John Sloan

John Sloan and The Eight - Ashcan SchoolLet’s see if I can get the math right on this, let alone the connections.

John Sloan, William Glackens, George Luks and Everett Shinn, who are sometimes referred to as the “Philadelphia Four”, were central to the group of upstart artists who critics in the early part of the 20th Century would mockingly dub “The Ashcan School”.

The four had common backgrounds as illustrators for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the The Philadelphia Press and attended classes at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Sloan went to high school at Central High in Philadelphia, along with Glackens and Albert C. Barnes, who would later establish the Barnes Foundation. Sloan and Glackens went on to study at the Academy. Among their instructors was Thomas Anshutz, who, as the leading student of Thomas Eakins, inherited Eakins’ mantle when the latter was forced from the school.

Sloan eventually met another influential student of Anshutz, Robert Henri, a strong willed and charismatic artist who preached rebellion from the constraints of academic art.

Henri encouraged the four to pursue careers as gallery artists, paint honestly what they saw in life, particularly contemporary urban life, and suggested they study European artists like Frans Hals, Goya, Valázquez, and Manet.

The five painters eventually relocated, one by one, to New York. In 1908 the five artists from Philadelphia mounted a joint exhibition with three other artists, Authur B. Davies, Maurice Prendergast and Ernest Lawson. The exhibition was in part a protest against their rejection by art critics of the time. Though they only exhibited as a group one time, it earned them the title of “The Eight”.

The label of “Ashcan School” was applied to the five painters from Philadelphia for their portrayal of gritty scenes of urban life, tenement houses, the poor and lower working class, which were considered unfit subjects for paintings by the art establishment.

The “Ashcan School” (a term used more in retrospect than at the time, and never by the artists to refer to themselves), was in part a rebellion against academic art and in part a refutation of the other upstart movement in American art, American Impressionism.

The Ashcan artists adopted a darker palette and rejected the more genteel subject matter of the Impressionist influenced painters. The latter style (or group of styles) also had a focus in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the form of New Hope artists (see my posts on Daniel Garber and Fern Coppedge), and in New York and Boston in the form of “The Ten” (see my posts on Childe Hassam, Edmund Tarbell, J. Alden Weir and John Henry Twatchman).

Even though, like those painters, Sloan and his compatriots painted traditional landscape subjects, portraits and figurative work, they are mostly noted for their images of the rough unpolished textures of city life, rooftops, side streets, alleyways, elevated trains, clotheslines, tenement stoops, back yards, bars and brothels.

Sloan is sometimes thought of as a socially oriented painter, and for a time was involved in Socialist groups, but he said he disliked “propaganda” in paintings and that his scenes were done with “sympathy, but no social consciousness”.

Unlike many of his associates, and perhaps most of the American Impressionist painters, Sloan was not a facile painter. He painted slowly and methodically, and was more likely to finish his paintings in the studio from location sketches and notes than to paint them “en plein air”. Sloan shared Hopper’s technique of painting out of windows, sometimes using the window as a framing device.

Still his paintings carry an uncanny feeling of place and atmosphere, particularly in catching subdued light and subtle color shifts of rain and fog, or the colors of night in the city.

Sloan was also prolific as an etcher; and I think his etchings, and the graphic elements in his paintings, in which he often flattened forms with almost solid areas of color, had a distinct impact on mid-20th Century illustration, as well as other painters of his time and after.

Sloan taught at the Art Students League for over ten years, and for a short time at the George Luks Art School. His students included Alexander Calder, Reginald Marsh, Peggy Bacon, and Barnett Newman.

Though his paintings bring high prices at auction today, he sold few during his lifetime and reportedly told his students, “I have nothing to teach you that will help you to make a living”.

The Delaware Art Museum, a gem of a small museum that I’ve mentioned before in my posts on Howard Pyle and the Pre-Raphaelites, has a terrific collection of Sloan and his contemporaries, largely due to a bequest from Helen Farr Sloan, the artist’s second wife.

The museum has organized a traveling exhibition, Seeing the City: Sloan’s New York that is currently at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago until September 14, 2008, and will then travel to the Renolda House Museum of American Art in North Carolina from October 4, 2008 to January 4, 2009.

The exhibit has a dedicated web site, which features an extensive gallery of Sloan’s work, extensive biographical information, resources and other features, like Sloan’s new York Then and Now, that lets you compare his paintings, or period photographs of where he lived and painted, with modern photographs of the same scenes.

There is also a book published to accompany the exhibit, John Sloan’s New York. Sloan published a book of his teaching called Gist of Art, which I believe has been republished recently as John Sloan on Drawing and Painting.

One of the best online sources for Sloan’s work is The Athenaeum, which has a nice selection of 41 works, reproduced larger than elsewhere and with a good color balance. Click on the thumbnail for a dedicated page, then again for the larger image.

Sloan, whether as a member of the Philadelphia Four (or Five), or of The Eight, was one of a small number of artists who helped define a new way of seeing and painting.

Robin Eley

Robin Eley
Robin Eley is an Australian illustrator based in Adelaide. Eley was born in the UK, raised in Australia and trained in the U.S. at Westmont College and the Illustration Academy.

Eley paints in acrylic and oil, in a kind of interpretive realism that combines direct representational and stylized images. This is particularly evident in his portraits, which can range from straightforward to caricature, but have a strong definition through his control of value and color.

His clients include Time, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, Vibe, Hyperion/Disney and Houghton Mifflin.

Eley’s subjects always seem to “pop”, with little doubt where your eye is intended to focus. He will often soften his backgrounds, or control them with color contrasts, to make the subject snap into high relief.

He also has a nice feeling for the naturalistic representation of materials, giving even his most exaggerated subjects a firm grounding in the real world.

His editorial work, and his portraits in particular, often have a nice “bite” to them, pointing out the foibles of his subject with the precise stab of a brush.

You will find a range of his work on his web site, arranged into sections for portraits, book illustration, conceptual (editorial) and advertising. You can also find images of his work, sometimes reproduced a bit larger, on his Levy Creative Management portfolio page. His own site also includes some of his work reproduced nice and large and offered as wallpapers. (I can’t give you direct links because the site is in frames.)

Eley also maintains a blog, on which he posts and talks about his professional work as well as personal pieces.

Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond

Jeff Smith - Bone
I’m always particularly pleased when the art establishment of museums and traditional galleries shakes itself out of its self-imposed blindness and recognizes comics (“graphic narrative”) as the art form it is; so I was pleased to learn that the work of comics artist Jeff Smith, creator of the highly regarded series Bone, is featured in a new exhibit at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus Ohio, Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond.

I’ve written about Jeff Smith and Bone before (and here).

The exhibit features 80 of of Smith’s pen and ink pages from Bone, several color covers as well as some of his work on projects since wrapping up the thousand-plus page series, including his Shazam series for DC Comics and his new ongoing series Rasl.

Bone (Amazon link) was published as black and white trade paperbacks, then collected in a 1,300 page graphic novel (in the true sense of that term, not the way it’s misused by the comics industry as a catchall for squarebound comics), and then rereleased as a series of color trade paperbacks, with coloring by Steve Hamaker.

The exhibit at the Wexner Center also includes a selection of classic comics art from artists that Smith considers direct influences on his work and style, including original pages and panels from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, Will Eisner’s The Spirit, Carl Barks’s Uncle Scrooge, Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, and E. C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre.

There is a catalog created to accompany the exhibit, which also includes the work of the other artists. There is a five minute video on the Wexner site with an interview with Smith.

The exhibit at the Wexner Center runs until August 3, 2008.

A related exhibit, Jeff Smith: Before Bone is running concurrently at the nearby Cartoon Research Library of Ohio State University. It features his work on Thorn, Smith’s strip for the campus newspaper, The Lantern. There is also a catalog to accompany this exhibit.

You can always catch up on the latest news about Jeff Smith and his work on his Boneville blog. You can also order Bone, Rasl and related items directly from Smith’s online Shop.

[Exhibition link via Art Knowledge News]

Colin Page (update)

Colin Page
I will often write about artists here on lines and colors whose work I have only seen in digital reproduction on the web. It’s always preferable, though. when I can see the actual work in person, and even better on those rare occasions when I get to meet and speak with the artist.

I wrote about Maine artist Colin Page about a year ago, when he last had a show at the F.A.N. Gallery here in Philadelphia. I did have chance to see his work in person on that occasion, catching his essentially sold-out show on its last day.

This year I was able to make the opening of the new show last Friday, as the First Friday Old City gallery walk was in progress in the midst of the city’s July 4th events.

I was pleased to have the chance to meet Colin and talk with him about his palette, his approach to plein air painting, color theory and his direction in terms of new subjects.

We also talked briefly about his decision to work a bit larger at times, and in more open compositions. Scale is one of those things that you can’t readily get a feeling for when viewing images online (or in print, for that matter), and it makes a difference in your impression of a painting.

Another aspect of looking at paintings that I am often frustrated with when viewing images of paintings rather than originals is the surface texture, the physical character of the way the paint is applied, particularly in impressionistic or painterly realist works.

Page’s work, in particular, has a wonderful appeal in the brush strokes and texture of the paint on the canvas. His lively, remarkably free brush handling, which actually seems to have gotten looser and more confident over the past year, gives his canvasses a kind of textural sparkle that is an integral part of their character when seen in person, but doesn’t often come through in reproductions.

This is one of the reasons that my suggestion to artists like Colin, and many others who show their work on the web, would be to post a few large images, or at least some detail shots, that show more clearly the character of the painted surface.

It also helps, I think, to supplement images of paintings which have been photographed with flat lighting, in an attempt to show the work lit as evenly as possible, with additional images intentionally lit at an angle to show the dimensionality of the paint.

Up close, Page’s paintings are dappled with crisp, textural strokes of brilliant color, that can look almost haphazard, but, on stepping back resolve beautifully into his intended subject. His broader areas of color, when seen up close, likewise break up into fascinating combinations of vivid hues, that can almost seem unrelated at times, but from a normal viewing distance blend optically to make a clear and perfect tone.

He applies his technique, and his terrific knack for strong compositional geometry, to subjects in rural Maine and urban Philadelphia. His trips here to visit family afford him the opportunity to paint the urban landscape, which he describes as a refreshing change from the subject matter in the rural area where he lives. I particularly like the way he uses patches of light and shade in his urban subjects to control and organize the patterns of color that make up the scene, giving focus and depth to what might otherwise be a chaotic jumble of shapes.

You can see a gallery of his work on his web site. You will also find additional paintings on his blog (journal), to which he has been posting with increasing frequency, along with occasional works in progress and thoughts on painting and technique.

In addition, there is a selection of Page’s work on the F.A.N. Gallery web site. (The F.A.N. is one of the few galleries in Philadelphia that I count on to consistently show work that I find interesting.)

Colin Page: Recent Paintings runs at the F.A.N. Gallery until July 26, 2008.

Colin Page at F.A.N. Gallery

More Leyendecker and other great stuff

J.C. Leyendecker
OK, I realize I just posted about the amazing Golden Age illustrator J.C. Leyendecker a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve written about him half a dozen times in the past, but I have this general rule that says there’s no such thing as too much Leyendecker.

The first item I want to tell you about is a limited edition book that accompanies the exhibit I talked about in my last post, Americans Abroad: J.C. Leyendecker and the European Academic Influence on American Illustation.

Frustratingly, my schedule won’t allow me to get to New York before this exhibit closes on Saturday (July 12), but a friend was kind enough to pick up a copy of the exhibition catalog for me.

Aside from the fact that it makes me even more disappointed that I won’t see the show in person, it’s the next best thing, because the book is wonderful. It’s full of beautiful illustrations by J.C. Leyendecker, his brother Francis X Leyendecker (underrated in the shadow of his brother) and a number of other great Golden Age illustrators who were classically trained, including Edwin Austin Abbey, Edwin Howland Blashfield, Anton Otto Fischer, Norman Mills Price, Everett Shinn, William Thomas Smedley, Violet Oakley and others.

The book is a treat and, given the scarcity of Leyendecker material in print these days, a steal at $25 just for the beautiful reproductions of his work.

On that note, the second item is a new Leyendecker book on the horizon (finally!!). J.C. Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler, Judy Goffman Cutler is due in September of this year. The link I give here is to the Amazon pre-publication listing.

Lastly, for those who can’t get to the show or grab the book(s), I have a nice new Leyendecker web link as well. An anonymous benefactor who goes by the name of Mr. Door Tree has kindly posted some Leyendecker goodies to his Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog, including the image above, Cuchulain in Battle, from The Century Magazine, 1906, which is also in the Society of Illustrators show and catalog.

Addendum: Unfortunately, as of 8’28/08, the Leyendecker post on Golden Age Comic Book Stories has been taken down, and I don’t know another source for these images. I’ll leave the link in case they reappear.

Addendum II The new book J.C. Leyendecker by Laurence S. Cutler and Judy Goffman Cutler has been published. While I haven’t gotten my copy yet, reports are that they have done a terrific job, investing years of research and filling the book with hundreds of carefully prepared images.

The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli (Jay Piscopo)

The Undersea Adventures of Capt'n Eli - Jay PiscopoThe Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli is a reminder of the fun and unpretentious adventure comics of the “Silver Age” (1960’s an 70’s) and before, in this case updated with a bit of anime flavor in the way outline and flat color drawings of the characters are set against rendered and 3-D backgrounds.

Drawn and written by Maine artist Jay Piscopo, Capt’n Eli was created as a promotional vehicle for a specialty root beer company. Comics and characters created in that kind of role are often half-hearted, designed-by-committee and drawn by disinterested commercial artists. Capt’t Eli, on the other hand, is a delightful exception to that rule, and surprised me when I first encountered it to the extent that I likened it to finding a classic Fantastic Four comic in your shredded wheat box.

Capt’n Eli carries a bit of that 60’s Marvel flavor, plus some of the wonderful camp feeling of earlier “Golden Age” comics (to which it makes reference with the character of “Commander X”), plus a healthy dose of Johnny Quest, which featured the character design work of Alex Toth. Capt’n Eli is an undersea sci-fi adventure story featuring high-tech submarines, flying mini-subs, time travel, monsters, robots, nefarious villains and lost civilizations; in short, a nice mixture for all-ages adventure comics fun.

The submarines, helicopters, robots and other tech gadgets in the story are rendered out as 3-D models, giving an additional flavor of Popular Science stories on wild designs for future submarines and aircraft. I particularly like the enemy subs that have a feeling of the Nautilus from the classic Disney version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The combination of the outline and flat color drawings against rendered backgrounds and 3-D objects may seem jarring to some, though anyone whose seen my own webcomic knows I’m completely comfortable with it (grin), and the use of that approach in Japanese animation has made it seem less unusual in recent years.

It was through my webcomic that I encountered Capt’n Eli, when Jay Piscopo wrote me several years ago and asked me to take a look at the strip, which was then available as a webcomic. I did, and wrote a nice review of it on the Zark Comics Links page. Piscopo subsequently asked me if I would like to write a foreword to the new print collection, which I was delighted to do.

It took a little time to reach fruition, but The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli has finally been released as a 104 page trade paperback (“graphic novel” format) containing two Capt’n Eli stories and a “Golden Age” Commander X story, and is available through the Capt’n Eli site for $9.99, on the same ordering page with the company’s root beer and other sodas (read “pop” for those of you in the U.S. and Canadian midwest); along with other Capt’n Eli gear. You can also find it on Amazon.

The volume features a cover by comics artist Steve Rude, and pin-ups by Rude, Herb Trimpe and Howard Chaykin. You can see a few (unfortunately small) sample pages from one of the stories by selecting “The Story Begins” at the bottom of this page. You can also read the full first Capt’n Eli webisode, The Mystery of Me, and some earlier material in the Archives (though, again, the web versions are kind of small).

The Capt’n Eli site also has a gallery of pin-ups and a bio of artist Jay Piscopo, who has a background as an art director at Tom Snyder Productions producing educational CD_ROMs like Fizz and Martina Math Adventures, created the The Scrap City Pack Rats comic for Goodwill Industries, and was an animator for the ABC Saturday morning show Squigglevision. Piscopo teaches classes in cartooning at the Maine College of Art.

The second volume of The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli is slated for release in October of this year and should be available though the web site, Amazon and a number of comic book stores.

Oh, and the root beer’s pretty good too.