Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Book Review: The Art of Still Life

Since the Egyptians, artists have painted carefully arranged objects. The English term "still life" derives from the Dutch word stilleven. The 17th-century Dutch artists developed the genre to include food, flowers, skulls, and game animals, all of which were laden with religious or symbolic associations.

Todd Casey, Birth of a Kamikaze, Oil on Linen 18x24, 2015.
The 19th-century French painters called it nature morte, or "dead nature." It became, among other things, a vehicle for explorations of line, shape, tone, color, and technique.

Still life by Todd Casey
Painting inanimate objects under controlled conditions has always served as a laboratory for artists to study the behavior of light and form. To this day, still life setups are a regular part of atelier practice. Students arrange food, flowers, jars, toys, or other objects under artificial lights and strive to capture an illusion of reality.

Todd Casey, Plymouth Cheese
In his upcoming book "The Art of Still Life: A Contemporary Guide to Classical Techniques, Composition, and Painting in Oil," Todd Casey examines the history and modern practice of still life painting. 

(Full disclosure: the publisher sent me an advance copy of the book, which includes two of my own still life paintings that were executed in live locations, such as a diner and a laundromat.)

Casey received his academic training at the Water Street Atelier in New York under Jacob Collins, and before that he studied animation at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. He currently teaches at the Art Students League in New York.

The book begins with an overview of the still life genre by art historian Gabriel Weisberg, and historical samples are peppered throughout the book.

John Singer Sargent, My Dining Room, 29 x 24 inches, Smith College

After an introduction that tells his personal story, Casey shares his knowledge about oil painting in a series of clear-headed explanations, demonstrations, and exercises. The book covers materials for drawing and painting, principles of composition, light and shadow, drawing procedure, color theory, modeling of form, and paint technique.

It ends with a practical step-by-step guide that walks you through all the decisions you'll need to make as you execute a painting from start to finish. The coverage would be helpful for any artist, beginner or advanced, and whether or not they specialize in still life. It is rare for an art book to combine history, theory, and practice in one volume, but this book really delivers.

The Art of Still Life is published by Monacelli Studio, hardcover, 9x11.5 inches, 320 pages. The release date is February 18, 2020, but you can preorder a copy now.

Todd Casey's website
Wikipedia on Still Life


Tom Hart said...

Although I've made a concerted effort to limit additions to my collection of technique books this one is really tempting. (I'm checking out Todd Casey's website now to see if that further convinces me.) A couple of side notes: Trekell just announced that Todd is their new pro-team artist. It's probably a symbiotic relationship that involves mutual endorsements, but it seems to me that the honor is well deserved. The Sargent included in James's article (My Dining Room) is stunning. I had the opportunity to see it close up several times when I lived in the Northampton area. What can I say other than it's typical Sargent? But somehow, because it's so clearly alla prima, his "hand" is even more alive than usual in the brushwork.

Roberto Quintana said...

Matilda Marcolli has an excellent chapter on the history and development of the Still-Life, in her recent book on Art and Science -RQ

Lumen Naturae: Visions of the Abstract in Art and Mathematics