DC

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Dore illustration for Fables of La Fontaine


Shepherd Wolf, Gustave Doré

Link is to WikiArt, from this page.

19th century illustrator and printmaker Guatave Doré is noted primarily for his dramatic illustrations for Dante’s Devine Comedy and Inferno, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Cervantes Don Quijote, as well as The Bible.

Less well known are his illustrations for Shakespeare plays, other epic poems and a number of fables and fairy tales.

This wonderfully sly example is from his illustrations for Fables of La Fontaine (link is to Dover book of just the illustrations).

I love the delicately rendered plants, the wonderfully casual hatching in the handling of the clouds and foreground, and the “WTF?” expression on the foremost sheep. As always, Doré and his engraver exhibit a mastery of establishing value with cross hatching.

I’ll leave it to you to wonder if there is any connection to current events.

 
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