Monday, August 30, 2010

Creative Artists: Thomas Dewing

The turn of the 20th century was a vibrant and changing time for art. There was the full acceptance of Impressionism, the dominating realists and portrait work of Sargent and other like artists, and the birthing of modern art. It was my naive conclusion that all of the highly "creative" painting that would be done at this time would be from the artists blazing the way toward modernism, but through more study, I have found several that were both creative and yet still distinguished representational artists. I did find one artist in particular that jumped right out at me, he was both beyond his time, and still grounded in realism.

Thomas Dewing (1851- 1938) was an American artist born near Boston, trained in Paris at the Académie Julian, and eventually settled in New York City. Dewing is classified as a Tonalist (the most famous Tonalsits being George Inness, James McNeill Whistler, and John H. Twatchtman), and is one of the first painters to apply this predominantly landscape painting approach of tonalism to figure painting. This use of a tonal color palette, his foundation of classical realism and the addition of more impressionistic brush work created extremely unique and mood filled paintings.

In addition to this fairly new style, Dewing also had a unique compositional style that set female figures in full-body poses with plenty of open air, almost like a present day graphic designers use of white space. This slight twist on composition really made me gravitate to these paintings.

There are some designers today that use white space to add breathing room and simplification, while keeping the elements and layout in perfect balance, and then there are bad designers that when given the same elements will produce a barren, unpleasing design because they have poorly placed those elements. I think Dewing must have been a great designer, making him a well rounded artist that combined color harmony, technique, and highly developed skill to create masterful paintings that were unique for their time, and even today.


Friday, August 27, 2010

My Favorite Artists

Christoper Volpe just commented on my last post and asked me who my top 4 artists where. I don't believe I have clearly mentioned them before, so here they are with a bonus of one extra, making it my top 5. They are in no particular order since that depends on my mood and day.

Richard Schmid is the living master. He has been able to absorb almost all of what past art and artists have taught us, and been able to tie it into his own personal style and ideas. I feel his life and painting has set the course and standard for art today and has not only started the revival of representational painting, but also the rise of alla prima and plein air. The day I picked up his book Alla Prima as a freshman in art school was the day I fell in love with painting. I knew then that I wanted to become not just a designer or illustrator, but an artist, and that I would spend anywhere from minutes to hours of each day thinking about or creating paintings for the rest of my life.

Anders Zorn was the contemporary painter of the past. His brushwork, naturalist touches, and everyday beauty makes him just as relevant today as he way back then. I hope that every one of my paintings could have skin tones like his, and could convey the beauty of a person and their surroundings, no matter who the model.

Jeremy Lipking's work echoes the painters of the nineteenth century with his own additions of "wet," long brushstrokes, transparency and luminosity, and moody and deliberate color relationships. If I was asked which contemporary artist in a hundred years would garner the best museum locations and reach the highest prices at auction, Jeremy would be my guess.

John Singer Sargent: Whether a sketch book drawing, watercolor, mural, or oil painting, Sargent holds the place as the greatest artist in the history of man kind. I know all artists and collectors may not hold the same opinion, but chances are, he is still a favorite of theirs. Skill and brushwork are the usual reasons (anyone who can use large, bravado strokes to create an entire arm or pleat of a dress, and sculpt a face with no more that 20 strokes is a genius and master in my book), but another  reason is the reality and mood that he brought to his paintings. The various works of Venice and especially his paintings of bead stringers where the first paintings that made a real mark on me as a high-schooler and got me interested in art.

Quang Ho is a modern day impressionist that holds the ability of creating amazing paintings out of what seems to be random strokes and blotches of color. His paintings are at the top of my list to someday see in person and hopefully even purchase one for my own collection. I secretly have the desire to paint like this, to be able to develop enough skill and technique that I can place the right stroke, in the right place, with the right color and value, combining just enough of them to create a realistic and breathtaking piece of art.

Other artists I adore:

John White Alexander
Carolyn Anderson
Scott Burdick
William Merritt Chase
Nicholai Fechen
Dan Gerhartz
Childe Hassam
Johanna Harmon 
CW Mundy
Ilya Repin
Burton Silverman
Joaquin Sorolla

The list could go on and on, but I've blown enough time as it is, and all this looking at paintings is getting me all excited to paint.  Who are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women

During a recent family vacation, my son and I stopped by Cooperstown, NY and visited the Fenimore Art Museum. Before getting into the great show, museum, and paintings, I would like to do a little promo for Cooperstown.

It happens to be one of those places that just driving through makes a person consider moving. With a beautiful lake, Rockwell like town, and Catskill mountain landscapes that still hold the presence of the Hundson River School, I could easily picture myself living in this nearly perfect town (to bad it's in the middle of nowhere making family and friends to far . . . perfect place for an art colony or commune though!).

Back to the Museum: The Fenimore's collection includes American and New York historical fine and folk arts, including works from the Hudson River School, collections from the Cooper family, various portraits and life masks of historical figures, and a large collection of American Indian art.

 Rosina Ferrara, head of a Capri girl 1878, Oil on paper, 13 x10 1/4

The reason for my visit was the 23 paintings and drawings in their current exhibition entitled "John Singer Sargent: Portraits in Praise of Women". Sargent has always been one of my top four painters (the exact order switches almost daily) and the more Sargent I see, the more impressed and passionate I become.

Lady Eden, 1906 43 x 34 1/2

I cannot stress enough the pleasure and necessity there is in seeing paintings first-hand. I think this current generation is deluged by digital media, and that we are really missing a key part of art when we see these paintings only through our computer screens. To my personal guilt, I have yet to see first hand the works of artists I consider the masters of today. I'm sure I would learn and be invigorated so much, that my own painting would greatly prosper. I tend to think of it like this: if I can see and study paintings through pictures, I will gain knowledge, if I can see them first hand (and if I'm lucky, even touch the paintings), then it will become personal and a true learning experience, and last, if I could ever earn the privilege to paint with those artists I would become a part of that creation, which will directly influence and change me.

Mrs. Abbott Lawrence Rotch, 1903, 56 3/4 x 36 1/4

I was not permitted to take photos of the paintings, so the majority of the images you see are off the web. Because of that, I can't show any great detail, but I can convey some of what I read in the exhibition catalog.

 Resting, 1875, 8 1/2 x 10 9/16

One thought provoking idea within the catalog was the idea that the late 19th century American and European societies were intrigued by more ethnic regions and their people. In the works of Sargent, the people of Spain, Morocco, Middle East, and Southern Italy fit this niche. I find it really interesting that the world at that time thought that Madame X was crossing the line and even extremely provocative while beautiful dancing Spaniards, a nude Egyptian women, and naked men and boys lying on the beach were then and even now hardly ever mentioned. Is this because she was the same race as those making these conclusion? did they view the other paintings as more documentaries on the world, like a national geographic magazine?

 Madame X (Madame Pierre Gautreau) 1883-84, Graphite on paper, 9 3/4 x 13 3/16

The majority of the catalog highlights the history behind each of the paintings, and marries them with Sargent's youth, schooling and travels. It's a great complement to the exhibition, both during the viewing of the actual paintings and as a memento for my shelf. Definitely worth the $25.

 This is my super man telling his mom all about the exhibition (to be completely honest, he was more excited about the path, field, and lake behind the gallery, but he did talk about the paintings a little.)

To see a large gallery of Sargent's work, go to

One last note about Cooperstown, if you didn't know it already, it's the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oil on Wood Study

I have always been interested in the old masters and their various painting techniques. One thing I have been wanting to try was painting on wood. I have previously painted on gessoed panels I prepared myself, but they were to absorbent and I couldn't get the smooth, wet strokes that I like with a fine weave linen canvas.

After researching creative paintings that still embody traditional techniques, I immediately thought back to the wood panel and how it could be used in a more contemporary way. Being a sucker for the beauty of wood, I knew I wanted to make it part of the painting—not just what the painting is on. This use of grain isn't a new idea, but has predominently been used by illustrators, not necessarily fine art.

I just finished this little study to figure out the technical issues and to find out if painting on wood could work for me. I don't know if I'll continue on and develop a large "studio" painting, but I think there are a lot of creative ideas that can evolve from this.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


 Jacqueline Marr, Bubble III

As a child I had a recurring dream of my younger self being able to float around our house. Not flying, but being in a weightless state, hovering up to the ceiling and floating around while my brother and sister were still on the ground. There was a while that I actually thought it was true, that somehow I just grew out of this random ability to defy gravity. I know now that I watched enough TV and thought about it so much that it was always on my mind as I went to bed -- now I dream of ice cream cones and falling off cliffs . . . I wonder what that means . . .

Cali Rezo, Levitation (digital painting)

I think we are all mesmerized and interested in this thing that we will probably never achieve—absolute weightlessness. The crowds watching levitating magicians, inventors vain attempts at personal flight, and maybe even the pasts fascination with angels is proof to that. It is a simple twist of everyday life and it creates countless thoughts and stories every time I see an image depicting it.

 Jeremy Geddes, Heat Death

The current fall issue of Poets and Artists highlights artist Jeremy Geddes and his recent work that portrays hyper realistic scenes of cosmonauts floating in barren urban scenes. In a recent interview with Australian Edge, Jeremy commented about this new body of work:
"With these paintings I’m trying to leave the narrative ambiguous and open to interpretation, whilst juxtaposing enough disparate elements to make some sort of interpretation necessary. I’m keen to never give enough clues to block any potential explanation the viewer might bring. I want to spark questions, rather than answer them."

I thought that this concept of an ambiguous narrative was really interesting and something that has been unconsciously drawing me into various contemporary paintings for a while now. Later in the interview, Jeremy mentions that while he is creating his works, he does have certain concepts and emotions that he attempts to convey, but that he tries to leave it open enough for interpretation.

As we have learned throughout the last century, man has a wonderful time figuring out his own interpretation of art, applying his current situation and emotions to the subject and arriving at his own conclusion. It seems that even if the feelings are bad or repulsive, the viewer is much more likely to walk away from the painting feeling positive about it, simply because he solved it for himself.

In the right hands, and with proper technique, this ambiguity could help move the current standard for art toward a more representational foundation. Capturing the eye of those critics and collectors that interpret art with their own ideas, and handing them a better product to write about.

 Jeremy Geddes, The Cafe

For your further enjoyment, here are two videos that portray some weightlessness . . . .

Michael Zavros, Falling August

Cali Rezo

Monday, August 2, 2010

Creative Artists: Geoffrey Johnson

In an attempt to be more creative with my painting, I am doing a fair amount of research and web browsing to discover something that will spark new ideas and concepts. Over the next few months I will be exploring and experimenting with new concepts as well as keep up my normal painting schedule. I will post the things I find interesting along the way.

When first stumbling on this concept of creative representationalism, one artist in particular came immediately to mind. Geoffrey Johnson, born in 1965, is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy, the first and oldest art school in the US, and has been selling out his shows for years now.

Born in North Carolina and now I believe living in Georgia, Geoffery has an extremely compelling style that fuses still urban landscapes with the movement of figures and crowds. He began his career by painting landscapes much like the one below and eventually began incorporating figures which were soon coupled with monochromatic urban scenes, creating a style and concept that is all his own. Geoffrey's work does border the fine line between aesthetic and representational art, but I doubt there is a collector or gallery that wouldn't love to have one of his works in their collection.

Check out more of Geoffrey's work through his galleries: Principal GalleryShain Gallery, & Hubert Gallery

More thoughts on creative art:
I believe the art community, and myself, should limit ourselves to a strict criteria when it comes to creativity. It's easy to see that modern art has opened the doors to just about any material and technique. While this might make it easy to develop something unique, it might not be creative. Anyone can strap some neon lights and paint on a canvas, or drip paint from a pendulum suspended over a canvas, but that doesn't say anything about our past as painters,  our skill and technique, or the exact feeling and message that we are trying to convey (unless it's chaos). If we limit ourselves to classical techniques and materials, we can insure that our work will stand upon the shoulders of the old masters, as well as the test of time.

Brad Kunkle's work (as described in the post below) uses gold leaf, a technique that was used in the Egyptian pyramids and ancient Rome. The use of gold and oil paint together has been used for centuries, and Brad isn't the only contemporary artist doing it, but he was able to add his own creativity and a high level of skill to create something entirely new.

Graphic designers and agencies do this every day, and in some cases the best advertisements take a unique spin on something common or classical (I saw the below Billboard for McDonalds in my town the other day . . . It's a good example). Imagine if the marketing world took hold of the concepts of modern art, we would probably see car salesmen trying to sell cosmetics by screaming at women and slapping colorful starbursts all over. But yet we see in every makeup ad the idea of "natural" beauty and clean, soft light, as if every model is a Greek goddess (and you too is you buy the stuff).

This narrowing down of materials and techniques (which is still very broad) will produce a potential for higher creativity than would otherwise be possible, and could also gauge what is "acceptable" representational creative art. From an investment point of view, collectors are concerned with the whole gamut of art history and how an artists work fits into it. We have all seen artists fade in and out of popularity, catching the latest trend or it's resurgence. If an artists work could be in sync with the foundations of classical art, while still bringing the current world and his personal thoughts into it, then he has a much better shot of becoming a "new master".

As in my past post, I don't think a painting needs to be more than paint on canvas or board, the use of other materials like gold, silver or who knows what else may be a rough road to travel. As we have seen by Geoffrey Johnson and countless other artists, creativity and sound technique is all you need to create something worth while.