Samuel Palmer

Samuel Palmer
Artistic approaches to landscape can be as fascinatingly varied as landscape itself. The variety of style, material, color, medium and technique is amazing. Samuel Palmer’s landscape paintings in oil, watercolor, gouache, ink and sepia wash often have a unique character that feels like fantasy or children’s book illustration, particularly work from a period when he was heavily influenced by the Romantic artist/poet William Blake.

Palmer met Blake through English landscape artist John Linnell, who was something of a mentor to him and whose daughter, Hannah, became Palmer’s wife. Palmer’s own family was less than an asset. His father had an unfavorable reputation and a poor economic situation, putting pressure on his sons to restore the family name. One of Palmer’s brothers, finding himself without funds while Palmer was away on his two-year honeymoon/painting expedition to Italy, pawned most of Palmer’s early work and Palmer had to pay out a great deal to get it back. Palmer’s son, Herbert Palmer, apparently burned large amounts of his father’s work after his death, ostensibly so it would not be disrespected (and you think you have family troubles as an artist).

Palmer never saw great commercial success as a painter and most of his income came from teaching drawing, at which he was apparently quite good. Palmer’s work fell into semi-obscurity for many years and has only recently been re-discovered by the art world.

In 2005 the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art cooperated to create the first major retrospective exhibition of Palmer’s work, Samuel Palmer: vision and landscape, which helped re-establish him as one of the most important landscape painters of his era. It ran at the British Museum from October 2005 to January of this year and is currently running at the Met until May 29, 2006. The British Museum site still has the section devoted to the exhibition online here. The Met’s section is here. Both have examples of Palmer’s work in several mediums.

“Success” is almost as subjective a concept as “style”. Midway through his career, Samuel Palmer consciously changed his style to a more traditional landscape approach in a failed attempt to make his work more salable, but it is for his visionary Romantic work that he is remembered and revered. He may not have found any greater financial success had he remained true to his original vision, but would he perhaps have found a greater level of personal success? All artists have to find their own meaning for that word, but I think Palmer’s success was in creating unique landscape images that we still find engaging and visually rewarding after 200 years.

Enrico Casarosa

Enrico Casarosa
As artists there are those of us who wear many hats (no, no, I mean other than at those weird loft parties…), taking on several styles or different types of visual art for different reasons; sometimes out of necessity to both make a living and pursue personal interests, sometimes out of a desire to be versatile and sometimes just out of a love for working and experimenting with many different types of art.

I suspect that Enrico Casarosa works in his many artistic areas for the latter reason, just because he enjoys and appreciates them and wants very much to enjoy all that they have to offer. Professionally, Casarosa is a storyboard artist for Pixar. He is also a character designer, comics artist, designer, illustrator, blogger and inveterate sketcher.

Among his other accomplishments, Casarosa started and still oversees the SketchCrawl events, outdoor group drawing “expeditions” held in various cities around the world (some history here and here). The next Worldwide SketchCrawl is this Saturday, April 22, 2006. A discussion board of the arrangements being made in various cities can be found here.

I briefly profiled Casarosa in my first mention of Sketchcrawl last summer. He has several web sites related to his many pursuits. Enricocasarosa.com serves as a central hub and features information about his publications, including SketchCrawling, containing some of his Sketchcrawl sketches and comics related to the events (photos here), and Fragments Intermezzo, with charcoal figure drawings, paintings and sketches.

The main site also talks about his gallery shows, one of which, Three Trees make a Forest at Gallery Nucleus in LA last November, he shared with Ronnie Del Carmen and the wonderful Tadahiro Uesugi (see my post about Tadahiro Uesugi from last fall).

There is a Portfolio page on Casarosa’s main site with links to many of his projects, as well as a resume and bio, but some of the material may be out of date.

It’s a little disconcerting bouncing around between Casarosa’s sites, because they are many and not always up to date or linked in a consistent fasion. The most recent information usually surfaces on Enrico’s blog, which features photos, ramblings, discussions of art materials and pointers to other sites and artists as well as news and postings of Casarosa’s own work (like the illustration for a wine label, above, left).

Occasionally you’ll find treasures like his online mini-comic review of Canned Coffee (above, right). Casarosa has also posted a complete online comic called Haiku 5-7-5, as well as online previews for his print comic MIA. Casarosa has also participated in the excellent Flight comics anthologies (the new one of which is due this June).

Charles R. Knight

Charles R. Knight
Charles R. Knight was one of the most influential and well known paleontological artists in the history of the field, and was one of the pioneers of paleontological reconstruction art, creating images of extinct animals based on their fossil remains and a knowledge of modern animal anatomy.

He began his study of art at an early age, taking classes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in spite of the fact that he had been struck in the eye with a stone at the age of six and suffered from an astigmatism that together rendered him legally blind.

He was from a family that had a passion for the outdoors and soon carried his interest in drawing to the zoo, beginning a lifetime practice of drawing animals. He started his career as an professional artist working for a firm that decorated churches and gradually moved into illustration for magazines and children’s books.

His interest in animals led him to the American Museum of natural History, where his frequent visits were noticed by the museum’s scientists, one of whom, Dr. Jacob Wortman, asked him if he could draw a reconstruction of prehistoric mammal that resembled modern pigs.

Knight used his knowledge of modern animal musculature and surface anatomy to create a successful restoration that began his career as a paleontological reconstruction artist.

Working at a time when most fossils at the AMNH were kept in drawers and there were no dinosaur skeletons in the kind of dramatic display that we now expect of natural history museums, Knight worked with Henry Farifield Osborn and William Matthew to create displays of the animals in lifelike mountings.

The scientific accuracy of his reconstructions was up-to-date with scientific findings at the time, but the past changes quickly. Paleontology has made dramatic advances in recent years and Knight’s images of tyrannosaurs and triceratops with their tails dragging on the ground and apatosaurs (at the time called brontosaurs) wading in water to support their bulk are inaccurate in light of modern knowledge.

The power of his artwork remains, however, and Knight’s drawings, watercolors, oil paintings and large scale murals are still considered classics in the field and are still influential on subsequent generations of paleo artists. Knight absorbed influences from the art world around him, including the brilliant colors of Impressionism and the elegant compositions of Japanese art and brought a feeling of light, texture and life to his work that set high standards for everyone who was to follow.

There is an excellent website devoted to Knight, maintained by his granddaughter Rhoda Knight Kalt that includes a detailed bio, gallery and Knight related news. The American Museum of Natural History has an excellent online gallery of Knight’s work, even if the images are small.

Knight was featured as a character in the IMAX film T-rex: Back to the Cretaceous, and the historical graphic novel Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards (more info here).

A previously unreleased autobiography, Charles R. Knight: Autobiography of an Artist (more info here), has been published, put together by an interesting team, including a forward by Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen, an introduction by William Stout and illustrations by Mark Schultz (see my previous posts on William Stout and Mark Schultz). Stout, who is himself a dinosaur artist of note, has published three volumes of Charles R. Knight Sketchbooks (toward the bottom of that page).

In addition to his ground breaking and influential work as a paleo artist, Knight also continued to pursue his interest in painting modern animals, particularly tigers and other big cats. In fact, Knight may have thought of himself as simply a nature artist, portraying animals and plants, both contemporary and extinct, with equal aplomb.

René Magritte

Rene; MagritteFor some reason that I have yet to understand, when I first accidentally encountered Surrealism as a young teen ager looking through the art books in the school library, the images I saw of paintings by Salvador Dalí and Rene Magritte just hit me like a lightning bolt, flashing a giant “Whoah! What is this?!” on my cranial billboard.

That was it. I was hooked, a helpless Surrealism Junkie. How could something so utterly and amazingly cool and strange and non-school-like exist on the shelves of the school library as if it were just as innocent as all of the other stuff that school managed to make so boring? Within weeks I was haunting the school and public libraries devouring every book on Surrealism I could find, with a particular fascination for Dalí and Magritte.

I would later come to enjoy the subtle brain-vibrating pleasures of Ernst, Duchamp, Man Ray, and other less well known Surrealist and Dada artists and also come to enjoy the writings of Andre Breton, Benjamin Peret and other Surrealist writers, but it was the “big two”, with their other-worldly, dream-like, disorienting and endlessly fascinating images that really had a hold on me. (Contrary to the popular assumption, Surrealism was primarily a literary movement, not an art movement, and Breton, who wrote the Surrealist “manifestos” and was good friends with Magritte, was its center.)

Dalí, with his impressive old-master level of painting skills, propelled his fantastic images into hyper-real dream-state orbit, casting shimmering spells of wonder over my hungry teenage brain, but Magritte… ah, Magritte was more subtle. Never the accomplished painter or draughtsman that Dali was (but then, how many are?), Magritte’s ability to fascinate me lay in the psychological power of his imagery. His paintings just grab you.

His images are directly painted, with little fuss or ostentatious display of technical virtuosity. Unlike Dalí, who set out to shock, dazzle and bewilder, Magritte casts his spell more like a poet, with juxtapositions of images and scenes that don’t make sense on the surface, but do, undeniably, unfathomably, make sense unconsciously.

Magritte is about connections and disconnections. He takes a seat in the back of your brain and, like a 1940’s wire-and-plug telephone switchboard operator, begins to reroute associations between the expected and the unexpected. Suddenly your subconscious snaps its mental fingers and says “Ah-ha!”, but what the “ah-ha” actually is remains unclear.

Magritte invites you into a mystery with bizarre clues, hints of meaning and tantalizing associations and then makes a connection that turns your throbbing little brain upside-down in its brain pan and gives it a good cooking (with a dash of pepper). All the while, of course, old René is laughing up his bowler hat. Pulled another one on you. Gotcha!

In painting after painting the conventions of reality, visual perception and representational art – time, space, gravity, proportion, perspective – one by one are turned on their heads.

Some of his images have become familiar, but still have the power to give that delightful mental “twist”, and have in large part come to define what people think of when they use the word “surreal”.

The Castle of the Pyrenees sits atop a great stone mountain, except that the mountain is egg-shaped and suspended over the sea in absolute defiance of gravity; and the castle itself is made of the same stone as the mountain as if simply carved from the top of it. A man gazes into a mirror, his back turned to you, but his reflection also has its back turned to you. A large eye gazes at you from the canvas, its iris filled with sky and clouds. English businessmen with their traditional overcoats and bowler hats hang in the sky like stop-motion raindrops.

Magritte often visited the same themes many times, I think of them as series although I don’t know if he ever considered them as such. Some of them are:

– paintings in which objects and/or people turn to stone, or are filled with the sky, often in the same work

– his strange floating slotted spheres (which some designer appropriated for the Geffen Records logo)

– the series in which the well dressed businessmen with their bowler hats have objects like apples or doves suspended in front of their face, or Flora, from Botticelli’s Le Printemps hovering in mineature behind their backs

– articles of clothing sitting in closets begin to take on elements of their human owners, a chemise and a nightgown posses human breasts, boots end in toes

– paintings in which a giant apple or enormous rose takes up the entire volume of a room (or is it, in fact, the room that is miniature?)

– the series in which he copies the compositions of famous canvasses by David and Manet, not unusual except that the figures in the paintings have been replaced with coffins – in the positions of the original figures, bent in half to sit up in bed or bent twice to sit in a chair

and his beautifully poetic images of Empire of Light, not too far removed from reality, in which houses at street level are in darkness, lit by street lamps, but above the line of dark trees, the sky is midday blue.

Ah, the wonderful perfect strangeness of it all!

At the time of this post, two Magritte exhibits are running concurrently in Paris (how much is that plane fare?): Magritte and Photography, photographs of or by the Belgian artist at Maison Européenne de la Photographie from March 15 through June 11, 2006, and René Magritte Tout en papier an exhibit of Magritte’s rarely seen works on paper including drawings, collage and gouache (in which his approach and color palette are much different than in his oils) at Musée Maillol from March 8 through June 19, 2006.

There is a site at magritte.com that has some biographical information and a few images, but it seems to exist mostly to promote a CD-ROM collection. The Magritte Foundation has an interesting virtual gallery, but the images are small. I give some other resources for Magritte images on the web below.

Most fascinating of all for me of Magritte’s repeated themes is a series of paintings within paintings, in which canvases sit on easels in front of windows, inextricably seamless with the view behind them, all of which are named “The Human Condition”. There is a related series of images of windows, broken or open to show that the scene that is apparently outside the window is, in fact, painted on it, sometimes revealing an identical scene outside the window. Wonderful images that suggest the magical connection between art and reality.

No post on Magritte would be complete without mentioning the definitive Magritte image of a pipe, simply and directly rendered, on which Magritte has written in paint: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.”, “This is not a pipe.”, and, of course,… he’s right.

 

KAL (Kevin Kallaugher)


In a distinctive pen and ink cross hatching style that sometimes seems to carry forward the tradition of the great Thomas Nast, Kevin Kallaugher, who signs his work as KAL, has been skewering the insanities, abuses and tragedies of American politics and society at large for over 17 years from his position as editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun.

Although his eye for events has always been up-to-the-minute, in many ways, KAL is traditional – from his obvious affection for traditional pen and ink artists and cross hatching techniques to his staunch support of the tradition of political cartoonists doing their best to find the absurdity in government and social institutions wherever it may lie, not just in having a party line axe to grind.

His drawing style is a wonderful study in contrasts. It can be loose and sketchy, with objects and figures suggested with just a few quick lines on one part of a drawing, and rendered with fine-lined tonal detail in another part of the same drawing. His caricatures are evidence of the fun he finds in exploring the surface and geometry of a face and mapping out in detail the facial “landscape” that makes an individual’s appearance unique.

His drawing style and editorial voice are part of what makes him unique and part of what has given the Baltimore Sun (a paper I often read and enjoy) its unique character for a long time. Sadly, the paper is losing a lot of that character, and many people, myself included, feel that the once shining Baltimore Sun is beginning to dim.

I’m sorry to say KAL’s cartoons will no longer be seen in the pages of the Sun (article here). As of this January he “retired” from his position, accepting a buyout that is part of Tribune Co.’s wrong-headed attempt to cut costs by dropping editorial cartoonists from the staffs of its newspapers. Tragically, this trend is not limited to Tribune Co. papers, although they are perhaps the most aggressive of the newspaper conglomerates in devaluing the place of editorial cartooning in their papers.

Hmmm… let’s see… circulation is down, so let’s throw away the unique voices, incisive viewpoints and talented visionaries that make our papers unique and appealing, and instead make everything more bland, ordinary and homogenized; sweeten it up an dumb it down. We’ll jam our papers so full of ads, phamphlets, leaflets, flyers and other junk that you won’t even be able to find the content and we’ll shrink what little content there is down to the point where there’s nothing left to buy the paper for, and then we’ll sit around and cry about how the internet is ruining newspapers. Great idea.

But we’re actually to blame, us, all 300 million of us. America has made its choices: Wall-mart instead of community businesses, McDonald’s instead of great little diners, Thomas Kinkade instead of earnest local artists, Katie Couric instead of Bob Scheiffer and another page of supermarket ads and syndicated astrology columns in place of insightful editorial voices like Kallaugher’s. (You’ll notice I resisted the enormous temptation to include a political statement there. Really bit my tongue on that one. Yessir. No suggestions about America making bad political choices here!)

There are still some who recognize the value of a great talent like KAL, and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has mounted an exhibition of his work: Mightier than the Sword: The Satirical Pen of KAL, that will run from June 18 to September 3 of 2006.

There are also collections of his work; some are out of print but still available through used book services at Amazon and elsewhere: Kal Draws the Line, KAL Draws a Crowd, Kaltoons: A Collection of Political Cartoons from the Baltimore Sun, and Drawn from the Economist: A collection of caricatures.

In the meantime, here are some places on the web where you can still see the talent and vision that made Kallaugher one of the greats of American editorial cartooning.

Exhibit link via Art Knowledge News.

Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan
Concept artists provide much of the “imagination power” behind the fantastic images we see in film and games. They provide their services to the entertainment industry in a variety of ways, some work for large production or special effects firms, some for design studios, some independently and some for alliances or “studio groups” of artists and designers with related skills.

Concept artist Mark Sullivan is part of the Ice Blink studio group, led by noted concept artist Doug Chiang. I’ve written posts about several of the groups members, including Doug Chiang, Marc Gabbana and Josh Viers and Bill Mather (who I didn’t even realize was a concept artist at the time of my post).

Sullivan has provided concept art for films like The Hudsucker Proxy, Pleasantville (a treat, if you haven’t seen it), Bugsy, Starship Troopers and The Polar Express. He has worked for Jim Danforth, Dreamquest Images, Industrial Light and Magic and others.

Sulivan credits his exposure at an early age to the original King Kong, and its wonderous multi-plane glass matte painting visions of Skull Island, with sparking his enthusiasm for working in the film and concept design field. His bio describes his early attempts to animate clay dinosaurs in Super-8 in front of crudely painted scenic backgrounds.

I would bet that most artists in the field have a similar story to tell, and now Mark and his fellow Ice Blink artists are fueling the imaginations of the next generation of entertainment industry artists.