Friday, May 30, 2014

Maurice Greiffenhagen: Painter and Illustrator

Maurice Greiffenhagen (1862-1931) was a Royal Academician, an instructor at the Glasgow School of Art, and an illustrator. His Wikipedia entry is here, and a link containing some of his illustrations is here.

Greiffenhagen was highly competent as well as versatile. I tend to prefer his illustrations to his portraits (he did many), many of which tend to be rather dark with (as best I can tell from digital images) slightly fussy brushwork.

Gallery

Poster Art for London Midland & Scottish Railway

Carlisle, Gateway to Scotland - 1924

A Visit to Town

Piccadilly - 1926


Classical and Literary Scenes

Laertes and Ophelia - 1885

An Idyl - 1891

Cophetua - 1920-25

The Message - 1923


Portraits

Sir Henry Rider Haggard - 1897
Greiffenhagen was an illustrator of Haggard's books.

Lady with coral necklace - c. 1910

Sons of William Parkinson - 1915

Lady Emma J. Biles - 1917


Nude

Nude with a Wrap - 1924

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Book Review: John Harris, Beyond the Horizon


Not long ago I posted on English SciFi illustrator John Harris. A week or so later, I received an email from someone at Titan Books, publisher of a new book about Harris' art (some book links are here and here). If I was interested, they would send me a review copy. I decided the price (free) was right, so I was interested, the book arrived, and the review starts here:

The book is not thick, but the pages are large -- good for looking at some of the images that range in size from near-thumbnails to two-page spreads. My best guess is that its intended audience is science fiction fans who appreciate cover art on the books they buy. Illustration artists and those interested in artist personalities and technical information have little written material to chew on. There is text by Harris explaining some of his inspirations and decisions regarding his cover art, but he almost never mentions how his paintings were done. Not mentioned at all is anything biographical (though in Acknowledgements, he states he is married with children).

I would have liked to know about his art training and how his work evolved before he hit the book cover trade big-time. He is known to have evolved to painting in oils (see my post, link above), and picture captions in the book note that some preliminary color studies used pastel. I would have liked an explanation of how he goes about creating a cover painting from start to finish. But I am not really part of the intended readership, so these complaints of mine are really peripheral, and now I'll now consider the book on its own terms.

As noted, most of the images are related to book cover art. But there is one section dealing with an imaginary world that Harris created and has been illustrating for his own pleasure for something like 30 years in his spare time. Apparently he also has written a narrative relating to this, and some snippets or paraphrases are included so that readers might better understand what that set of images is about.

Harris' cover art mostly lacks hard-edges and sheen that one finds in technical illustration. Straight lines can be present, depending on the subject matter, but his works tend to be of the richly-painted colorist kind. This is where the full-page and two-page images are useful: you can see the color layering he makes good use of.

His subjects, the imaginary space ships and such, that he includes remind be a lot of John Berkey's cover illustrations, but with a more impressionistic touch in their execution. Harris also chooses to depart from scientific accuracy in order to achieve an artistic or emotional effect. That is, his outer space is not starkly black, but often blends of colors and cloudy shapes.

The cover art almost always lacks people as main subjects. Instead, they are present in the form of tiny shapes adding scale to the huge buildings, landscapes or space ships that are the main subjects. However, Harris does include human subjects in the personal set of illustrations mentioned above. So he is quite capable of painting people, but either he, his art directors or the SciFi public prefer scenes where humans are barely opera spear-carriers.

In sum, Since Harris' work is imaginative and painted in interesting ways, this work is worth adding to collections of illustration art fans and those of painters in general. The price is reasonable, which makes it even more easy to justify.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Christian Schad's portraits

According to his Wikipedia entry, Christian Schad (1894-1982) was never very successful financially as an artist. Nor was he very famous until late in life when he was rediscovered. Moreover, even though he is classed as a Neue Sachlichkeit (usually translated from the German as New Objectivity) painter, his style and subject matter were far less extreme and less political than others in that group such as George Grosz and Otto Dix. I touched briefly on Schad here.

After about 1920, Schad had settled on a hard-edge style of painting that included a slight degree of form and surface simplification and caricature. But nothing so extreme so as to fall into the Nazis' "degenerate art" category. What Schad did do was inject elements and juxtapositions into some of his paintings that made them what we now call "edgy." Today a number of American representational painters depict scenes with similar elements, though without modernist distortions.

Below are examples of Schad's portrait painting, which actually was pretty much all he did when not involved in photography.

Gallery

Cafe d'Italia - 1921

Marcella - 1923

Marcella - 1926
Marcella Arcangeli was Schad's first wife.

Bildnis einer Englaenderin (Portrait of a Young English Woman) - 1926

Baroness Vara Wassilko - 1926

Graf St. Genois d'Anneaucourt - 1927

Joseph Mathias Haeuer - 1927

Lotte - 1927

Sonja at the Romisches Cafe - 1928

Bettina Mittelst├Ądt- 1942

Bettina Schad - c. 1977
Bettina became Schad's second wife.

Friday, May 23, 2014

B. Fleetwood-Walker of Birmingham

Hard-edge or else soft and more impressionistic. These largely sum up the portrait painting approaches of Bernard Fleetwood-Walker (1893-1965), who proudly spent most of his career in the industrial city of Birmingham.

His Wikipedia entry is here and a site run by his family is here. The latter attempts to include all Fleetwood-Walker's works, major and minor.

As you will notice from the images below, he changed his style sometime around World War 2. Through the 1920s and 30s he painted crisply and smoothly, almost achieving an airbrushed look. Then he shifted to a much more casual style.

Gallery

Repose - 1925
The subject is Marjory White, his first wife.

Two women
Thought to be the artist's wife and her younger sister.

Amity - 1933

The Family
From the appearance of the woman, I'd say that this depicts his own family.

Mr and Mrs R.H. Butler and Their Daughters - 1936
Fleetwood-Walker painted several family portraits like these.

Joan - 1930s

Peggy in a Black Hat - 1949
I think this Peggy was his second wife. By this time, he had dropped the hard-edge style for something more casual and painterly.

Miss Bryant - 1949

Dr Edward Bramley - 1950

Christine - c. 1961
This is better drawn than some of his casual paintings. I have the feeling that Fleetwood-Walker had trouble placing eyes on faces (see the second link above and do some sub-linking for many examples of his work). But be aware that eye placement is not always easy, aside from full-face and profile views.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Fascist-Era Paintings on Display in Rome

In other posts I've noted that Italy, unlike Germany, has not consigned its totalitarian past to oblivion. I suppose this is due in part to the fact that Benito Mussolini during the first dozen years of his rule was not particularly bloodthirsty, in contrast to the likes of Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

And so it is that some paintings glorifying him and his Fascist regime can be found in Rome's Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna, a museum that focuses on art created roughly 1850-1950 (though works before and after those dates are easily found). I think this is good museum policy because Mussolini ruled Italy for two decades and the art created during that time is a legitimate part of history.

Unlike the other dictators mentioned above, Mussolini had few problems with art done in a modernist mode. After all, a major Fascist theme was that Italy needed to be modernized, so modernist-inspired art fit well with the program so long at it didn't portray strongly anti-Fascist sentiments. Another factor was the presence of Mussolini's mistress Margherita Sarfatti, who was a patroness of the arts and did not dislike modernism.

I have touched on Fascist era painting here (Tullio Crali) and here (Aeropittura). The present post presents some photos I took on a recent visit to the Arte Moderna.

Covering most of one wall is this set of paintings by Gerardo Dottori (1884-1977). The plaque gives the ensemble's title as Polittico della Rivoluzione fascista, 1934 (Dottori dated it as year XII of Fascism). Its theme builds from the bottom. At the lower left is Italy's participation in the Great War against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The bottom-center image deals with the revolutionary rise of Fascism (I think). The lower-right painting seems to have been partly destroyed, so I can't make out its theme. The center level paintings show agriculture (right) and on the left, Italy's industrial achievements under Fascism. Included are the ocean liner Roma (entered service in 1926), a modernized battleship (Mussolini was having Great War vintage warships rebuilt), and a Savoia-Marchetti S.55 flying boat (the type Italo Balbo used for a multi-aircraft crossing of the Atlantic). At the apex is Mussolini himself with symbols of electrification.

Close-ups of five of these images follow:






The other explicitly Fascist painting I photographed is this one, titled Dinamica dell'azione (Miti dell'azione, Mussolini a cavallo) painted by Enrico Prampolini (1894-1956) in 1939.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Frank Frazetta's "Famous Funnies" Covers

Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) is famous amongst those who pay attention to science fiction and fantasy art, this largely having to do with book and magazine cover illustrations that he painted from the early1960s on.

There was more to Frazetta than those paintings. As his Wikipedia entry indicates, his early career centered around comics work. At first he was involved with comic books, then in 1953 (according to this source) he was hired by Al Capp to work on the Li'l Abner newspaper comic strip, one of the leading ones of its day. Frazetta did Li'l Abner strips from 1954 into 1961, when he resigned. It was at this point that he began his transition to painted illustration.

Comics art is normally based on black-and-white inked drawings. Shading, if required, was done via hatching or crosshatching, though some artists relied on Ben-Day, Zipatone and other quasi-mechanical aids. A colored cartoon usually had minimal shading on the original inked artwork, colors being applied as solid areas by the printer based on the artist's instructions.

In the early 1950s, Frazetta created a number of covers for the Famous Funnies publication that went defunct with issue No. 218, July 1955. Frazetta created covers dealing with Buck Rogers for issues 209-215, not long before publication ceased. Some sources above attest that these cover illustrations helped Frazetta to get hired by Capp. His version of Rogers and girlfriend Wilma Deering are his own interpretation, and not done in the styles of Dick Calkins or Rick Yager, who did most of the work on the strip in its glory days.

Below are Frazetta's covers in sequence.

Gallery








Sad to say, Frazetta's drawings here are not top-notch.  Numbers 210, 211 and 212 feature foreshortening that strikes me as off: heads are too large for Buck in 210 and 212, and for Wilma in 211. Wilma's muscles are too well-defined in 213; she should be more feminine (an error Frazetta seldom made in later years).  Wilma's legs are too large in 215.  The 209 drawing seems okay, as does that for 214 (though the couple are too squeezed together in the spaceship's cockpit, plus being too large to fit in the ship's structure as drawn.

That said, the cover for No. 214 is my favorite, especially with the colors removed as in the image above. Click to enlarge.

Friday, May 16, 2014

H.R. Giger: A Note Regarding Taste in Art


Swiss fantasy artist Hans Rudolf "Ruedi" "H.R." Giger (born 1940) died 12 May 2014 as a result of injuries from a fall. The event was met with many expressions of sadness and regret on the Internet. A biographical sketch of Giger is here, and an example of his art is shown at the top of this post.

I too regret his passing, as I do for most other people. I must add that I knew little about him while he lived. Yes, in art sections of bookstores I noticed books displaying his works. But I never picked them up or thumbed through them. And not being much of a moviegoer, I never saw "Alien," which apparently was a career breakthrough for Giger thanks to his design work for the film.

You see, I think Giger's work is pretty awful to look at. Dark, depressing, convoluted. Nothing there to mesh with my personality.

Yet there are many well-qualified observers who are smitten by his images. And I will say in Giger's favor that his paintings are technically well-done. Moreover, his intent was serious, unlike so many postmodern artists who seem to be showoffs and self-marketers rather than serious professionals (please take their statements about their "art" with a large amount of salt).