Wang Hui

Wang Hui
Wang Hui was a Chinese painter who gathered up influences from past masters and wove them into his own interpretation of their methods and techniques; and refreshed the traditions of Chinese painting in the process.

Active during the early Qing period (17th Century), Wang was exposed at an early age to the influence of some of the most prominent orthodox painters of his time, two of whom, Wang Shimin and Wang Jian, were his direct teachers. Together with Wang Yuanqi, these painters are in retrospect referred to as “the four Wangs” and they formed the core of the “orthodox school” of traditional painting during the period.

Wang Hui revived the practice of painting reverential copies of paintings by masters from previous periods, notably from the Song (960-1279), Yua (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) periods. The idea of copying and learning from previous masters is more familiar in Western painting tradition. Wang apparently gets downplayed as academic and derivative by some critics, but he reached such a high level of refinement in his own synthesis of those influences that he is highly regarded in the eyes of others.

Since my knowledge of traditional Chinese painting is exceedingly shallow, I’m not troubled by these concerns, and to my untrained Western eyes, his work is simply beautiful.

Whenever I think about traditional Chinese painting, the word “poetic” comes to mind, in the sense that written poetry is often a distillation, the employment of fewer words, carefully arranged, to tell a story or evoke a mood in a more immediate way than by extended prose.

Similarly, Chinese ink painting seems to be distilled, so that each stroke or tone is weighted with extra meaning, as if alluding to some hidden secret.

Wang Hui’s landscapes resonate with that feeling, his sweeping vistas of undulating curvilinear mountain ranges, mist ladled valleys, graceful trees and sinuous rivers seem transporting, at once etherial and immediate, hinting at the rewards to be found in extended contemplation of the scene.

The images above are two sections from a large scale scroll, 26 inches high and over 45 feet long (68cm x 14m); one of three such scrolls depicting the Kangxi Emporor’s tour of Southern China done by Wang Hui and his assistants. Though they are ostensibly the focus of the story being told, the tiny figures, characteristic of traditional Chinese landscape painting, emphasize the humble place of humankind within the grandeur of the natural world.

This scroll is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which has a dedicated feature on it with several images: The Kangxi Emperor’s Southern Tour, Scroll Three: Ji’nan to Mount Tai.

The Met has mounted a special exhibit Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui that extends from now until January 4, 2009 and features 27 works form several collections in China and the U.S., along with a selection of paintings from the Song, Yaun and Ming period masters who were Inspirational to Wang Hui.


SketchCrawl 20

SketchCrawl 20
As I noted when I first wrote about it back in 2005, SketchCrawl is a series of outdoor group drawing events, originally conceived by Pixar artist and illustrator Enrico Casarosa, as the artistic equivalent of a pubcrawl (seem my post on Enrico Casarosa, and here).

He started to organize the events ahead of time, in which artists would gather at a predetermined point and wander the city (originally San Francisco) sketching in various places, usually with small sketchbooks and portable watercolor equipment.

Since then the event has continued, expanded and spread to multiple locations worldwide, each organized by a local individual, but timed for the same day and coordinated through the SkwtchCrawl site and forums.

The next event, World Wide SketchCrawl #20 is this this Saturday, October 25th, 2008.

You can see listings of some of the events in various locations around the world in the SketchCrawl Forums (note at the bottom a link to the second page), view some suggested materials (image above, left, both images by Enrico Casarosa), or view the page on how to participate, even if starting your own local SketchCrawl with as few as one participant.

You can find more on the SketchCrawl site or blog.

[Link to current event via Drawn!]


Shy the Sun: Bakers Animation

Shy the Sun: Bakers AnimationShy the Sun, the South African animation production company formed around the talents of Ree Treweek and Jannes Hendrikz from the Black Heart Gang, has produced a new animated TV spot, this one for Bakers Precious Biscuits.

See my previous post on Shy the Sun’s Sea Orchestra spot for United Airlines.

The new spot dovetails live shots into the computer animation and seems to rely a bit less on drawing, but brings to bear the quirky visionary talents of the Black Heart team in a short tale of dropped cookies that waken a forest populated with storybook characters.

Little Bo Peep, the Owl and the Pussycat, the Dish and the Spoon and a host of others come out to indulge in the cookies in the midst of a delightfully oddball fairy tale forest.

It might be fun just to go through and see how many references there are to particular fairy tales, fables and children’s classic storybooks like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (See if you can catch the dish making a face and hat for himself out of cookies.)

See my previous post on the Blackheart Gang’s Tale of How and illustrator Ree Treweek (also here). You can also see the Tale of How on Vimeo now.

This is obviously a group effort. Some of the credits are: Client: Bakers, Agency: Ogilvy, Johannesburg, Animation Directors: Jannes Hendrikz and Ree Treweek (Shy the Sun)
Production House: Blackginger, Live Action Director: Bruce Paynter (Cab Films); and the full credits are listed on the Shy the Sun project page along with the video.

[Link courtesy of Shy the Sun producer Nina Pfeiffer]


Postcard from Provence
(Julian Merrow-Smith)

Julian Merrow-Smith
Back in 2005 I found myself writing an arts oriented blog; partly because I enjoyed writing it, and partly because in the process I was discovering terrific artists I wouldn’t have sought out or encountered otherwise.

One of them was Duane Keiser, who had originated the “painting a day” blog concept; painting daily postcard-size paintings, mostly still life, and posting them to a blog called A Painting a Day. At the time, it was a novel idea.

I then discovered Julian Merrow-Smith, who was pursuing a similar process; but much to my delight, was painting not only the intimate still life subjects that lend themselves most readily to that discipline, but also beautiful small landscapes of the Provence countryside. He was posting these to his aptly named blog, Postcard from Provence.

I wrote articles on both artists; and in the subsequent years I watched the painting-a-day blog phenomenon grow from two to hundreds of daily painting blogs; many of them named for variations on “a painting a day” or “postcard from wherever”.

Over that time I’ve written articles on many of the best daily painters, as well as hundreds of other artists and topics, but I find myself coming back to Merrow-Smith’s site more frequently than the others.

Julian Merrow-SmithI’ve tried to pin down why, exactly. Merrow-Smith is an excellent painter, but the potential subject matter of Lines and Colors encompasses a wide range of visual art, and virtually all of art history, so it’s not like I would favor him over Sargent or Vermeer.

For someone who has been to Provence just enough to respond to images of the area with a wistful desire to return, there was an element of personal identification and visual pleasure in his interpretations of the Provence landscape; and perhaps a projection into the imagined life of a painter in the rural French countryside, evoked by his simple but intensely observed still life subjects; but there was something else that kept me checking back more frequently than to most other sites.

I knew that I particularly enjoyed looking back through his archives, noticing the sequence of his subjects, how long he would pursue a series of still life subjects, then move to landscape, interject a striking portrait, and then return to still life and then back to landscape.

Within each avenue of subject matter there were fascinating smaller cycles of variation in approach, in the type of still life, or composition and choice of landscape; each with recurring themes, like his wonderful shadow-crossed rural French roads or his shimmering views of the Rhone.

In thinking about it, and looking back over his work, I finally realized that what makes his paintings particularly compelling for me is that they represent a story.

There’s a narrative here, a chronology of artistic discovery, perseverance, discipline, economic survival, and the ongoing effort to continue to grow and learn as an artist. Postcard from Provence represents several years of the living of an artist’s life, encapsulated in a series of small paintings, each one of which seems to be a penetratingly direct and honest observation of what the artist encountered as he met his daily joining of brush and paint.

Merrow-Smith has just reached something of a landmark, posting his 1,000th Postcard painting, a beautiful still life that seems to sum up the rich contrasts of value, color and texture that have marked his study of the simple and small (image at top), followed by his 1,001st, a landscape without land, the crown of a lime tree, bright against the Provence sky, not far from the door of his home (image at left, top). I’ve added a few more of my favorites, including two portraits; the one on the left is a self-portrait.

You’ll find his archives can be viewed chronologically by month, sorted by subject; or, if you’d like to see the thumbnails of all 1,001 paintings, viewed by full archive, which gives you an overview and sense of the story that I’ve found so expressive.

The process of writing my (almost) daily blog posts has taught me a few things about creative discipline, and also; after many fallow years, inspired me to take up painting again. And there I find my other fascination with Merrow-Smith’s process and progress — as a terrific example for painters, and other artists, of how to pursue art as a daily practice.

Addendum: The other portrait shown is of Merrow-Smith’s wife, cellist Ruth Phillips. (See this post’s comments.) I wondered if that might be the case, but wasn’t certain.

Katherine Tyrrell has a nice post about his 1,000th Postcard painting, including past comments on several of his pieces and an interesting interview with him about his work and his daily painting process. (See my post about Katherine Tyrrell.)

Also, there is a nice article about Merrow-Smith and his 1,000th Postcard in The Guardian.


David Cox

David Cox
David Cox is best known as a superb watercolorist during what was considered the “Golden Age” of watercolor (or watercolour, if you prefer the English spelling); though he also produced many drawings, and later in his career took up oil painting in addition to watercolor.

Cox was the son of a blacksmith, and would have followed his father into that profession had he not been too frail for the work. Sent to work making toys, his skill in painting miniature scenes on lockets and boxes got him noticed and sent to work as a scene painter in theaters. He went from that to landscape watercolors, moving to London the year before the Water-Colour Society was formed.

He was a prolific artist, he produced hundreds of works per year for may years, but was never paid what they were worth until late in his career, often selling them in bulk. He made his living for the most part from teaching, insisting on leaving his demonstration paintings to the students (many of which were sold in later years for high sums), and according to a biography, would frequently destroy or throw away many of his pieces, sometimes by stuffing them down storm drains.

Cox’s watercolors are now looked upon as some of the finest of his time, a time when watercolor was coming into its own as a medium, particularly in England; and he is sometimes compared to Constable as a highly regarded landscape artist who was particularly concerned with the visual effects of weather and atmosphere.

His landscape drawings in chalk and pencil have a wonderfully loose, gestural quality, almost Rembrant-like in their confident execution; and his oils show some of the light, color and attention to atmosphere that would later characterize the Impressionists.

Sun, Wind and Rain: The Art of David Cox is the title of an extensive retrospective at the Yale Center for British Art, running from now until January 4, 2009. A press release is available here.

[Exhibition link via]


Björn Hurri

Bjorn Hurri
Björn Hurri is an artist who, according to the sparse biographical information on his web site, will “soon live in the UK” and work for the gaming company Creative Assembly.

Hurri also does freelance illustration, and indulges in imaginative exercises for his own amusement; one of which is his series of steampunk versions of Star Wars characters, which he has been recently posting on his space on Gorilla Artfare (see my previous post on Gorilla Artfare).

“Steampunk”, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the fictional concept of a world in which Victorian technology is projected against modern concepts, e.g. mechanical analog computers instead of digital electronic ones, airships instead of jets, and, of course, steam power in place of internal combustion engines and electricity. (Steampunk is a literary sub-genre, in some ways related to “cyberpunk”.)

Steampunk offers a rich vein for graphic playfulness, and Hurri has obviously had fun with the mechanical apparatus, belts, hoses, valves and gears in his fanciful interpretations of Star Wars characters like C-3PO and Boba Fett (above).

If you go further into his pages on Gorilla Artfare (via the numbered navigation at the bottom of the page), you’ll find a variety of sketches, drawings and more finished works, often of imaginative designs for monsters, creatures and alien figures.

You’ll also find similar subjects in the Illustrations section of his web site. There is also a Sketchbook section, arranged by year.