Friday, September 30, 2011

Artist's Name = Widespread Expression

When an artist becomes famous, the nature of that fame usually resides in the images of his work in public's mind. This is different from the fame of movie stars, actors, fashion models and others whose physical appearance is the leading "hook" for public grasping. A few artists are generally recognized by their appearance as well as their work, examples being van Gogh, Lautrec, Picasso and Warhol.

Then there is the odd case where the artist's subject matter becomes a concept that, in turn, is given the artist's name by the public. It's an odd path to artistic immortality, but there it is.

As an American, I naturally think of the Rube Goldberg machine, an elaborate, illogical sequence of odd connections that results in an outcome that could easily have been reached by simpler means.

Above is an example of a Rube Goldberg device and here is the Wikipedia entry for Goldberg who it seems earned an engineering degree from the University of California (Berkeley) before taking up the cartoonist's pen.

If I were British, I would use the term Heath Robinson to refer to the same sort of thing. Below is an example and here is his entry.

Robinson came from a family of illustrators and could whip up some nice, straight work in that field as well as his gizmo cartoons.

I don't know the inner thoughts of Goldberg and Robinson regarding the nature of their fame. But fame of a nice sort is rare, and if I had been them, I'd be happy to accept it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When Eduardo Benito Was in Vogue

Eduardo Benito (1891-1981) was an icon of the Art Deco era. When I was young I enjoyed seeing his work while flipping through library copies of old issues of the Art Directors Annual, a publication that taught me more than any other about the history of commercial art from the late 1920s into the 1950s.

Here is the best biographical information I could find about Benito on the Internet. It seems that magazine publishing magnate Condé Nast kept Benito busy doing covers for Vanity Fair when he wasn't producing Vogue covers for him. Not a bad gig for an illustrator from Spain.


Vogue cover - April 1927

Vanity Fair cover - August 1931

Vogue cover - August 1929

Vanity Fair cover - March 1929

Illustration - 1928

Monday, September 26, 2011

In the Beginning: Gustav Klimt

For a time Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was obscure, but now he is famous if for nothing else than his gilded painting "The Kiss." If you venture into Vienna and cast about for a souvenir, you're likely to encounter one Klimt image or another unless you are truly into stocking up on Mozart candies. His Wikipedia entry is here.

As his career proceeded, Klimt's style became increasingly loose while his colors brightened. His early works were done in a highly academic fashion with a great degree of skill. From what I've seen, I'd have to conclude that Klimt could have practiced in almost any style extant in his times and would have been successful at it. Many other modernists could not handle academic style art well and, perhaps for that reason, quickly moved to modernism because there was little in the way of alternatives.

Let's take a look at some of Klimt's pre-Kiss work:


Fabel - Fable - 1883

Idylle - Idyl - 1884
Click on the image for a large version.

Auditorium of the Alte Burgtheater, Vienna - 1888
This was painted in gouache.

Joseph Pembauer - 1890
Here we find touches of the later Klimt such as the introduction of gilt design in the background.

Liebe - Love - 1895
The painting of the background is in a looser style.

Sonja Knips - 1898
Click on the image for a large version.

Damenbildnis - Portrait of a Lady - 1898-99
Klimt is on the cusp of abandoning his previous academic/naturalistic style for the stylized paintings best known to us today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blogging Note

You might have noticed that my response to comments has been slower and weaker than usual. That's because I've been traveling for most of the last two weeks. The posts you've been reading were written earlier and queued for scheduled later release. I'm writing this in artsy Taos, New Mexico and will post about it if I see anything interesting enough to merit doing so.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Design at Your Fingertips

No doubt the concept (in rudimentary form, perhaps) has been around for ages. And perhaps someone else articulated it clearly earlier, but the guy I'm aware of who built a highly successful career around ergonomics and human factors was industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. As the result of reading his book Designing for People when I aspired to be an industrial designer, along with a lot of interaction experience with various devices in the years since, I pay a lot of attention to the quality of interaction with tools of various kinds.

This post lightly touches on the subject of computer keyboards, something I and most readers of this blog deal with often. It's not a comprehensive survey; I have some illustrations below, a few comments and a wistful conclusion. Feel free to toss in your two Euro-cents (while they last!) in our new, improved, faster publishing Comments link at the bottom.


Apple II computer - 1977
Early Apples integrated the keyboard with the body of the machine. I suppose this helped keep costs down a little, but it forced users to be in a fixed position while typing.

IBM PC - early 1980s
The IBM PC featured a keyboard tethered to the system unit. This allowed a user to work with the keyboard on his lap or in other convenient positions: greater freedom. The keyboard had a nice touch along with a click-clack aural feedback. I bought my PC in May, 1983 and really liked the keyboard (which was probably relatively expensive to produce).

Microsoft ergonomic keyboard
Microsoft wireless keyboard
Flexible, waterproof keyboard
Combimouse keyboard
The set of keyboards shown above indicate the variety of ergonomic and other solutions that are or have been on the market. I haven't tried any of them, so I can't comment as to their effectiveness in aiding typing. The reason I haven't tried them is because, unlike some office workers, I seldom engage in extended typing sessions on a computer. When I compose a blog post such as this I'll write a few sentences and then pause to consider what I wrote, taking my hands away from the keyboard. And, in any case, these posts aren't long. Similar thing if I'm writing a computer program: write a few lines of code and then think and perhaps run a test.

But in theory those warped-looking keyboards should be in better synch with one's body. Try dropping your hands before you on a table. Note how your forearms tend to converge, forming something like a 90 degree angle to one another. If your hands are extended, the bones of your middle finger should fall along the same axis as the forearm. But when typing on a standard keyboard, the wrists will have to turn outward a bit so that the hands can cover the board better; this breaks the fingerbone-forearm axis I just mentioned. Warped keyboards tend to preserve that axis.

Apple iMac keyboard
I have an iMac and paid extra for this keyboard which is larger than the basic one (which is like that of a MacBook laptop computer). This keyboard has, among other additions, a key allowing for forward-deletes and a numeric pad, two features that make the extra cost worthwhile to me.

Apple MacBook Air
I also have one of these. For some time Apple keyboards have had flat keys that (for me, anyway) took some adjusting, though I've now adjusted my "touch" accordingly (but still don't like it). I can understand why those flat keys are used in slim laptops such as the Air; tall keys would require a thicker computer.

So why didn't Apple provide better (for me, at least) keys on desktop machines? To cut costs, probably -- though their computers are pretty pricey and probably profitable enough to warrant the added cost of a decent keyboard for iMacs.

Apple iPad virtual keyboard
I've only tried the iPad virtual keyboard briefly -- I used it to bring up this blog on an iPad at an Apple Store. So I know it works, but have no idea as to how well I could knock out an email or blog text using it.

Conclusion? Thirty years later, the IBM PC keyboard is still the best, though I concede the necessity for flat keys on slim laptop computers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bunny Art

Australian painter Rupert Charles Wulsten Bunny (1864-1947) was stuck with a last name that I consider unfortunate, though I don't know his take on the matter. To me, "Bunny" is unserious. On the other hand, it's distinctive, so might have been an marketing asset.

Setting this aside, he seems to have been a skilled painter who produced some interesting works. I can't recall seeing any of his paintings either in the USA or Europe. Many are in Australia, which I've never visited. Therefore accept what I just said as a provisional take.

There is a Wikipedia entry on Bunny here, but it's quite brief. A more comprehensive biographical not is here and a short one here.

Below are examples of his work.


A Summer Morning - 1897
Dolce farniente (Sweet Idleness) - c.1897
These are two earlier works.

Nellie Melba - 1901-02
CF Keary
Two portraits, the upper one of the famous Australian opera singer.

Return from the Garden - c.1906
Nocturne - c.1908
A Summer Morning - c.1908
Three paintings from the same period.

The Sun Bath - 1913
This was painted on his return to Paris from a visit to Australia. Note the more impressionistic style.

Muses Plucking the Wings of Sirens - c. 1922
An even later work. Bunny seems to have believed that he wasn't Modernist so, like so many other artists of his time, made an effort. If he tried this because his earlier style wasn't selling, I can sympathize even though the result isn't as impressive as his earlier works.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dictators, Portrayed

If you're a dictator, l'état c'est moi is the real deal. So if the nation requires glorification, you must humbly submit to at least a small dose of same.

In the age of photography, portrait painting seems to have taken a back seat to the lens and darkroom where dictators are concerned. Nevertheless, paintings were produced for many of the leading dictators of the era 1920-50.

My guess is that the Soviet Union's Stalin was depicted in paint the most. These paintings weren't not necessarily portraits; a good many showed him with workers, children, et cetera gathered around him or in other genre settings.

Stalin and China's Mao Tse-Tung had their faces on huge banners, but that's something different from a formal portrait; our Mao example is in fact a poster. Adolf Hitler, despite of or perhaps because of his background as a painter (of architecture, mostly) tended to favor photographers.

Below are examples of dictator portraits.


Joseph Stalin by Victor Oreshnikov - 1948

Adolf Hitler by Jacobs

Francisco Franco

Mao Tse-Tung poster

Jozef Pilsudski by Wojciech Kossak - 1928

Benito Mussolini by Gerardo Dottori - 1933

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gary Larson: Best Single-Panel Cartoonist?

What's considered funny varies from person to person. I find Gary Larson's "The Far Side" cartoons such as those above hysterical: my wife doesn't get them. Nevertheless, she's happy to say "Hi" to Gary and his wife if we cross their path while taking an evening stroll. (The Larsons live in a nicer neighborhood than ours, but only three blocks away from us.)

A lengthy Wikipedia entry on Larson is here.

I'd better qualify this post's headline. By one-panel cartoons, I'm restricting the meaning to syndicated newspaper cartoons, but needed to keep the headline short so didn't elaborate. Single-panel magazine cartoons such as in the New Yorker are another matter, and my top names there would include Charles Addams and Peter Arno.

I enjoyed The Far Side because of the quirky humor, the unexpected situations and his cast of occasionally-reappearing characters and stereotypes. Added to this was his drawing style -- clear and not cluttered layouts coupled with amusingly designed, often dumpy humans, not to mention animals and other creatures with personality. Text and illustration often provided the viewer with several things to chuckle over and not just a punchline.

Consider Gary Larson a cartoonist totally in synch with the times in which he was active.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Koloman Moser Did It All

Koloman Moser (1868-1918) was one of the leading lights of the Vienna Secession and probably the most versatile of the lot. He designed furniture, posters, stained glass windows and household objects besides doing a little painting. Moreover, the work he did was generally of very high quality (with an exception noted below).

Biographical information on Moser can be found here and here. There are books about him as well; check Amazon or another web site for details.

Here are a few examples of his work:


Poster design (not used) for first Secession exhibit - 1898

Poster design - "Read!"

Frommes calendar - 1899

Secession Exhibition poster - 1902

Window, Steinhof chapel - 1905

Cruet stand - 1904-05

100 Crown banknote, Austria-Hungary Bank - 1910

The Three Graces
For some reason Moser was not adept at painting, or so I think. This one is better than most, but still rather messy compared to the clean, well-designed posters, bookmarks and other graphic work he produced.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lawren Harris: Strong Canadian

Lawren Harris (1885-1970) came from a rich family. That's helpful if you want to make painting your career. And was Canadian. For some reason that's not so helpful if you want to become a world-renowned painter.

At least Harris had the advantage of being a member of Canada's most celebrated artistic ensemble, the Group of Seven, a collection of painters he subtly helped financially during their early, struggling years.

Since I started blogging six years ago at 2Blowhards I've been forced by the requirement to come up with new posts to broaden my art history horizons beyond the Received Modernist Narrative that I experienced in college. What I discovered were a good many very good painters who had the art-historical misfortune to ply their trade outside of Paris for much of their careers.

So it is with Harris. I have trouble distinguishing "good" and "great" in everything from spaghetti sauce to portraiture -- at a certain point the evaluation becomes more subjective than ever. Let me just say that I think Harris was very good. And versatile, too. See below.


Mt. Lefroy - 1930
Harris painted many landscapes in this vein -- in the same spirit as his near-contemporary Rockwell Kent.

The Corner Store - 1912
An early painting. He also did a number of townscapes.

Pine Tree and Red House - 1924
Later on he came up with this blend of townscape and snowy/icy scene. Hard to avoid for a Canadian painter unless you're based in Victoria.

Mrs. Oscar Taylor - 1920
Harris could paint portraits too. This one has a whiff of modernist simplifying, but not enough to overwhelm the subject (as so often happened with other artists of the time).

Dr. Salem Bland - 1924
Another solid portrait.