Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aelbert Cuyp

The Maas at Dordrecht. This is the type of painting that prompted me to start this blog. I like this painting, yet I am realy not sure why. It has a certain serenity to it. The horizon is perfectly horizontal. The sea is calm. The sails are not filled. The sky is a calming shade of blue and only depicts a hint that the weather will not remain pleasant. There are a large number fo ships reaching off into the distance. People are mulling about not doing anything obviously controversial, energetic or out of the ordinary. It simply depicts a quiet day at a sea port. I believe that the mood of the subject matter in this piece is what makes it attractive. One can rest and look at it with being rushed along. There is no sense of urgency and one can wander through it at a leisurely pace, setting the rest of the world aside and taking in the calm of a day near the shore.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Edgar Degas

Impressionism. Love it or hate it, it made it's mark on art history. With Degas, ballerinas dominated a number of his works and even though the subject matter is not my cup of tea, this painting engages me on some level. If you were to remove the figure's upper bodies, this would appear as a mere landscape based on color and shapes in the design. However, adding the figures affects our psyches and start us wondering how they relate to their environment. This painting seems to integrate the two subjects seemlessly. One thing that makes this piece pop for me is the dark contour lines of the figures. Making them seem almost graphic in nature, these back lines accentuate the contours and shadows and set the figures apart from their surrounding environment. Without them, they would most likely blend into the background and be lost in the barrage of colors and brush strokes. Where to use this technique? I for one will keep it in the back of my mind.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Louis Anquetin

For today's image, I have decided to trace back my own art training history to see where it leads. My main painting instructor has been a man named Michael Molnar. Molnar was a student of Joseph Sheppard. Joseph Sheppard was a student of Jacques Maroger. This takes me back to the end of the 19th century. One more step back and I land at Louis Anquetin. Anquetin was a contempory and friend of Toulouse-Lautrec. This may not mean anything to anyone but I have a certain affection for the impressionists and this time period in art history and to be able to trace my teaching directly to that period is exciting for me. The piece I am looking at is called Clichy Avenue. When I look at this piece, I can definitely see similar characteristics to Toulouse-Lautrec and a resemblance to Van Gogh's Starry Night over the Rhone. As I quickly researched, it seems this painting may have actually been an inspiration for Van Gogh's work. The large areas of flat color was common at the time in history and brings to mind Lautrec as well as Gaugin and Cezanne. As I continue to come across, Anquetin uses a complimentary color scheme of blue and oranges balancing the weight of the orange hues with a smaller patch of red-orange in the lower right corner. Most of the figures in this work are abstracted with very few details. The focal point of the piece is the brightest yellow point located in and as the flame of the front lantern. The lantern is shaped as an arrow which leads the eye down to the ground level and into the crown of people. I have always been a fan of Van Gogh's "Rhone" and considering the great similarity of it to this piece, I can appreciate this one as well, especially with the added historical link to my own studies. One word of note is that apparently, Anquetin gave up on this style of painting and instead persued a more academic style which was passed on to his students which is unfortunate as the style shown above as truly intriguing in its own right.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Caravaggio was one sick dude, bottom line. If I am correct in my art history he was a cheat, a murder and most appauling, most likely a pedophile. One of my fellow art students said to me once musingly, "How could you not like a guy who paintings young boys and dead fruit?" For me, it is pretty easy to not like this guy. But his art, that is a different story. Caravaggio's mastery of lighting effects, especially the use of tenebrism and chiaroscurro are probably unmatched in all of art history. This piece, the Conversion of St. Paul is one of my favorites as I was always found of this narrative and Caravaggio seems to have treated this stoy faithfully (unline many other religious based paintings of his). As the story goes, as Paul rode through the desert to Damascaus, God knocked him off his horse and blinded him in order to show His power and convert him to become a follower of Christ. Before this event, Paul was a soldier in the Roman army and his attire relects that. I also notice that Paul was painted with his eyes closed to indicate the blindness that was forced on him. A limited palette was used in this work as well as the signature chiaroscurro which has the forms roll away from the light into almost complete darkness. Caravaggio has a circular compostional design in this piece made up of the arms of Paul, the horse's head back and back leg which allows your eye to move around this entire image picking up details as his sword and the bit in the horse's mouth. The interesting thing about lighting schemes such as this one is that it is not clear where the light source is actually coming from and lends itself to a certain amount of artistic license. Caravaggio may not have been my kind of person, but you have to admit that he could paint.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Paul Kidby

I became familiar with illustrator Paul Kidby's work after picking up his book, "The Art of Discworld" at a company book sale (HarperCollins). Kidby is the illustrator of choice for Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Kidby has a really fun style with modern and comedic takes on medieval imagery and subject matters. In this image, four members of his Rembrandt based Night Watchesque security team stagger home from a night of merriment (probably afterwork happy hour) and entirely miss the fact that they are about to toasted like marshmellows by the pursuant dragon. This is a fun image that still employees a number of the compositional techniques I have discussed in previous posts. The most obvious to me is the color temperature being used. Warm red, yellows, ochres, and browns are used to illuminate the warmth given off by this little village with its torch light and natural structural elements including wood and warmly lit stone. The sky contrasts these warm tones with cooler blues which are also reflected in the dragon back scales, wings and claws. I believe that it is this fine example of warm versus cool tone usage that in addition to the jocular take on the subject matter comes together to make a powerful and entertaining image.

Friday, March 6, 2009

William Holden Hunt

In searching for a new image to analyze, I poked through a number of artists and paintings. Pages and pages of nundescript landscapes and portraits of dead people. I was not seeing and thing that captivated me or was interesting until I came across "The Scapegoat". It was the first image in about 10 minutes that actually made me stop, look at it and then look at it some more. So I thought, why did this particular image captivate me. We have already discussed my attraction to an earthy palette. But there was more than that. We have a long haired goat standing in the middle of a desert. There are dead plants, animal skeletons and an arid landscape surrounding for miles. And then we have this goat standing here. Why? How did he come to this place, this foresaken wasteland? Coming back to the color palette, Hunt has used a similar color scheme for the animal and its surroundings in order to associate the two, yet it seems out of place. It is alone having no other animals sharing in its plight. I believe that the mystery and the narrative in conjunction with the color palette and the odd subject matter, plus the superb rendering of the animal, its shadow and the mountains yields an artistic expression that makes the viewer want to know and see more.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Justin Sweet

Again, I hesitate to use certain contemporary artist's image, especially when an artist has a big disclaimer on their website, but again, this is solely for education purposes and are not being reproduced for profit of any kind, so I hope I am not stepping on any toes. And again, if so, please contact me. That said, off we go.

I had the pleasure of seeing Justin Sweet give two painting demostrations at Illuxcon, one digital and one traditional. Justin Sweet is an imposing man, quiet and thoughtful and extremely intimidating at the same time. But watching him paint was like watching a child play. Nothing comes more natural to a child than playing and the way in which Mr. Sweet wielded his mediums demonstrated the same ease. I am not sure what the title of this piece is and imagine that it is digital (although his style is nearly identical whether it is digital or traditional). This piece portrays an epic battle between a unicorn and a griffin. The unicorn, typically a symbol of light and goodness is poised to battle against a griffin which often times is a darker creature. Mr. Sweet composed this piece so that the griffin is higher in the sky than the unicorn, indicating that it has an advantage. The unicorn is in a weaker position, on the edge of a cliff with no ability to fly as the griffin does. This brings to mind something Tristan Elwell said to me about a Rikki Tiki Tavi illustration that I did. Paraphrasing, he stated that even though the protagonist of the main character is position to be victorious, we must be made to believe that our main character can overcome and be victorious. Mr. Sweet has accomplished this marvelously. Between the body positioning, the energetic wind swept mane, and the exposed underbelly of the griffin, I have no doubt that this battle will end in the unicorn's victory. I wish I had that much faith in Rikki Tiki.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rembrandt van Rijn

Storm on the Sea of Galilee. This painting by the immortal Rembrandt illustrates a moment in the biblical story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee during a storm that threatens to destroy the boat. In the story, the apostles are scared for their lives, even though they are accompanied by their teacher who proclaims he is the Son of God. It is a story of faith. Rembrandts treatment of the story is decidedly accurate compared to the narrative. We have a boat, with 13 people on it in a storm, one being relaxed, reclining on deck and the others acting in a frantic manner. Rembrandt begins there. Then he uses a number of compositional tools that have been discussed in earlier posts, including setting the boat so that the mast bisects the picture plane on a diagonal which creates drama. He uses contrasting value between the waves on the sea and the darker values of the boat to setup drama. The boat itself is situated in an opposing diagonal giving the feel as if all the passenger will fall out into the water. Rembrandt uses a dark value at the bottom of the painting to lend weight to the scene and the stability it creates contrasts the instability of the boat. One point to note is that the rigging leads the eye towards the top right corner, but the strategically placed snapped rigging line draws your eye back into the image leading it back towards the image of Christ. This is a favorite of mine, so much so that I have a reproduction of it hanging on my wall painted by a fellow art student named Darryl McGuinness.