Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Original Mad Man: Illustrations by Mac Conner at the Delaware Art Museum

The Original Mad Man: Illustrations by Mac Conner at the Delaware Art Museum
As I mentioned in a post in 2014, I’ve long been impressed by the mid-20th century illustrations of MacCauley “Mac” Conner, an influential artist whose work was a prime example of the Madison Avenue advertising culture showcased in the Mad Men television series. This was a period that also represented last great heyday of magazine illustration in America.

Rather going into more detail here, I’ll refer you to my original post on Mac Conner, and concentrate in this post on the exhibition of his work currently at the Delaware Art Museum.

My admiration for Conner’s work was based largely on seeing it in reproduction — for an illustrator, that’s how it’s actually meant to be seen — but seeing his original art in the show, in a large and very well organized retrospective, just knocked me out.

I was frankly even more impressed than I expected to be. Throughout the show, I was wowed by Conner’s masterful handling of gouache and his consistently daring and inventive compositions.

Conner (who is still with us at over 100 years old) is an artist who was clearly not content to sit within the limitations of his field, but always pushing at the borders (both literally and figuratively) of what could be done with the printed page.

He experimented with novel points of view, referential repetitions of colors and images within the theme of an image, suggestions of elements not present (like walls, floors and horizons), daring crops, simultaneous representations of multiple views of the same scene, jarring juxtapositions of size and distance and sharp projection of emotional content.

Concurrent with his explorations of composition (in which negative space played a huge role) was his experimentation with the use of his medium, usually gouache on illustration board, at times augmented with pastel, ink or pencil.

His style evolved from Norman Rockwell influenced realistic rendering to the almost flat modernist style that came to exemplify 1950s and 1960s magazine illustration, in which rendering, if present, was often confined to the edges of forms. He also experimented with both rough and fine lines, textural effects and color palettes from monochromatic to duotone to full color, often with clever use of a contrasting color within an almost monochromatic composition to both highlight important elements and tie the composition together.

Underlying all of his inventiveness and restless exploration was his keenly developed draftsmanship and an unfaltering grasp of perspective, anatomy, facial expression and spatial geometry.

The exhibition at The Delaware Art Museum was developed by the Museum of the City of New York, which apparently has a superb collection of Conner’s work, and is similar to some degree to previous exhibitions in New York in 2014 and at the Norman Rockwell Museum in 2016.

The Delaware Art Museum has a selection of images from the show on their website, but they are disappointingly small, though there is a brief video on the page that shows some of the images in more detail.

Also disappointing is the inexplicably small printed volume that accompanies the exhibition. I do have an understanding of the economics of printing, but why take illustrations often meant to be double page spreads in magazines that could be almost 11 x 14 and print them in a book less than half that size? (Sigh.) The book was prepared by the Museum of the City of New York to accompany a previous exhibition and is apparently no longer available except at the exhibition venues, so if you want it, pick it up at the museum.

The best image source for Conner’s work online is this article from 2014 in The Guardian, in which the images are large enough that you can begin to get a feeling for the character of Conner’s beautifully handled gouache paintings. There is an unofficial Tumblr blog but few other online resources for his work.

The Original Mad Man: Illustrations by Mac Conner is on view at the Delaware Art Museum until September 14, 2017.

This is a tremendous show — stunning work, beautifully presented — and fans of illustration, daring composition, gouache painting (or the Mad Men TV show, for that matter) should not miss it.

 
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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Eye Candy for Today: Homer’s Girl in a Hammock

Girl in a Hammock, Winslow Homer
Girl in a Hammock, Winslow Homer

Link is to a page from which you can access a large image on Wikimedia Commons. Original is in the collection of the Colby Museum of Art, which also has a zoomable version.

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the original. The Wikimedia version may be a bit light, but my instincts tell me that the museum’s version is too dark, as are many images that museums post of works in their own collections.

While not the subjects for which Homer is best known, his relaxed, seemingly casual observations of everyday life are often among my favorites.

I love the way he has used halos of light here; not only the light green of the sunlit grass against the dark of the figure and the hammock, but within that, the brighter halo of the almost white dress as it hangs off the edge of the hammock and catches the sun.

 
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Monday, July 3, 2017

Marie-François Firmin-Girard

Marie-Francçois Firmin-Girard
Marie-François Firmin-Girard (or perhaps more correctly, François-Marie Firmin-Girard) was a French painter active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He studied for a time with Charles Gleyre (in whose Paris studio three of the founding Impressionists would later meet), and then with academic mainstay Jean-Léon Gérôme.

After a successful debut at the Paris Salon, Firmin-Girard quickly achieved success, though his later career was impacted by the events of the Franco-Prussian war and the political turmoil that followed.

Firmin-Girard doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the Impressionist move to broken color and overt brush marks, but he did take inspiration in the influence Japanese art was having on the artists in Paris in the latter part of the 19th century.

 
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Friday, June 30, 2017

Eye Candy for Today: Jean-Baptiste Le Prince ink and wash drawing

Imaginary Landscape with Fishermen Pulling in Their Nets, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince ink and wash drawing
Imaginary Landscape with Fishermen Pulling in Their Nets, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince

Pen and black ink with gray wash, roughly 16 x 12 inches (40 x 29 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, NY; use the Download or Zoom links on their page.

Though described as an imaginary landscape, both the landscape elements and the confidently rendered figures have a relaxed naturalism. I like the depth the artist has created with lighter values of wash.

 
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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Quentin Regnes

Quentin Regnes, concept art
Quentin Regnes is a freelance concept artist and illustrator based in Paris, France who works in the gaming and animation fields. Beyond that, his web presence provides little information.

In both his more finished and sketch-like digital paintings, Regnes has a nicely textural approach that gives his envronments a naturalistic feeling.

I particularly enjoy his atmospheric cloud studies.

 
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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eye Candy for Today: Chardin’s The Scullery Maid

The Scullery Maid, Jean-Siméon Chardin
The Scullery Maid, Jean-Simeon Chardin

In the collection of the National Gallery of Art, DC. Use the Zoom or Download links to the right of the image on their page.

18th century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin was noted for his wonderful still life paintings (that I think magically hold time still in a way comparable to Vermeer), but he also painted a series of domestic interiors.

Some of these are as much still life as they are a room interior or genre piece. A case in point it this beautiful and deceptively simple scene of a maid washing kitchen utensils. For me, the copper pot — radiant with subtle reflected colors — steals the show, but the pottery piece and barrel are not far behind.

The figure, like those of De Hooch, seems more an object in the room than a person with whom we are meant to connect. As such, she is rendered with the same volumetric and textural presence as the other objects, defining space as well as existing in it.

I love the textural application of paint in her face and cap in particular, and in her clothing in general.

The control of edges throughout, as in all of Chardin’s paintings, is remarkable. Look at the softness of the edges of the barrel hoop (images above, second from bottom), and the way the edges of the crock disappear into the floor and background (images above, bottom).

 
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