Saturday, May 2, 2015

Segrelles Exhibition in Spain

José Segrelles Tom Thumb
An art museum in Valencia, Spain, has opened an exhibition called "The Labyrinth of Fantasy" about  the dreamlike paintings of José Segrelles (Spanish, 1885-1969—His name is sometimes written as "Josep Segrelles Albert").

Segrelles worked as an illustrator for The Illustrated London News, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Fortune, The American Weekly, and The New York Times. He lived in New York between 1929 and 1935.

The exhibition features more than a hundred watercolors, oils, and pen-and-ink pictures, as well as copies of the magazines and books in which his illustrations appeared.

José Segrelles illustration from Wagner
Many of his pictures evoke the mysterious realms of music, particularly Beethoven and Wagner. He would have been a killer concept artist for Disney's Fantasia.

He was also renowned for his illustrations of Cervantes, H.G. Welles, Dante, Poe and other writers of the mysterious and the macabre. 

José Segrelles The Greedy, illustration from Dante's Inferno
Many artists and movie directors have acknowledged an influence from Segrelles, including Guillermo Del Toro, William Stout, and John Howe.

I hear there's an extensive catalog of the exhibition, and I'll review it if I can get a copy. 
MUVIM Segrelles: The Labyrinth of Fantasy (The MUVIM is short for The Valencian Museum of Illustration and Modernity)
Book: Jose Segrelles Albert: Su vida y su obra (a large monograph in Spanish from the 1980s)

Friday, May 1, 2015

GJ Book Club: Chapter 5: Mass Drawing

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 5, "Mass Drawing," of Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.
In the last chapter, Speed discussed the aesthetics of outline-oriented artwork. He emphasized the innocence and imaginative appeal that such work can have, and he recognized that linear quality in non-Western and earlier European painting. In this chapter, he concentrates on a more impressionist or tonal kind of visual expression, which he calls "mass drawing." Here's his definition:

1. This form of drawing is based on the consideration of flat appearances on the retina, with the knowledge of the felt shapes of objects for the time being forgotten.

Harold Speed, who was born in 1872, was living through two revolutions in how we visually experience the world. One was photography, which was becoming accessible to everyone, and the other was Impressionism, which revolutionized painting. 

To me it's really interesting to see how he was rationalizing this change in consciousness. Speed's explanation of this change of seeing is one of the most articulate in any art instruction book, and I find it inspiring even today. 

2. Las Meninas by Velazquez
Speed recognizes that mass drawing wasn't an entirely new idea, and he credits Velazquez with creating a "painter's picture" from this point of view. I haven't seen the original, and I wonder whether some of you would agree with his discussion of the painting's impact.

3. The Impressionist movement has produced chiefly pictures inspired by the actual world of visual phenomena around us, the older point of view producing most of the pictures deriving their inspiration from the glories of the imagination, the mental world in the mind of the artist.

I think this was largely true in his day, but the two ways of seeing and painting are not mutually exclusive. There have been many artists who have reconciled the two; that is, they painted imaginative pictures with an Impressionist's sense of light and color and edges. 

The illustrators N.C. Wyeth, E.A. Abbey, Tom Lovell and Harry Anderson, whom I've discussed a lot on the blog, come to mind. Ilya Repin's early historical pictures did this, too.

4. Art has gained a new point of view
Speed recognizes not only a new way of painting, but a new range of subject matter that was deemed "ugly" by the older generation. 

And he's quite right to say that the impressionist way of interpreting things allows artists to tackle immensely complex light effects or a profusion of small forms, such as "sunlight through trees in a wood." Once you free yourself from thinking about rendering solid forms, and think instead of capturing visual appearances, anything can be reduced to a retinal impression. 

In Speed's day in Britain, a lot of the impressionist ideas were coming from artists who had gone to the Continent for French training. The "French look" didn't go over too well at first. The old guard of Britain's Royal Academy, such as Poynter and Leighton, were more concerned with traditional subject matter and methods of painting, while the Newlyn School and the Glasgow School were more under the sway of the juste-milieu sensibilities of Bastien-Lepage.

4. Michelangelo / Degas comparison
Speed says that in the Michelangelo, "every muscle and bone has been mentally realised as a concrete thing and the drawing made is an expression of this idea," whereas the Degas was created with a sense of mass shapes. 

According to Speed, Michelangelo's drawing is more of an idealized type, while Degas captured more of a specific individual in a particular moment. So for Speed, these are not superficial distinctions about technique or method, but a whole different way of seeing the world.

I look forward to your thoughts, and I enjoyed the discussion last week.
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bat-Winged Dinosaur Discovered

A bizarre new species of bat-winged dinosaur from China was announced yesterday in Nature magazine

The name Yi qi, (pronounced "ee chee") means "strange wing." The fossil, presented by by Xu Xing, et al., shows evidence of elongated rod-like bones extending from the wrist which would have supported membranous wings.

(Link to video) Although the pigeon-sized animal also had a feathery body coating, the feathers functioned more to regulate body heat, like the fur of a flying squirrel or bat. Whether this Jurassic maniraptoran theropod used its wings to flap or just to glide is still unclear.
Nature: "A bizarre Jurassic maniraptoran theropod with preserved evidence of membranous wings"

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Frederic Church's Oil Sketches

The largest collection of outdoor paintings by Frederic Church (1826-1900) is held by the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York City. They acquired about 2000 of them back in 1917 when Church's son, Louis Palmer Church, was cleaning out the attic.
Frederic Church, Palm Trees and Housetops, Ecuador, May 1857, Cooper Hewitt
Church's field studies are notable for their precision, delicacy, and uber-photographic clarity. He made them not to sell, but as references for his epic studio canvases.

Frederic Church Trees with Vines, Jamaica, 1865, Cooper Hewitt
Church's field studies were painted on paperboard, and are fairly small. This tree study is just 9 x 12.

As finicky and precise as these paintings look, they are painted very efficiently. The sun and clouds moved through the sky as fast for Church as they do for us! 

The paint is applied thinly over a graphite preliminary drawing. Sometimes the drawing is visible through the paint. 

This unfinished sketch of Jerusalem from 1868 shows how he covered the pencil drawing in an "area-by-area" method, thinly, from top to bottom. 

Because of the way oil paint can retain its brush character when it is scrubbed on, he suggests a lot of detail with a bristle brush. The foreground trees seem to have their full complement of leaves, but the light leaf textures are the light-toned board showing through. The line of trees at the bottom probably went down in a matter of seconds.

Find out more
• The Cooper Hewitt is currently exhibiting some of the sketches at the Metropolitan Museum through a special arrangement, since the Met doesn't own any of his studies.
• Currently there are a few of his paintings at an exhibition "Passion for the Exotic" at the Cooper Hewitt, which is on the upper east side of Manhattan.
• There's a book: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch (National Gallery London)
• You can survey the sketches online at the Cooper Hewitt's Frederic Church Sketch Collection. They deserve credit for making the images available to students and scholars. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

World Beneath Podcast, Episode 13

It's Tuesday, time for Episode 13 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.

Arthur and Oriana leave the comparative safety of Bonabba....
....into the wilds of The Rainy Basin, where they are met with two 
strange meateaters....

....and then they discover a secret held by Tyrannosaurus (left)
and Giganotosaurus.

This audio re-creation was produced by ZBS Productions.  Audio producer Tom Lopez and composer Tim Clark created many layers of sound to make Dinotopia come alive to the ears.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 14 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Conductor Paul Phillips

Yesterday we heard a performance by the Brown University Orchestra, led by Conductor and Music Director, Paul Phillips.

I drew the overall silhouette with two brush pens, one filled with clear water and the other with black ink. While that was still wet, I used a black water-soluble colored pencil to define some of the smaller forms.