Qi Baishi (Chi Baishi, Ch’i Pai-shih)

Qi Baishi
Qi Baishi was a Chinese painter whose long life and career extended from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries.

When he was young his frailty made him incapable of working the lands of his family farm and he was permitted to apprentice to a carpenter. He went on into cabinet making and carving and upon discovering The Mustard Seed Garden, the traditional manual of Chinese painting, determined to achieve a mastery of painting. He studied traditional techniques for many years and at the age of 40 began to develop the style for which he would be known in his mature career.

His early work, which I like a lot, is more like traditional Chinese landscape painting, his mature style was a turn on the schools that emphasized the portrayal of simple small bits of nature rather than grand landscapes. He combined that ink painting style with modern colors and is renowned for his deceptively simple, colorful and intimate portrayals of flowers, insects, vegetables and grass blades.

Esao Andrews

Esao Andrews’ work fits loosely into a branch of contemporary fantastic art called “pop surrealism”.

His work often involves portrait-like images of young women in conjunction with odd elements, such as objects that are combinations of plant and animal forms, apparently intended to be a bit disconcerting.

Some of his paintings are more straightforward, almost like regular portraits (left, bottom), some look a bit like deranged children’s book illustration and some are simply odd. I wouldn’t say that the images I’ve chosen here are necessarily representative of his work, I just happen to like them in particular.

His web site has a delightfully entertaining Flash interface, one of the most amusing I’ve seen, in which a young woman sits demurely in a room with a few furnishings, and her face follows your cursor as you mouse over objects that pop up or change to reveal the sites sections. The interface is done with style and cheeky wit (she looks right at you and flashes her dress up when you choose “Paintings”) and is full of nicely imaginative details.

Unfortunately, once past the amusing nature of the interface, it’s actually not easy to navigate, the galleries consist of colored dots with no indication of previews and the images open in pop-up windows. (Who ever told artists that pop-up windows are a good way to display art work?)

If you like quirky, imaginative and oddball images, though, Esao’s work is worth the trouble to look through the galleries.

There are sections of paintings, done in oil on board, drawings, illustrations and designs for skateboard decks. There is also an archive to a previous site version. His “News” section mentions an upcoming site redesign (which promises “no pop-up windows”), but I hope he archives this one.

There isn’t much background or biographical info on the site, but there is a good interview with him on Pixelsurgeon.


Peter Popken

Peter Popken
Peter Popken is a concept artist, illustrator, visual development and storyboard artist for the film industry. He has worked on films like V for Vendetta, Aeon Flux and The Bourne Supremacy.

Many of the film concept images on his site are dramatic landscapes or cityscapes, painted in widescreen ratios. There are also character designs, storyboards and illustrations.

He utilizes several rendering styles, from the crosshatched linework in some of the storyboards to the direct no-nonsense approach of some of the concept paintings, which can be wonderfully graphic at times with flat areas of color crafted into three dimensional shapes.

His concept paintings are often almost monochromatic, with areas of more intense color in a different range used for emphasis and focus. Sometimes he will use a more softly rendered approach or the color-filled line style where appropriate.

Some of the movie work is labeled, but some of the storyboard work is not. I’m curious about a very cool storyboard he did for what is apparently a car ad, in which the car is injected into a patient’s bloodstream.

Chet Phillips (update)

Chet Phillips
Writing about scratchboard a few days ago prompted me to check back in with illustrator Chet Phillips, who I first posted about back in October of last year.

Phillips uses Corel Painter to create what he terms “Digital Scratchboard”, using the digital painting programs customizable tools to incise sharp edged linework as if scraping with a real scratchboard tool. (Painter, in fact has built in “scratchboard” tools, the most basic of which is my preferred tool for making digital “ink” drawings.)

Phillips has done both editorial and advertising illustration and his work has been featured in numerous books on digital painting. He often does wonderfully bold and graphic images of domestic animals in which the “scratchboard” effects start to lean toward a woodcut feeling.

His portfolios have been revamped and expanded since I last wrote about him. (Unfortunately, they’re still in the tedious “click and click back” arrangement found on so many artist’s sites.) It’s not always obvious that the gallery sections can be split into subsections with links under then main menu, so keep looking around. You can find additional styles of images (fun Tiki images, for example) in the “Merchandise” section.

Ilene Meyer

Ilene Meyer
I mentioned in my post on Jacek Yerka that contemporary artists who become fascinated with the work of a particular Surrealist seldom produce work of note.

Just to prove that all rules have an exception, sometimes a shining one, there are the beautiful paintings of Ilene Meyer.

Meyer is obviously fascinated with the work of Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dali, he of the soft watches, infinite checkered plains, Freudian hallucinations and atomic deconstructions of old master paintings.

Meyer’s work also carries influences of Indian mandalas, science fiction artists, “psychedelic” artists like Alex Gray and other contemporary “Surrealists”.

I hesitate to use that word because it’s usually used inaccurately, and I would be incorrect in applying to Meyer’s work. Dali and the other Surrealists were concerned with images from the subconscious mind and were looking to shock and disturb. Meyer, despite her fascination with Dali, is looking to engender wonder and visual pleasure, quite a different intent, but fans of fantastic art can appreciate both.

Meyer’s paintings are laced with iconographic images from Dali’s oeuvre, including obvious homages such as the aforementioned soft watches, as well as her versions of Dali’s “Atomic” period objects that are sliced or “exploded” into neat segments, the infinite checkered plains (that she likes to curve into impossible topologies), distant mountains soaked in blues and oranges, serrated blocks of color defining complex forms, classical architectural forms re-rendered in impossible materials and “skins” of land or sea that reveal worlds hidden beneath.

But she is not mimicing Dali, merely taking the influences, making appreciative references and carrying the themes off into her own direction.

She also has repeated themes of her own, including a fascination with European style clowns and jesters, transparent objects, heads of medusa, icons of chance and gambling, pyramids, glassy spheres, luxurious tropical plants, African wildlife (particularly giraffes and zebras), radiant patterns in skies or the surface of objects, landscape surfaces that are curved and folded like cloth, and objects and surfaces that swoop, swirl and blend into one another as if melting together or being pulled apart like taffy.

One could complain that this is sort of a grab-bag of clichéd “surreal” imagery, but Meyer paints it with such enthusiasm, verve and obvious joy, that it rises above any such concerns into a kind of worship of the richness of the visual world.

Her web site, Meyerworld, has a fairly wide selection of her work and is divided into sections: “The Senses”, “The Elements”, The World”, and “The Soul”.

The images are just large enough to get a little taste of her work, but only a taste. If you find it appealing, you should look for the much larger and better reproductions in the collection of her work, Ilene Meyer: Paintings, Drawings, Perceptions.

Addendum: Ilene writes to mention that a new book has just been released (November 2006), illustrated by her and written by D. Michael Tomkins, called The World Below. The book has its own site here.

Addendum 2: Ilene Meyer is having her first gallery showing in the U.S. in ten years at the Arts Partnership Gallery in Tuscon, AZ (125 S. Arizona Ave., 624-9977) from January 12 to February 10, 2007.

Link suggestion courtesy of Jack Harris.

The Castle of Cagliostro

The Castle of Cagliostro
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro) was the first feature length animation by Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki.

Released in 1979 and soon overshadowed by films like Nausicaa, Laputa and Totoro, The Castle of Cagliostro is often overlooked in Miyazaki’s oeuvre, but undeservedly so. It’s a terrific film and one of the most fun adventure movies I can recall, animated or otherwise.

It doesn’t have the extraordinary graphic sophistication of Miyazaki’s mature work, but the backgrounds are lush and beautiful, there are intimations of the wonderful landscapes that would grace his later features and the staging and “cinematography” are excellent. (I realize “cinematography” isn’t quite the right term for animation, but I don’t know what else to use to describe the elements of composition, “camera movement” and cutting that are the equivalent of photographed films.)

You’ll also see hints of Miyazaki themes to come: wonderful flying craft, mysterious castles, dramatic landscapes and a fascination with the architecture of European cities. Also Miyazaki’s beautiful drawing, rich color and striking use of night and twilight scenes are very much in play.

You won’t find the sophisticated and thought provoking themes of Miayazaki’s later works, but in their place we have a superb lighthearted adventure fantasy that has much of the feeling of those great 1960’s spy thrillers and thief caper movies.

Although it’s part of the Lupin the III series, the story works just fine on its own. Brash, goofy and adventurous Arséne Lupin III, professional thief and inveterate playboy, is equipped with enough gadgets, wisecracks and casually reckless daring-do to make James Bond jealous. In the course of the movie he encounters a beautiful princess, an evil count, secret passages, traps, guards, Interpol agents, former lovers, car chases and all manner of other great adventure movie fare. It’s all played out against beautifully realized settings and is artfully staged and timed.

A new print of the film that has been released by Manga Entertainment. (Unfortunately, Manga’s Flash-based site that doesn’t allow for a direct link to the info for this film.)

The new print is beautiful. The picture quality is excellent. The colors are rich and vibrant and the linework is crisp and clear. The subtitles and dub are quite good and much closer to the spirit of the original than the VHS version from the early 90’s.

The one gaff is that Manga has inexplicably cut the film’s beautiful original opening sequence and replaced it with a montage of stills for the opening credits. (What were they thinking?! Just play the English credits before the full, complete film!! Hello?!)

Anyway, don’t let that lapse in judgement, or the poor choice in DVD cover art, dissuade you from appreciating this version. It’s still the best English language release of this wonderful film. Manga released a version in 2000 that had some other problems, make sure you look for the new one.

If you think you don’t like anime, perhaps because your impression of it is limited to giant battle robots, senseless, herky-jerky fighting amid frenetic motion lines, incomprehensible magical creatures and triangular-faced characters with enormous eyes, you should let Hayao Miyazaki show you how limited and inaccurate those impressions are; and allow him give you a taste of what you’re missing. The Castle of Cagliostro can be a great place to start.