Gustav Klimt

Guatav Klimt - Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Gustav Klimt is an artist of surprises.

Considered both a symbolist and a member of the Art Nouveau movement, Klimt is most well known for his bold intersections of design and draftsmanship, like his first Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, shown above (larger version here) which last year set a record for the highest price paid at auction for a single work of art, at $135 million.

Unlike many artists whose works become posthumous monuments to the greed-fests in an art market gone mad, in which dealers make millions standing on the graves of artists who lived in poverty and desperation, Klimt actually received a good deal of success with his work during his lifetime. Many of his works from his most successful periods used gold leaf on their surface, a tradition reaching back to the decorative arts of previous centuries.

Klimt’s work is general is some of the most sought after, highly priced and most widely reproduced art in the world, and there are numerous books on the artist. But for those with on only a passing exposure to his paintings and drawings, he can continue to surprise and delight as you delve further.

Klimt’s art can be seen as a nexus of many styles in influences. If you’re familiar with works like the above portrait or his famous image of The Kiss, one of the most widely reproduced images in art, you may be surprised by his earlier works, that are much more traditional and academic (or “realistic”) in approach. Some of them, like Two Girls with Oleander, suggest the work of the Pre-Raphaelites in their blending of Art Nouveau grace with representational painting; others have the muted softness of Whistler’s portraits.

If you are aware of Klimt’s fascination with the female figure and the warm, frank eroticism of his drawings, you might be surprised by the the number and intensity of his landscape paintings.

In his landscapes, as in his most famous figurative works, Klimt flattens out the image to the picture plane, but mixes “realistic” rendering of figures or objects with design elements, often filled with luxurious patterns pulled from the rich history of decorative arts. His figures can retain their “realism” even while being stretched and extended like those of Modigliani or Giocametti, so that the figures themselves become simultaneously decorative elements and pictorial images, both standing out from and blending into the Byzantine dazzle of their surroundings.

He manages to simultaneously prompt delight in our appreciation of design and the decoration of surface, and tap our deep response to recognizable figures and elements of nature.

This intersection of pictorial image and design is one of the reasons for the strong appeal of Art Nouveau, and Klimt throws in another strongly appealing element, sexual desire, with smoldering erotic undertones in many of his images, and overt eroticism in others, particularly in his drawings.

In other words, Klimt knows how to push our buttons, and oh how we love to have them pushed.

[Note: the sites linked here contain images that are not suitable for children and Not Safe For Work.]


Ovi Nedelcu

Ovi Nedelcu
Ovi Nedelcu is a character designer and stroyboard artist for animated film.

He is currently working for Laika, an animation studio owned by Phil Knight, the co-founder and Chairman of Nike, on a new short feature called Coraline, which in turn is based on a novella by Neil Gaiman, who is known for his writing for comics.

Nedelcu is also a comics artist, and outside of his animation work, he writes and draws Pigtale, a comic book series and Lunchbox, a short online strip.

Nedelcu has multiple online presences. His main site has examples of illustration and character design. His blog, OV!, has sketches,experiments, pages from Pigtale and Lunchbox and includes an interview from Mike Manley’s Draw! magazine, in which he was recently profiled.

Lunchbox, a short strip about a couple of young siblings, has its own site; as does Pigtale, though it is a print comic with a few sample page online in the “Story” section. Pigtale, a dectctive adventure, seems particularly interesting for its layouts and panel compositions, which are very cinematic (image above), reflecting Nedelcu’s background in film.

There is also an interviewfrom the Character Design blog that includes many images and serves as a nice overview of his work.


Nancy Stahl

Nancy Stahl
Back in the mid-90’s, when the web was maybe 1/1000th of it’s current size, and digital art was in its infancy, I saw an image in a magazine (I think it was an illustration issue of Communication Arts) that grabbed my attention. It was a portrait image. It looked painterly, but with flat colors arranged into tonal areas, and had something of the feeling of gouache, but not quite.

The description of the image said the medium was digital (something still relatively rare at the time) and listed the software as an application called “Painter”. I had just started swimming in the digital art waters of Photoshop 2.5 and though I had seen plenty of digital art at by that time, most of which looked like identifiable “computer art”, this was my first exposure to “digital painting” (the use of digital tools and a pressure sensitive stylus to “paint” in manner analogous to traditional media).

I wasn’t familiar with Painter (at the time produced by Fractal Design), but that image was enough for me to say that whatever “Painter” is, I want it. Since then I’ve used it extensively, both for digital painting and to draw my webcomic.

Painter, currently owned by Corel, is a now a familiar application for most digital artists.

The image that introduced me to digital painting was by illustrator Nancy Stahl, who is still know for her exemplary work in Painter, though she has said that her clients tend to prefer her digital work in Illustrator; not so much because of the look, but because it’s easier for art directors to ask for changes (which some of them just love to do) with pieces created in vectors.

Stahl is a widely recognized illustrator whose clients include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, American Express, Sony Records, Der Spiegel, Business Week, Ballentine Books, Lippencott an others.

Her work is familiar to many digital artists through inclusion in numerous how-to books, including the Illustrator CS Visual Quickstart Guide, the Painter WOW Books and the Illustrator WOW Books. She has also been included in Roling Stone: The Illustrated Portraits, Walt Reed’s Illustrators in America and the Society of Illustrators’ touring exhibit Women Illustrators Past and Present.

Stahl’s boldly graphic images, whether painterly or rendered in vectors, have a terrific sense of color and design, and are textbook examples of how to see and isolate the geometric forms produced by volume, light and shadow. Hidden planes reveal themselves, and people, objects and landscapes shift between representational images and pure design.

Her illustrations sometimes have a retro feeling, harkening back to the poster and advertising art of the 30’s and 40’s. Her interests extend to textiles and crafts and her portfolio includes a section of knitted and embroidered images used as illustration. Stahl has also created five stamps for the U.S. Postal Service.

I’ve wanted to write a post on her work for some time, but was put off by her personal web site, in which the images were (and still are) so small as to be essentially pointless. She now has a portfolio site, however, on Illoz, and a portfolio on Workbook, in which there is a selection of images large enough to get a feeling for the appeal of her work. Her personal site still has some useful links to other info about her work. There is also a section of links on the Illoz site.

She also now has a blog on Drawger, in which her work is reproduced in much better detail than anywhere else and which includes discussions of her process.

She has a new book (one of those ones with a little painting kit included) called Real Art!: The Paint by Number Book & Kit (with Douglas Brenner).

Stahl is currently on the faculty of the Hartford Art School Limited Residency MFA in Illustration program.

[Link suggestions courtesy of Jack Harris]


Mick (Mike) McMahon

Mike (Mick) McMahon
Michael (Mick or Mike) McMahon is a British comics artist who was influential in hammering out the look and feel of Judge Dredd, as well as working on a number of other important characters for 2000AD. McMahon took over on Dredd from Carlos Ezquerra, initially mimicking his style at the editor’s request, but soon putting his own stamp on the character. I was tempted to use the word “refined”, but it’s not a good choice. McMahon’s early work on Dredd was anything but refined, coming at you with a raw, slap-in-the-face immediacy.

McMahon has evolved through numerous stylistic changes in his career, but he is best know for highly stylized drawings in which his characters are created with blocky, angular shapes, peppered with texture.

From the U.S., it’s hard to get anything but scattered glimpses of the UK comics scene, mostly from reprints and album collections, so I don’t know much about how his career progressed or how stylistic influences might have passed between artists like McMahon, Kevin O’Neill, Brian Bolland, Ian Gibson and Dave Gibbons. Viewed from across the Atlantic, it all seems to have arisen from the same boiling caldron.

McMahon did small bits of of work for American comics publishers, notably a Batman: Ledgends of the Dark Knight story, and could be found in titles like The Last American and Tattered Banners.

Judging from his web site, he has apparently been dividing his time lately between comics and art for the gaming industry.

Some of my favorite work of his was for Slaine, a Celtic barbarian hero, in which his style was much more detailed, and, well, if not “refined”, more controlled. In his drawings for Slaine (image above), McMahon filled his areas of black with wild scratchboard textures, giving the feeling of reading a comic story drawn in woodcuts.

[Thanks to Simon Rodgers for reminding me about McMahon, see my post on Simon Rodgers]


Colette Sexton

Colette Sexton

One of the immediate standouts from my quick look around the galleries in Lambertville (see yesterday’s post) was the work of Colette Sexton, an area artist who, though not native to the town of Lambertville, has found it to be home in both the physical and artistic sense. Her bright, fresh paintings of the town and its surrounds seem to me to be in keeping with the plein-air painterly realism of the New Hope school.

In particular, her Winter scenes of Lambertville from above, viewed from an overlook near a graveyard, have the flavor of some of the New Hope painters, who loved to capture the bright, geometric shapes of the houses and other buildings in both towns from the surrounding hills.

Aided by the fact that Lambertville’s contemporary merchants have painted many of their storefronts in bright colors, Sexton’s paintings are vibrant with splashes of brilliant color, rendered in loose, confident brushstrokes that are left unfussed-with and give her work a pleasing surface quality and tactile appeal.

I doubt that Sexton, any more than the original New Hope painters, would call herself an “Impressionist” but she favors elements that many of the painterly realists of the turn of the century had in common, bright contrasts of color and light, the deep, cool colors of dappled shade, and sunlight cascading across spring flowers and snow covered rooftops with equal dazzle.

Walking into what I assumed was a one-preson show in a regular gallery, I discovered that it was, in fact, the “Collette Sexton Gallery”. In speaking with the artist, I learned that she is one of several in the area who have chosen the approach of renting and maintaining their own dedicated gallery space. While this is not a new practice, I think this path is gaining appeal as gallery commissions creep higher and competition for exhibition space grows more intense.

Sexton indicated that the overhead and work involved in running her own gallery were balanced out by the advantages of having her work always on display, rather than at the whims of other gallery owners or institutional shows. It also allows for interaction directly between the artist and collector, something usually restricted to openings. She was fortunate, she said, in that one of the established area artists, who has been running his own dedicated gallery for many years, was kind enough to show her the ropes. Some of the other artists in the area who have followed suit will occasionally compare notes and otherwise support each other’s endeavors.

What I don’t know is how economically viable this approach would be for artists in different areas. Some collectors will follow up on their appreciation for an artist’s work by buying additional pieces, others strive for variety and are not as likely to acquire multiple pieces by one artist. Lambertville and New Hope are unusual, situated within an easy drive of both Philadelphia and New York, and thriving on a reputation as an arts related tourist destination, ensuring that the area has a consistent flow of new visitors.

Personally, I was pleased that Sexton’s work was there at the time we happened by and not part of a show that “closed last week”. She also takes advantage of the other, more common means of keeping her artwork available and on view at all times, with a simple but effectively arranged web site.

Her online gallery has one outstanding feature in particular, in that the main images are available in two resolutions. Thumbnails are linked to medium size images that can be viewed in sequence with a convenient “previous – next” navigation. These browsing size images are supplemented with a second set of higher resolution images that are available from a small drop-down above the navigation area.

While I might wish for a script that would allow visitors to make a set choice to always show the larger images when proceeding through the gallery, I still think this extra step is an excellent practice: providing one size for casual browsing and a second, higher-resolution version for those genuinely interested.

Sexton’s online galleries are divided into two sections, one of “Historic America and its People“, which seems to be largely of scenes in and around Lambertville, and “Water Scenes“, in which she ranges farther afield.


New Hope, PA and Lambertville, NJ

Gordon Haas, Dot Bunn, Robert Beck, Sandy Askey
My wife and I recently took a pleasant day-trip to the area of New Hope, Pennsylvania. She grew up in the area and we had a good time exploring sights both familiar and changed, and doing a little “art tourism”.

New Hope is a small town in Bucks County, about 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia, that became a thriving artist’s colony around the turn of the last century (see my posts on Daniel Garber). Prior to that, it was a key point on a canal system that, at a time when “highways” were muddy ruts, helped move goods past drops in the Delaware River that weren’t navigable.

I’ve mentioned the New Hope area before in articles about Garber and Fern Coppedge, artists who, along with Edward Redfield, John Folinsbee, Walter Schofield, William Lathrop and others, have come to be called the “Pennsylvania Impressionists” (a term I always put in quotes as I doubt the artists ever referred to themselves that way).

New Hope these days is still known as a center for art and artists, but is less of a real artists’ colony and more of a tourist destination built on the remnants of that reputation. Though it certainly has some charm, the town now has a feeling of Gucci meets Jersey beach town; its main streets lined with restaurants and shops that the barge and and canal workers of the past, or the artists of Garber’s day, would not have imagined; and it’s becoming weighted down with the mall and condo barnacles that always seem to crust themselves onto any place with a hint of artsy bohemian appeal these days.

There are a number of galleries, though actually not as many as I might have expected. Unfortunately the Gratz Gallery, which deals in 19th Century art from the New Hope school, the Philadelphia 10 (see my post on Fern Coppedge) and artists from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, had closed for the day by the time we got to it.

Also disappointingly, the small New Hope branch of the James Michener Museum didn’t have any of that museum’s collection of New Hope artists on display.

At the foot of Bridge Street, however, a steel girder bridge lets you drive or stroll over the Delaware river, not far from where George Washington and his army made their famous crossing, to the larger, less famous, but more “real” town of Lambertville, New Jersey, which, I think is more interesting in terms of art galleries and currently working artists; even though it’s also obviously a tourist town.

There we found a number of galleries and a thriving arts scene, supported by the area’s reputation as an art center and its location within an easy drive of both Philadelphia and New York, and I was pleased to find an abundance of artists working in the kind of painterly realism that fits into the traditions of the New Hope school.

New Hope and Lambertville have Second Saturday gallery walks, and the 2007 Annual New Hope Outdoor Arts and Crafts Festival is this weekend Sept 29th & 30th.

[Image above, left to right: Gordon Haas, Dot Bunn, Robert Beck, Sandy Askey]