Postcard from Provence: Paintings by Julian Merrow-Smith

Postcard from Provence: Paintings by Julian Merrow-Smith
Once upon a time, there was an English painter who moved to Provence, a part of southern France long associated with artists seeking the colors nature might reveal to them in the region’s legendary sunlight.

This painter was not working in the time of the Barbizon School and the Impressionists, however, but in the blossoming days of the internet, as an early participant in painting/blogging and the nascent practice of “painting a day”.

Before “painting a day” acquired its current connotations of artists latching on to the term as a way to drive eyeballs, and hopefully purchasers, to their web based storefronts and auctions, the regimen of painting one small painting a day had a different purpose. It was (and still is for those who practice it in the right spirit) a form of artistic discipline, a way to focus and hone one’s painting skills and artistic vision.

Our English painter in Provence, Julian Merrow-Smith, thought of it as a project, painting a small painting every day over a period of time, and posting each day’s painting on the internet for sale and comment, a practice he admired in the hands of its originator, Duane Keiser.

Merrow-Smith’s small paintings were essentially the size of postcards, and the act of posting them on the web akin to sending them out to someone, thus his project took on the name “Postcard from Provence”.

Now, five years and over 1,300 paintings later, in a small abstract of that project, winnowing down the work of those years into 140 selections, Merrow-Smith has released a book of paintings titled, simply enough, Postcard from Provence: Paintings by Julian Merrow Smith.

The book, as one who has been following Merrow-Smith’s work for some time might expect, is beautiful, and wonderfully produced. Representative of the project as a whole, the paintings are divided more or less equally between still life subjects and landscape. The book design is elegant and simple; the printing well balanced, the colors rich and vibrant (and, for those who are into such things, the book is printed in one of those ink and paper combinations that smells wonderful).

In addition, there is a conversation with the artist in talks with Michael Gitlitz, that delves into his history, the origins of the project and his approach to painting.

The book can be ordered, signed and numbered, directly from the artist, or without signature, through Amazon in the UK and Alibris in the US. There is also a list of selected bookshops in the UK that have the book on shelf.

There is a preview widget on the book page of the Postcard From Provence blog, that allows you to step through 50 pages of the book. Be sure to choose the “full screen” option.

I have long been a bit frustrated with the reproductions of Merrow-Smith’s work on the web, in that they feel small, even though the paintings themselves are small.

Here they are displayed in the high resolution of print (much sharper than images on the web, as I frequently remind my readers). With only a few exceptions, they are also, much to my delight, presented at their actual size.

In print we can see, in a way that is not clear in the low resolution images on the web, the painterly brush strokes, sensual textures and deft painting handling that Merrow-Smith has worked so hard to acquire and now wields with apparent ease.

In selecting the paintings for the book he has not done what I might have hoped. I’ve mentioned before that I see his story as one of artistic growth and struggle, told over that five year period in the sequence of over a thousand paintings, and I might have wanted a temporal sequence showing that advancement.

In retrospect, of course, that would have been a bad and unworkable idea in the limited space of a book. (That story is there, however, on his site in the form of his archive of paintings.) Instead he has taken the much more reasonable course of selecting some of the best of those paintings, which is to say, mostly recent ones [Correction: see this post’s comments].

These are the fruits of his labors, the result and reward of the daily painting discipline, and they display the current state of his abilities, his deft draftsmanship, crisp and lively paint handling, superb sense of chiaroscuro, firm command of composition and negative space and, most dramatically, his evocation of color and light.

In a way, the book has a storybook feeling to it, as if a writer had decided to depict the life of a painter in Provence and the paintings had been chosen and arranged to communicate that perfectly; here is the painter on the edge of the vineyard, bursting with greens on the edge of shadow; here is the painter at the foot of the hill, distant mountains washed in haze; here is the painter in his house, this evening’s fish waiting to be prepared, scales glistening in the kitchen light; here is the onion, hints of transparency in its film of skin; here the garlic, rounded in deep chiaroscuro; here the simple glass of wine, reflective and refractive, the day’s fruit from the local market or the artist’s garden, ripe with color.

Here is the artist and the bits of his life he has chosen to share with us, whether in sunlight or on a kitchen counter, sparkling with the colors that Provence has revealed to him.

Julie Heffernan

Julie Heffernan
Garlands of fruits, rendered with softly psychedelic colors; twisted networks of wiry limbs and roots, framed by lush tropical plants, luminous in distant mist; topographical cornucopias of formal gardens, resplendent on the surface of a globe, itself set in a magical walled garden; fruit laced bowers sheltering asexual twins; glowing indoor showers of jeweled raindrops; flaming chandeliers hanging from trompe l’oeil ceilings in baroque drawing rooms, an adolescent boy lifting a folded carpet of landscape amid a netting of captured momentos; and a rope mesh dress with flowing skirts made of small game animals and fruits; these are some of the lushly painted items, signs and symbols that make up Julie Heffernan’s “Self Portraits”.

The Illinois born, Brooklyn based artist names many of her works as such, “Self Portrait as Big World”, “Self Portrait as Broken Home”, “Self Portrait as Animal Bed” and “Self Portrait as Fabulous Droppings”; others are part of a sequence with more direct names, “Tender Trapper”, “Boy in Flight” and “Budding Boy”; but the sense of enigma, hidden meaning waiting to be sought out, and the elaborate Baroque meets Magic Realism detail of her compositions is common to all.

Heffernan’s paintings carry echoes of the Early Renaissance, Botecelli, Bruegel and Bosch, along with the more overt stylings of 17th Century Baroque painting and the profusion of shapes, colors and patterns with which the Baroque style gave meaning to our contemporary use of the word.

These are mixed with the dream state juxtapositions of the Surrealists, by which I don’t so much mean Dali and Magriette, as Ernst, Tanning and Tanguy; and the intensely chromatic rendering of contemporary Magic Realism. All of these affections and influences are assembled and woven into a dense and intricate tapestry of styles that becomes uniquely her expression, and by extension, her self portrait within her self portraits.

Heffernan studied at the University of California, Santa Cruz and received her MFA in painting and printmaking at the Yale School of Art and Architecture. She is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. She delivered this year’s commencement address at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Though the artist doesn’t appear to have a dedicated web presence, you can find her work well represented by several galleries, particularly the P-P-O-W Gallery in New York (also here). There is a post on Escape Into Life that features several works large enough to get a quick overview (more here). There is a brief interview with Heffernan on ArtSlant.

Quoted in an article on Montclair State University Insight Online, Heffernan says she seeks out her imagery in the semi-waking state on the edge of sleep in a process she calls “image streaming”. In this she shares some of the true intentions of the Surrealists, who were most interested in inspiration from dreams and the unconscious mind.

(Painting titles above: “Budding Boy”, “Self Portrait as Big World”, “Boy in Flight”, “Self Portrait as Booty”)

Sketch Theatre

Sketch Theatre: Travis Louie, Christian Lorenz Scheurer, Jordu Schell, David Krentz and Syd Mead
Sketch Theatre collects step-through demonstration videos of artists from comics, film and game design, animation and related fields.

Created by Alex Alvarez, founder and director of the Gnomon School of Visual Effects and the Gnomon Workshop, and produced by Lily Feliciano, Sketch Theater allows artists in these fields to give quick instructional demonstrations that pass on some of their techniques and working methods to other interested artists.

Some are longer and more elaborate, others are short, but usually still informative. Many are extracted from longer instructional DVD’s offered commercially by Gnomon Workshop, but usually stand on their own as a demonstration piece.

The videos are all shown within the amusing conceit of a mock theater interface.

There is a list of artists, apparently arranged alphabetically by first name, many of whom have more than one video clip.

There are also video interviews with a number of the artists, news, a forum and a store.

(Images above: Travis Louie [top 2], Christian Lorenz Scheurer, Jordu Schell, David Krentz and Syd Mead; see my posts on Christian Lorenz Scheurer, Jordu Schell, David Krentz and Syd Mead.)

Mary Sprague

Mary Sprague
Aside from the human figure, trees are some of the natural forms artists find most interesting, and they have been drawn and painted in a myriad ways.

St Louis artist Mary Sprague creates ink drawings, sometimes in colors, often monochromatic, in which delicate sprays of line and hatching coalesce to create her tree forms.

When seen at the scale at which her work is reproduced on her website, her groupings of short but flowing lines, and the way she applies them in textural passages, give her drawings some of the feeling of softness and delicacy characteristic of etchings.

I suspect, given the scale of her previous work, that these drawings are relatively large, and some of the feeling of the line comes from the relationship of the size of her drawing tools ot the size of the composition.

In her online galleries you will also find older work with different subject matter. In particular a previous series centered on large scale ink drawings of chickens. These are occasionally worked in color with brush and either watercolor or colored inks.

You will find more of her work at the Duane Reed Gallery. There is an article about her from the March/April 2007 issue of Stanford Magazine.

Robert J. Barber

Robert J Barber
Painter Robert J. Barber lists his inspirations as including Joaquín Sorolla, John Singer Sargent and Diego Velázquez (a superb short list); and you can see the influence of the first two in particular in both his figurative and landscape paintings, which emphasize fresh, clear color choices and expressive brushwork.

Personally, I also see echoes of American Impressionists like William Merritt Chase and Theodore Robinson in his direct, colorful and painterly approach.

Landscapes, and notably, townscapes, are the focus of much of Barber’s work. In the examples on his website, which are unfortunately a bit small, his landscapes seem looser and more casual, more likely done en plein air; and the townscapes seem brought to a higher degree of finish as studio paintings (it can also be a matter of scale, Barber doesn’t give dimensions in his online galleries, and I think the townscapes are larger in size).

Barber often chooses views that look down a sidewalk in his town paintings, adding challenges of dramatic perspective to his compositions. His color choices, though rich, are naturalistic; and I particularly like the way he handles the muted tones of overcast days and objects in shadow.

In his website galleries you will also find figurative work and a few still life and interior subjects.

Born in Illinois, Barber grew up in California and now lives in Pennsylvania. He studied Studio Art at the University of California at SantaBarbara and Fine Arts at the Art Center College of Design. He also pursued independent study with painters Ken Auster, Craig Nelson and Dan McCaw.

After 20 years as a freelance illustrator, working for book publishers, movie studios and natural history museums, Barber transitioned into gallery art, garnering awards in several juried shows. He also conducts painting workshops in Maryland other locations.

In addition to the work on his own website, you can find some of his paintings reproduced a bit larger on the Peter McPhee Fine Arts site. There are also works at the McBride Gallery and Susan Calloway Fine Arts.

Barber’s work will be part of a group exhibition at Peter McPhee Fine Arts in Stone Harbor, NJ from August 7 – September 1, 2010, with an opening on August 7 at 7pm.

William Stout: Hallucinations

William Stout: Hallucinations
Long time readers of Lines and Colors will know that I have long been an admirer of the work of William Stout. Stout is well know as a paleontological artist, film concept designer, illustrator and comics artist.

His style ranges as widely as his areas of endeavor, but I take particular pleasure in his ink and watercolor drawings.

Stout has a terrific pen and ink style, and his black an white illustrations pop with judiciously applied texture and finessed line work; but when he combines that skill with his talents as a painter, he creates images with visual charm that I find wonderfully appealing.

There have been a number of his illustrations that I’ve encountered over time, scattered here and there for different publications or purposes, that I’ve long wished were available in some more complete form.

I was delighted, then, to receive a review copy of a new book from Flesk Publications that is the first of a pair of editions collecting some of Stout’s best ink and watercolor images.

William Stout: Hallucinations collects his images of characters from film, pulp fiction, pop culture and even Aasop’s Fables, all rendered with that wonderful snap and zing of his pen style and the rich depth of his watercolors. Dragons, fauns, trolls and monsters fill the pages, along with character from the Wizard of Oz and John Carter of Mars.

There are sample images that can be viewed on the Flesk site. You can see more of Stout’s work on his own website.

It’s actually no surprise that I like Stout’s ink and watercolor style so much, in that the list of artist that Stout credits in the introduction with influencing this style are also among my favorites from the great Golden Age of illustration: Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, William Heath Robinson, John Bauer, Gustaf Tenggren and John R. Neill.

Flesk Publications is offering the book in two editions, a hardbound, signed limited edition of 500, and a paperback edition.

The companion volume, William Stout: Inspirations, which collects his ink and watercolor images of women from fantasy and fairy tales, will be released in September of this year.

Both Flesk Publications and William Stout will be at this week’s Comic-Con international in San Diego, CA.