Monday, October 31, 2011

Alphonse de Neuville: War Art Master

When I wrote about combat art a while ago I mentioned that I thought that the best of the examples shown was a painting by Alphonse de Neuville (1835-1885). Actually, as I sit typing this post, I can't think of an artist who did that kind of job better. But if I do come across a better combat artist, I'll let you know.

Here are examples of his work dealing with the Franco-Prussian War:


Les dernières Cartouches - 1873
This is Neuville's most famous painting, depicting surrounded French troops fighting at the point where their last cartridges are about to be expended.

Attaque, par le feu, d'une maison barricadée et crénelée - 1875
Aside from some corpses, not many men are to be seen in this urban skirmish.

Défense de la porte de Longboyau - 1879
Neuville liked to paint lots of men at dramatic moments. And he seldom failed to include wounded and dead soldiers.

Bivouac devant le Bourget, après le combat du 21 Décembre 1870 - 1872
A moment of calm following a battle near where Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis 57 years later.

Le cimetière de Saint-Privat (18 Août 1870) - c.1881
Once again German troops are about to breech a French defense in the war that cost Napoleon III his throne.

Scène de combat dans une église - c.1881
Neuville loved to include a lot of atmosphere; note the smoke from gunpowder.

Un porteur de dépêches: Sainte-Maries-Aux-Chênes, près de Metz (Septembre 1870) - c.1881
A comparatively calm scene where a French courier disguised as a peasant is brought before Prussian officers. Because he is not in uniform, he likely will be executed.

A Cavalryman - 1884
Neuville also painted studies of various soldiers.

Neuville's Wikipedia entry is here. And there is a recently published book about him.

I see that Amazon lists it, but I bought my copy through their French site ( It has plenty of reproductions including some full-page detail views. The text is in French and mostly comprised of quotes from reviews of his works along with some of his family correspondence. I considered the pictures more than enough to justify the price.

As for seeing his works in person, the Metropolitan in New York has one, but I suspect it isn't on display (let me know if I guessed wrong). You can see some of his work in Paris at the Musée de l'Armée, but otherwise you'll probably have to rent a car to track down his most important paintings elsewhere in France.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Turner Prize Finalists 2011

It's Turner Prize time in Britain. This year's winner hasn't been announced yet, but the four finalist are known.

As the link above notes, the prize is given for recently completed works usually in the postmodern Concept Art genre. Examples of finalists' work are shown below.


What to Ask for Others - Karla Black - 2011

A Library of Leaves - Martin Boyce

Man - Hilary Lloyd - 2010

The Resurface - George Shaw - 2011

I'm not sure why Shaw's painting made the grade. That's because (1) it's an actual painting and (2) there isn't much concept to it. I suppose the concept part is that he focuses on drab, commonplace subject-matter that a viewer is supposed (I assume) to read meaning into.

Black seems to be following the Marcel Duchamp path of designating whatever the self-proclaimed artists designates as art. Lloyd's piece is projected images, possibly video, though I can't rule out the positioning of the projectors as part of the Installation. Boyce's work can be considered some kind of sculpture.

The works of the latter three are the usual grist that can be found in the Tate Modern. I don't consider most of it art.

My problem is that the term "art" has been watered down (Duchamp's legacy) to the point where anything can be called "art." But if anything runs the risk of being "art," then art is nothing special and the term becomes meaningless.

Something created by a human being that pleases the eye might be considered art; this removes art a step from the proclaimed "art" by the self-proclaimed "artist" noted above. I'm willing to accept this as small-"a" art which this blog deals with it a fair amount.

Then there's capital-"A" Art which I define for the purpose of this post as the traditional Fine Arts.

Turner Prize art mostly falls in the first and (to some extent) second categories just mentioned. Sad to say for the Turnerites, such art has little likely long-term future in the sense that viewers a century from now probably will be less able to grasp the Concepts than the average viewer-in-the-street can today.

I find the Turner Prize both sad and silly. Its main worth is that it demonstrates how far Establishment art has fallen as modernism continues its aimless course.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bernie Fuchs in Telluride

I am kicking myself. Really hard. You see, I was in Telluride, Colorado, the old mining town - cum - deluxe ski resort in September and had totally forgotten that illustration master Bernie Fuchs painted views of the area and was the subject of a major exhibit in a gallery there a year or so before he died. I have a copy of the catalog and had I remembered to do so, I could have brought it along and correlated his Telluride scenes with what I was observing. This would have been interesting because artists necessarily have to be at least a little selective in what details they paint and also can invoke artistic license if deemed necessary.

For readers not familiar with Fuchs, here is his Washington Post obituary, here is a post by David Apatoff, a blogger who knew Fuchs personally and here is the Web site of the Telluride Gallery which held the exhibit and sells his works.

Since I didn't duplicate Fuchs' points of view, the best I can do here is pair two of his paintings with two of my photos that deal with the same subjects, but from different viewpoints. Also, he painted in winter whereas my photo showing mountains includes a dusting from an early storm that passed through two days earlier.

Telluride Looking East - 2007

Looking down East Colorado Avenue

Fuchs placed himself a block or two farther east than from where I shot my photo. His painting has a telephoto lens perspective, so it's quite possible that he worked up the painting from a reference photograph.

Winter Noon on Main Street - 2008

New Sheridan Hotel

My shot of the old (but recently restored) New Sheridan was taken from directly across the street whereas Fuchs seems to have selected the lane in the middle of Easy Colorado that is used as a zone for temporary parking for unloading while checking into the hotel.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Adam Hughes Draws Cover Babes

The best comic book art is usually found on the covers. That's because an artist can spend more time on a cover illustration than on any one of all the panels required for inside illustration. Oh, and the publisher always wants a flash cover that will generate sales, so that adds to the motivation.

An illustrator whose career has focused on cover art is Adam Hughes (born 1967). His Wikipedia entry is here, his web site here and he also has posted work and comments here.

The image above is the cover of his book dealing with cover work done for DC over the last 20 years along with other items. It seems to be doing well because the copy I recently bought is from the fourth printing.

Allow me to confess that I don't follow the comic book trade nor that of the graphic novels field. It's all so complicated these days what with editors and writers valiantly trying to keep their products fresh by reinventing backstories, creating alternative universes, assembling new character juxtapositions and diving headlong into politically correct themes. When I was a kid reading comic books, the superheroes simply went about their business of dealing with criminals of various sorts.

Another change from the good old days -- one that I approve of -- is the improved quality of cover art. Nowadays there is a body of illustrators who create dramatic scenes whose impact is heightened by the sound drawing and anatomical knowledge of the artist. Such illustrations and their creators are so prized that collections of their work are published in book form, as is the case for Hughes.

But Adam Hughes differs from the rest of that pack: he includes humor and a general light touch as opposed to depicting stern scenes of superheros in conflict with their opposition. Examples are shown below.

I wish I knew more about Hughes' background. He was born and raised in New Jersey but spent most of his career in Atlanta. He has called himself a high school dropout and on another occasion claimed that he didn't go to college because he was, as he has put it, too middle class to get financial aid and didn't muster the grades and test scores to earn a scholarship. As for art, he is essentially self-taught, which is probably a good thing; the usual art school training would have wasted a lot of his time.

That said, Hughes comes off as a sharp cookie in the commentaries he likes to make on many of his works. He knows art history and color theory plus a good deal of general history and other useful knowledge. I didn't catch any serious errors while reading through those commentaries. And by the way, those commentaries are salted with humorous bits; buy the book and enjoy!

Catwoman head rendering stages
This shows stages of Catwoman's head as it appears on the book cover. The image to the left is in ink and colored markers. It was scanned into Photoshop where coloring, shading and other details were added; this is Hughes' typical approach, though his convention demonstrations go no further than the ink and marker stage.

Cover art for Catwoman No. 56
This isn't Catwoman, but instead her apprentice Holly who's recuperating at a diner after a rough night learning the cat burglar trade.

Power Girl
The Power Girl character is mega-stacked, and Hughes had some fun with it here.

Bookplate for Hughes' San Diego Comic-Con materials
Hughes is a big Art Nouveau fan and likes to use that style when he can get away with it. That's Wonder Woman, by the way.

Wonder Woman and Lois Lane dish while Superman ponders
Besides Catwoman, Hughes did a lot of Wonder Woman covers. He likes this illustration a lot because Wonder Woman is relaxed and smiling, which he feels is her true character.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Small Cars get Sexier

Small cars sold in America are generally cheap to buy. They also usually look cheap. That's because labor costs for building a small car aren't much less that the cost of assembling a larger car. So what suffers is appearance.

Small cars use less material than larger cars, but not grossly less. What they don't usually have are parts made from top-quality materials. That is, instrument panel knobs and switches are made of cheap plastic, seats are simple and covered with comparatively inexpensive cloth, wheels feature small hubcaps or phoney-metallic disks made of plastic and so forth. Body shapes tend to be simple as well. Rather than fluid lines and dips and creases requiring multiple metal press strikes, sheet metal is usually shaped using as few strikes as possible to cut fabrication costs.

A major exception to all this was the original Volkswagen Beetle that hit American shores in the 1950s. VWs, while not luxurious, were clearly well made and were a sales success.

In the last few years run-of-the-mill small cars are being challenged by new models featuring styling that's as flashy as that used on much more expensive models. Hyundai and Ford are leading the charge; if their sales are good, other makers will have to follow suit.


Chevrolet Cobalt - 2007
The Cobalt features some metal sculpting along the sides, but other body panels are generally simple. It looks cheap to me.

Kia Rio - 2009
The same goes for the Rio, a truly basic car.

Ford Focus - 2011
This is Ford's latest iteration of its popular Focus model. It's a European car with modifications required by American regulations and consumer tastes. Note the fancy sheet medal work; it's a lot classier looking than the Cobalt and Rio shown above.

Hyundai Elantra - 2011
The Elantra is also heavily sculpted, providing an image that doesn't seem cheap.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Illustrators and World War 2

Once upon a time there was a war on, and nearly everyone pitched in to fight or provide support for those who did.

This was true for illustrators and the clients they worked for. World War 2 illustrations and photos in American advertisements (along with some stray government promotional works, editorial content and even comic strip panels) are the subject of a book by the Frenchman Georges Grod who came to love American aircraft and related advertising as a boy at the time of the Liberation. The cover with a fine J.C. Leyendecker illustration for Goodyear Aircraft (yes, the tire company built planes too) is shown above and a link to Amazon is here.

Although illustrations are scattered throughout the book, one chapter is devoted to illustrators organized alphabetically. Each illustrator is given a short biographical note and examples of his work in war advertising are shown nearby. Featured illustrators include Melbourne Brindle, Reynolds Brown, John Gannam, Clayton Knight, Jo Kotula, Fred Ludekens, Paul Rabut, Noel Sickles, Thornton Utz and even Coby Whitmore.

Some advertisers used ads to push their products, but did this in the framework of wartime. Others such as automobile companies no longer had products to sell, but advertised their war manufacturing in part to remind people that they were still in business and (perhaps) to keep their name in mind for after the war. In many cases advertisers were able to make a strong link to the war effort, but others sometimes had a large stretch to do so. Below are a few examples I located on the Web.

By Dean Cornwell

By Saul Tepper

By Ray Prohaska

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ernest Blumenschein: Moderately Modernist

Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960) was building a career as an illustrator when the supplies wagon he and another artist were using while touring the Southwest broke down near Taos, New Mexico. This event served as the catalyst for his eventual abandonment of illustration and move to Taos to practice a career as a fine arts painter and leading light of the artist colony that developed there.

Biographical details can be found on WIkipedia (here) and this link. I recently wrote about his home here.

A fairly recent book about him discusses his relationship to the modernist movement which he began to embrace in the early 1920s. Compared to other Taos art colony painters, Blumenschein and a few others regarded themselves as progressives rather than conservative in their artistic styles. But the book also notes that towards the end of his long career, he held doubts regarding the Abstract Expressionism that epitomized modernism by the 1950s.

From my 2011 perch, I find only the mildest whiff of modernism in Blumenschein's post-1922 works. Yes, he simplified shapes of hills, trees and people. But no more so than many other artists of the day such as Grant Wood. Poor Blumenschein was never able to break away from his art training and illustration background to the point of gross distortion as Picasso, George Grosz and other were doing.

Below are examples of Blumenschein's fine art work. There might be examples of his illustration on the Internet but, alas, I didn't notice any. (He turned out good work and could have had a distinguished career had he stuck with illustration.)

Taos Indian Holding a Water Jar - 1911
This is the earliest example I could find. It's a competent, illustration-like work with Impressionist color touches; illustrator N.C. Wyeth was painting in a similar fashion at the time.

Star Road and White Sun - 1920
This is perhaps Blumenschein's best known painting.

Superstition - 1921
Another example of his pre-modernist work, though it does exhibit considerable picture-plane flatness and decorative touches.

Sangre de Cristo Mountains - 1925
Simplification of forms and other stylizing are obvious here. Other artists 1925-35 took a similar approach, but depicted parts of the country such as Iowa or New England.

Canyon Red and Black - 1934
Stylization is less obtrusive in this painting.

The Chief Goes Through - 1956
Towards the end of his career Blumenschein was painting townscapes as well as landscapes. Simplification is present, but not grossly so. The "Chief" in the title is the Santa Fe railroad's Super Chief passenger train seen at the right.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Floating Fifties Furniture

Last week I paid a brief visit to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (Canada), mostly because I'd never gotten around to visiting the place on previous visits and thought it was high time I did so.

The museum is modest in scale because the Victoria metro area is not large. The main exhibit when I was there had to do with the art of Victoria native Emily Carr, but it too was of modest scope.

An exhibit that aroused enough interest to justify a blog post had to do with Canadian furniture and industrial design from the late 1940s into the 1960s. I'll skip over the hi-fi sets and tabletop radios to focus on the furniture style which I'd half forgotten. Although the objects were Canadian, the core style is close to what was being done in the United States and elsewhere at the time.

The photos above are of objects in rough chronological order (if my all-too-quick glance at the information plaques sank in correctly). The top photo deals with the late 1940s and early 50s, the middle with the mid-to-late fifties and the bottom one with the late 50s and early 1960s.

Judging by appearance alone and not any designers' statements of intent, the goal was an appearance of lightness. This was in contrast to "heavy," "substantial" styles of traditional furniture. Horizontal elements tend to be thin. legs and supports are often in the form of thin metal dowels painted black so as not to intrude on the "floating" effect created by the bright or light colored horizontal bits.

A popular contemporaneous style was Danish or Scandinavian modern. Such furniture usually featured wood and fabric (which material and to what degree depending on function). It too tended to be uncluttered, but usually seemed more substantial than the rather extreme look pictured above.

From an interior and furniture design standpoint, the 1950s seem to represent an extreme of the modernist movement in keeping with Abstract Expressionism in painting which peaked at the same time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Taos Artist House-Museums

Taos, New Mexico became an artist colony beginning around the turn of the 20th century. Its start is generally reckoned as the breakdown of a wagon that illustrator Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960) and a fellow artist were using while exploring the American southwest. Blumenschein stumbled into Taos, New Mexico, the nearest town, and became enthralled by the scenery and quality of light. As time went on, other artists, including Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955) came to spend all or part of their time in the Taos area. Santa Fe, about 70 miles distant, collected its own set of painters.

The residences of Blumenschein and Fechin still exist, but have been converted to museums. Both are only a short walk from the old Taos town square.

Fechin's place is now the Taos Art Museum. It began as an old adobe structure that he modified using touches of Spanish Colonial and Russian dacha styles.

Blumenschein's house has a 1797 structure at its core and was enlarged over time. It features the art of Blumenschein, his wife and daughter. Works of other artists are rotated in, but tend to be restricted to one room so as not to crowd out the Blumenschein art. The same can't said of the museum at Fechin's; when I was there, only one room contained Fechin's works, most of the wall space being devoted to an exhibit by a currently active local painter.

Let's take a look:

This is the Fechin house as viewed when approaching from the street; the museum entrance is at the rear.

Here is a cardboard model Fechin used when working out his modifications.

The dining room was the only one displaying Fechin's work the day I visited.

At least they left a self-portrait on the wall.

These are views of the living room.

Fechin's studio was in a separate building to the rear of the house. Here is an interior view, but the paintings are by the local artist, not Fechin.

This is a bedroom in the Blumenschein house. The artwork between the beds is by Blumenschein's wife, Mary Sheppard Greene.

Here is the Blumenschein living or perhaps dining room. Again, the main piece of art is by Greene.