Thursday, May 29, 2008

Accordions and Monsters

I’ve been doing a lousy job with the homework assignment that my unexpected visitors gave me earlier in the week. They handed me a little book and asked me to read it, but I only spent about five seconds flipping through it, looking for pictures.


Some of those pictures were pretty darn good, at least from a technical standpoint.

It’s nice to see that there are accordions in heaven. But all those happy, smiling people start to get on my nerves, even though I’m a guy who paints utopias!

I thought of a quote from the artist Jean Giraud:

"One is never made only of light or darkness, but both. I believe I have always encouraged artists to express their duality, telling people who know how to show pain, horror and anger in their work to also look for ways of expressing their other face, the angelic face, the face of joy; but also encouraging those who express their inner beauty to accept their other side, their dark side, and express their pain and anger.”

I agree with Mr. Giraud that each of us has to make an effort to develop the opposite side of our vision. My own creation of Dinotopia tends toward the rosy or whimsical side of life—though it does have its share of cheats and scoundrels.

There’s a darker side of me an artist that I have to give voice to once in a while. Back in 1990 I painted a monster for a science fiction paperback called “Total War.”
This is the sanitized version: the original version had a lot more blood dripping down the knife and the jaw. I thought I’d go all out. The art director sent it back and asked me to clean it up a bit.

I sculpted a clay maquette first to really figure out the form, and lit it with separate colored lights. This tone paper sketch was the only form reference I used; I didn’t take photos of the maquette, but used this study instead.

This paperback cover is not a masterpiece. It’s as shallow as a lot of modern art that tries to do nothing more than shock. It’s as one-dimensional as the painting of smiling people with accordions.

In my heart I believe the greatest works of art weave light and dark elements inextricably together. This is the hallmark of the great works by Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Rembrandt. Sublimity is mixed with banality; joy with suffering; kindness with cruelty; beauty with ugliness. That is what our life is like. We are composed of light and clay.

Thanks to Pharyngula for spotlighting the post on the unexpected visitors.

18 comments:

Victor said...

This is a beautiful post. I really enjoy your more introspective writing. From reading Dinotopia and my limited experience talking to you in person, you always seemed like a pretty sunny, idealistic person. Reading about your flirtations with the dark side adds another fascinating dimension to my perception of you.

Scott Radtke said...

What, no electric guitars? I think they accidentally gave you the brochure about hell. Those insipidly smiling people would make me go bananas. For your readers, Jean Giraud goes by another name: Moebius. One of the all-time giants. Great post Jim.

Kat said...

We got a few of those brochures at home too. A few young men would come and talk to my grandfather but I think they've given up on trying to convert him. They just spend the afternoon drinking coffee and talking about everything.

Kyler Dannels said...

This post gave me a lot of insight into my goals as an artist. Thanks so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge and creativity.

Erik Bongers said...
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Moyse said...

I love your blog, read it every day. I agree that duality exists in all of us, so if we want more people to connect with our art, we have to be willing to include both sides at some point.

Erik Bongers said...

Wow, this is a great philosophical post! But a lot of issues mixed together.
1. Hear hear for dualities!
(or layers or sides or depth or whatever it's called in art-talk)

2. Although Jean Giraud is one of my favorites, be carefull in quoting him in the religious context : he's very spiritial in the strangest ways: food, sexuality and dreams(of course).
Hell, he even joined a sect for a while! Imagine Jean Giraud at your door: "Fear dze futzure! Read dze booque! Dze Incal vill zave uz and Arzach iz dze profet!"

3. About the dark side. You know, this 'dark side' will always sneak into work that you don't really like and that you just do to pay the bills. Belgian comic book artist Francois Schuiten was once asked by a major bank to do a mural in their new office building. The proposal he came up with was a scetch of loggers cutting down giant trees to make way for highrise office buildings - some of which were already dooming up in the background.
His proposal was not accepted.

John P. Baumlin said...

There can be no light without darkness, in art or in (after)life.
It's a nice picture, all those smiling, happy people, but I wonder: if it were like this all the time, would it really be happiness at all? It all seems rather naive and oppressive.
I liked the way you used the opportunity from your visitors to make it a profitable experience for everyone. It would be nice to think they learned something from you other than artists are nice people.

craigstephens said...

I too have always been impressed with the quality of the illustrations in those little pamphlets. They sort of remind me of socialist realism but not as heroic.

craigstephens said...
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Augie said...

Ha! Mr. Gurney, I love that even when those guys come knockin at your door you can still find something to study art wise. Coming from a family that used to study those books (not any more mind you)I love that you posted that painting from the brochure. A bible with pictures? That was the only thing that kept me from getting bored as a kid. That, and drawing in the margins.

Hannah JS Davis said...

Too much Pleasantville ;)

K_tigress said...

What is wrong with a little Pleasantville? The world is too dark as it is.

PS The pics are very enjoyable and pleasant to look at.

LionD'Art said...

Completely agree with you and Giraud. Keep listening to the french, they are wiser than they seem.

On the other hand, that picture of paradise seems extremely BORING. I would like to see your monster appear there and EAT some accordions, guitars and other instruments along with their respective owner. :P

It's not just a matter of connecting with your dark side... It's just about FUN.

Andrew Wales said...

I'm not a big fan of painters who paint the ideal landscape or do paintings of "heaven". If it's just too perfect, to me it's like way too much frosting on a cupcake.

Give me one of Wyeth's old rusty buckets any day.

There's something about painting the ugly or negative that says something about life. There is sorrow and tragedy and you can really feel it in these things.

That's why I like Dinotopia -- he even shows us how they get rid of the dung! Actually, one of my favorite paintings I've seen of Gurney's is a gumball machine. That really appeals to my pop art streak. Life and nature is beautiful and stunning, and man's touch is often absurd but intriguing.

I don't mean to step on any toes. Art likes are very personal. I have a Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip of a dog with a painting of a fire hydrant. It reads, "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like."

dunn said...

Your Unexpected Visitors post intrigued me, and I'd like to point out one correction to this post. This image is not a depiction of heaven, but rather the planet earth in it's originally intended condition, the Edenic paradise that was lost by Adam and Eve.

I'm amused and yet saddened at the comments that seem to be repulsed by the concept of eternal happiness. Probably too foreign a concept under the current world conditions.

Lily said...

The picture with the accordian does not depict heaven. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that only a limited amount go to heaven with Christ, 144,000. This scene is of the earth, but AFTER the wicked (pretty much everyone but JW's) are destroyed at Armaggedon and the survivors restore it to it's original paradise condition (Garden of Eden). That's what your visitors were telling you when they said that the end is near. Used to be one, don't want to be one again . . .

Stephen James. said...

Ah the Watchtower society and their pamphlets. I kind of collected them for a while. Ironically I went out with a woman earlier this week who's mother recently converted to Jehovah's Witnesses. She and I talked about it over dinner.