John Bauer

John Bauer
While we’re still on our virtual visit to Sweden for yesterday’s post about Anders Zorn, we should stop by and say hi to John Bauer, a dramatically underappreciated fantasy artist.

Looking at Bauer’s wonderfully caricaturish trolls and gnomes, his glowing young princesses and his dark forests of ancient trees, their roots intertwined in Art Nouveau grace, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Bauer adopted many of the stylistic elements associated with the great illustrators that embody that approach, like Arthur Rackam, Kay Neilsen and Edmund Dulac.

In fact, the influence probably runs in the opposite direction, or at the very least in both directions. Bauer slightly predates Rackham, Neilsen and Dulac and, while he was undoubtedly influenced by them, his style and subject matter also likely informed much their work and, through them, influenced subsequent generations of fantasy artists.

Bauer himself was likely exposed to the work of Anders Zorn, who was popular in Sweden at the time, but was probably also influenced by Symbolist painters like Arnold Böcklin, visionaries like Gustav Moreau and William Blake and the stylized work of the Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau artists, and perhaps the graceful illustration style of Walter Crane.

Bauer achieved prominence in Sweden with his illustrations for Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Elves and Trolls), a yearly published book of fairy tales, and illustrated other books and periodicals. His wonderfully stylized drawing style, fascinating experiments with composition and his uncanny ability to make his fairy tale subjects simultaneously dark and elegantly charming have made him a favorite among those familiar with his work.

There is a John Bauer Museum site, which I think refers to a physical museum as well as the online one, but I’m unsure.

It’s unfortunate that books of fairy tales for which he did his illustrations were not widely translated into English. Had they been, Bauer would be as familiar as Rackham.


Anders Zorn

Anders Zorn
As an art student, with an art student’s typical financial state, I used to haunt the used bookstores in and around Philadelphia, looking for those occasional gems of great art books that I could somehow afford.

At one point, I came across a ragged copy of a small catalog of prints called Prints of Distinction, bearing the imprint of Charles Sessler, the Philadelphia rare book dealer. The book included graphic work by Rembrandt and Durer, and I could afford it because it was damaged, so it was a definite find. It was there that I was introduced to Whistler’s fantastic etchings, as well as the graphics of D.Y. Cameron, James McBey and Joseph Pennell, and the beautiful etchings of Anders Zorn.

Zorn was one of the greatest modern etchers, approaching even Whistler in his faculty for suggesting varying textures, lighting and atmosphere in etched line. (See my effusive post about Whistler’s Etchings.)

Anders Zorn is best known as a painter, however, and is often thought of as a “Swedish Impressionist”. He started his career as a sculptor, shifted to working in watercolor and gouache, and later moved to oil. He was renowned in his lifetime for his portraits, but is known today more for his beautiful, glowing and painterly nudes, and his impressionistic fascination with the reflective characteristics of water.

His subject matter can be divided into a few major categories, female nudes, water (often combined in images of women wading in shallow water at the edges of streams or lakes), genre pantings of farms and workers, and portraits. His portraits included sculptor Auguste Rodin, US President Grover Cleveland and his wife, and members of European society, as well as many portraits of himself, his wife, Emma, and other members of his family.

In his portraits in particular, I find it hard look at Zorn’s work without thinking of Sargent (which is a Good Thing). Like Sargent, Zorn exhibits a confident looseness and deceptively casual appearance to his handling of the paint that masks an exacting sense of composition and control of color.

I don’t know if they met or influenced one another, but I have to assume Zorn was aware of Sargent. Zorn traveled extensively in Europe and the US, working and learning, but always returned to his native Sweden, to the region of Dalarna and the town of Mora, where he was born.

The Zorn Collections are a group of four museums in Mora based on donations to the state of Sweeden by Zorn and his wife. The official site contains a bio and gallery that includes oils, watercolors, etchings and drawings, as well as information about the museums.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any inexpensive books on Zorn that I can recommend. There is no Dover book of his etchings, (though there should be) and most of what’s in print is on the expensive side.

The best I can suggest for those of you who are on an arts student’s budget is that you haunt the used bookstores, looking for those unexpected surprises.


The Comics Curmudgeon

Apartment 3-G, 3/22/06
Apartment 3-G
OK. I know I’m dating myself by saying this, but I remember when newspaper comics used to actually be funny.

No! Really! I’m serious!

It used to be that you could open the comics page of a major metropolitan newspaper like the The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Bulletin, or The Baltimore Sun and pretty reliably expect to laugh out loud several times in the course of reading the comics.

Don’t look at me that way! It’s true! Go ask your Mom.

Of course, with very few exceptions, the current crop of bland, sanitized, tiny-paneled, poorly drawn and inexcusably unfunny comics are more likely to elicit bemusement, as in “Why is this page even here?”, and I won’t even go into the sorry state of newspaper adventure comics.

Enter The Comics Curmudgeon, a delightful blog by freelance writer Josh Fruhlinger that was originally called I Read The Comics So You Don’t Have To, in which he posts current comic strips and comments on them like… well, like the wonderful curmudgeon he is.

Here’s a sample snippet of his take on the Apartment 3-G strip shown above from March 23:

“Holy crap but that’s a scary word balloon. It doesn’t just have icicles; it has slime-dripping tentacles, like a floating jellyfish of scorn. Watch out, Eskimo-kissing couple in the background (or, alternately, waiter with poor sense of personal space and startled restaurant patron)! Margo’s octopus of disdain has been unleashed, and there’s no stopping it!

As he goes on, strip after strip, you not only realize how unfunny many of these strips are, but how truly and absolutely weird and bizarre the comics pages have become. His comments are often as funny as the newspaper comics “back when” used to be.

The best way to read Josh’s posts is to click into the detail of a post so you can read his reader’s comments, many of which are almost as funny as Josh’s take, and then click through in the convenient “Next Post/Previous Post” links to other posts with comments.

Why aren’t these people writing comics?


The Tale of How

The Tale of How
Some drawings just look like they should be animated. I would love to see Van Gogh’s lively stipple dance across the screen, or Miro’s already living line actually grow and move like the organic thing it is. Fortunately some drawings that look like they should be animated actually reach that state.

When I first wrote about fascinating South African artist and illustrator Ree Treweek last month, and tried to describe her intricately detailed and wonderfully original drawings, I mentioned that she and her artist’s group (collectively known as “The Blackheart Gang”) were working on animating some of her drawings from a series called The Tale of How, which in turn is part of a larger scale project called The Household. (See my post about Ree Treweek from March 15, which includes links to more of her work.)

At the time there was a brief bit of teaser video of the animated work available on Brian Goodwin’s site, but The Blackheart Gang has recently posted a larger and longer clip, much to my delight.

I was already impressed with the unique look of Treweek’s illustration, but combined with the interesting way the images have been isolated into parts and animated, with the addition of cgi and lots of imaginative thought, the resulting animation is something really original and wonderful.

Treweek’s Blackheart Gang collaborators are Jannes Hendrikz (who sometimes collaborates on her illustrations), musician Marcus Wormstrom (still haven’t found the music video on which the group also worked together), and animators Justin Baker, Brian Goodwin and others (credits at the end of the clip).

I initially encountered some problems with the downloaded movie file (see “Site Quirks”, below), but it works fine in a browser and if you have a broadband connection, it’s definitely worth viewing. When this is released it’s going to make a stir in the animation community.

In the meanwhile, we have a double treat. We get to enjoy Treweek’s wonderful drawings both as drawings and as part of The Blackheart Gang’s fantastic animated world.


The Morgan Library and Museum

Morgan Library and Museum
Finally! After 3 years of being off the map, one of the foremost collections and exhibition spaces for works on paper in the US is back. The newly renamed Morgan Library and Museum (formerly The Pierpont Morgan Library) is set to reopen this Saturday, April 29, 2006.

I’ve been to number of exhibitions of master drawings at the Morgan over the years and they have all been memorable. The Library itself, developed from the private library of financier and all-around-rich-guy Pierpont Morgan, has a terrific collection of old master drawings, as well as historic manuscripts, books, bindings, music notation, Near Eastern scrolls, tablets and other art objects.

The museum, which is located on Madison Ave. at 36th Street in New York (entrance on 36th), has undergone its most extensive renovation ever with new gallery space, four story court, cafe and auditorium, as well as an unfortunately inappropriate new Bauhausian entrance structure, but that’s a minor quibble.

The Library and Museum will debut its dramatically expanded exhibition space with a show of treasures from its own holdings: Masterworks from the Morgan, which runs from April 29 to July 2, 2006. And treasures they are. Old Pierpont had pretty good taste in master drawings (image above, clockwise from top-left: Rembrandt, Delacroix, Watteau, Goya, Rubens).

The Morgan also has a renovated web site which allows you to look through some of the drawings and other artifacts and, like the same feature on the Met’s site, zoom way in on them.

Link via Artnet News.


Panos Fake Roadsigns

Panos Fake RoadsignsArt is usually a bit isolated. Paintings and sculpture sit quietly in museum halls, hang in place on gallery walls or in collectors’ homes. A certain amount of sculpture punctuates city streets and parks, but for the most part we don’t encounter that many art objects unintentionally.

Panos Fake Roadsigns is a collaborative project that takes the work of 47 artists from around the world, in the form of 105 fake road signs, and turns the streets of Lyon, France into an enormous gallery without walls.

The round red and white signs look enough like real European traffic signs that you might take them for granted, but weird enough if you notice them to make you stop and think; which is likely what people will do with signs that seem to indicate “octopus ahead”, “bubble blowing not permitted”, “feces area” or “fallopian tube zone”.

I’m not always fond of “installation” art that takes itself too seriously, but this project has a delightful sense of humor, lots playful absurdity and a wonderful scale. The accompanying web site gives a little (very little) background on the project, but the interesting thing, of course, is the signs themselves.

Unfortunately the site is hampered by a rather cramped Flash interface. Go to the “Artists” tab and click through them to see the signs both in situ and close up. Under the sign design you will find links to all of that artist’s designs as well as a link to that artist or studio’s site. Each artist or studio contributed one to three designs.

The exhibition is produced by Unchi Leisure Center and curated by Kanardo. Contributors include tokyoplastic, who I recently profiled, and from whose Press section I learned about the exhibit.

Keep your eyes open when you’re walking around, you never know when you may be walking through a gallery.