M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Art About Art

Christopher Pugliese (www.pugliesestudios.com)

Warren Chang (www.warrenchang.com)

"Jimmy & Camie at Grand Central Academy," by Steve Doherty
I once foolishly asked Christopher Isherwood to tell me the subject of his current writing, and he responded by saying "Myself, of course. What else do I know." The great writer (one of whose stories became the basis of Cabaret) was obviously minimizing the broad reach of his stories, but he was also acknowledging that novelists, playwrights, and painters often use their own experiences as the basis of their expressions. That has certainly been the case with visual artists who for centuries have created drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures about artists, studio, models, paints, critics, and muses.
Here are just four examples of paintings that explore the artist's life in the studio. Californian Warren Chang has created a number of paintings of himself, his son, and his friends assembled in a studio; Jacob Collins has painted a number of still lifes of the objects and people around him in his New York studios; and Christopher Pugliese is endlessly fascinated by the concrete and intangible aspects of studio activity.
I recently completed a painting of a model posing for Camie Davis' class at Grand Central Academy of Art. I was intrigued with the idea of a person being the subject of intense scrutiny over the eight weeks of an art class. During breaks, Jimmy interacted with the students as a good friend whose taste in music and sports became as well known as the muscles of his body; but moments later he would climb back up onto the model's platform and once again become an object composed of shapes, value patterns, and colors to be evaluated in an unemotional, objective manner. Moreover, Jimmy seemed to "zone out" after he put his arms, legs, and head in the marked positions; and he lost all consciousness of people circled around them in a studio.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Watercolor Illustrations. Jerry Pinkney's Caldecott Gold Medal Book

Jerry Pinkney in his studio holding the stuffed animal used as a model for the kittens in Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens.
The jacket of Pinkney's Caldecott Gold Medal book, The Lion and the Mouse, for which he created watercolor illustrations.

Jerry Pinkney, one of the top illustrators and authors of children's books, recently won his first Caldecott Gold Medal for The Lion and The Mouse. I stopped by his studio to have him autograph a copy of the book for my granddaughter, Amanda Deyo, and he showed us the watercolor paintings he is creating for his next book Three Little Kittens Who Lost Their Mittens, as well as the stuffed animal his used as his model for the artwork.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great British Paintings

Departure of the Bucintoro, by Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1956), ca. 1910, oil. Collection the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut.
Detail of Departure of the Bucintoro showing the thick application of oils in depicting the departure of the ceremonial vessel in Venice, Italy.

Plein air cloud study by Constable (1820)

Plein air cloud study by Constable (1820)
I thought I would offer a brief report on some of the remarkable paintings I discovered at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut.
If you love luscious, thick applications of oil color, you might want to check out the Belgian-born British artist Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1956). His spectacular painting of the departure of the Bucintoro, a state vessel used in ceremonies in Venice, Italy, is an amazing display of swirling paint that coalesces into a scene in deep space.
I'm not a huge fan of Constables dark, muddy landscapes but I was pleasantly surprised to find a wonderful collection of plein air oil sketches of clouds and atmospheric landscapes. The pictures were done in 1820 -- a few years before Corot went to Italy to paint -- and are relatively small works on paper mounted to board (about 9" x 12").

Friday, February 12, 2010

Drawings by Old Masters: Lasting Influences

Joseph with Jacob and His Brothers (fragment of modello fr the tapestry Joseph Recounting his Dream of the Sun, Moon, and Stars), by Agnolo Bronzino, ca. 1546-48, black chalk, traces of squaring in black chalk on off-white paper glued onto secondary paper support, 17 1/4 x 13 1/16. Collection the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England. [Note the way Bronzino adapted his drawing of the figure in the lower right corner from Michelangelo's drawings]

Study of Male Nude, by Michelangelo, ca. 1504, black chalk highlighted with white gouache, 10 5/8 x 7 3/4. Collection the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, Austria.

Copy of Michelangelo's The Bathers in the Battle of Cascina, by Aristolie da Sangallo, ca. 1542, oil on wood, 30 1/8 x 51 1/4. Collection of the Earl of Leicester, Holkham Hall, Norfolk, England.

Eroded Riverbank with Trees and Exposed Roots, by Annibale Carracci, ca. 1590-92, pen and brown ink, 15 7/8 x 11 1/16. Collection the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, New York. [This rare study of nature from life was created by an artist who, with his his brother and cousin, founded the Accademia degli Incamminati school of art in Rome].

Two exhibitions of Old Master drawings that are currently on view in New York explore several interesting issues, including the influences of two of the most important figures in the history of art, Raphael and Michelangelo, and the changing opinions about their art. The Morgan Library & Museum is showing drawings in Rome After Raphael (through May 9, 2010), and The Metropolitan Museum of Art is displaying The Drawings of Bronzino. The Morgan show "takes Raphael as its starting point and ends with the dawn of a new era, as seen in the innovations of Annibale Caracci;" while The Met's exhibition (through April 18, 2010) presents "nearly all the known drawing by, or attributed to, this leading Italian Mannerist artist."

Even though Raphael lived a relatively short life (1483-1520), his elegant, sweet representations of biblical figures and monumental compositions had a profound influence on generations of painters; and while Michelangelo lived a long and productive life (1475-1564), his depictions of muscular, powerful figures changed the way artists presented the human form -- even into modern times.

While generations of artists found inspiration of the work of Raphael and Michelangelo, critics were not nearly as impressed with the way their influence played out. Bronzino's reputation seems to have suffered greatly from the changing opinions about figurative art based on the Renaissance example, and it wasn't until the 1960's that scholars developed a sincere appreciation of Bronzino's talents.

So what insights can we gain from reviewing the work in these two exhibitions? One is that there is great value in looking at the way Old Masters presented the human figure; composed paintings of figures within architectural spaces and in the landscape; and used drawings as a way of defining the images they would expand in paintings, tapestries, and frescoes. Another is that it is perfectly acceptable, prudent, and valuable to copy some of the poses and compositional schemes worked out by great artists like Raphael and Michelangelo. Finally, it is important to remember that critics will love something one day and hate it the next. Artists must lead and critics must follow, not the other way around, because artists search for a truth while critics deal with a reflection of that truth.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Watercolor Paintings & Silverpoint Drawings by Stephen Scott Young

Iron and Brick, by Stephen Scott Young, 2009, drybrush watercolor, 19 ¼ x 22 ½. Courtesy Adelson Galleries, New York, New York.

Lonely Canal in Venice, by Stephen Scott Young, 2009, silverpoint on coated paper, 14" x 10 1/2". Courtesy Adelson Galleries, New York, New York.

Narrow Canal, Venice, by Stephen Scott Young, 2009, silverpoint on tinted, coated paper, 9" x 7 1/4". Coutesy Adelson Galleries, New York, New York.

Stephen Scott Young is one of the most successful, talented, and humble artists I know; and I was delighted to write about his recent work for the spring, 2010 issue of Watercolor magazine. Scott's watercolors are currently on view at Warren Adelson Galleries in New York (www.adelsongalleries.com) priced at $250,000; and one of his signature paintings of a young, black, Bahamian girl sold at Sotheby's in 2007 for $348,000. Scott went though a number of professional and personal changes last year, and the most positive development was that he made two trips to Venice to create graphite drawings, watercolor paintings, and 17 silverpoint drawings.
Silverpoint has been used by artists for centuries and involves drawing on a prepared surface with a strand of sterling silver held in a mechanical pencil or hollow piece of wood. At first the thin lines are faint and shimmering, but in time the silver tarnished to become a warm gray. Because the silver will only register on a surface covered with traditional gesso, casein, or gouache, it is impossible to erase the metallic lines. Even trying to cover up stray lines winds up making the prepared surface looked patched. Most of Scott's silverpoint drawings were done on sheets of Fabriano Uno paper coated with traditional gesso (a warm mixture of powdered whiting and rabbit-skin glue).
Scott spent hundreds of hours developing the small drawings (no larger than 14" x 10") by laying down parallel lines in one direction (slightly off vertical), and then in another direction so as to create diamond or triangular shapes where the hatched lines crossed. In some places he also added stippled dots and horizontal lines to create a rich dark gray. Silverpoint does not allow for the kinds of deep blacks one can achieve with graphite or charcoal.
Scott did dozens of graphite drawings and used those as the basis of watercolors once he returned to his Florida studio. One of the paintings shows a model posing in a gondola along one of the narrow canals, and another (shown here) offers an interpretation of one of the doorways along the canal. His palette was limited to Winsor red, Winsor yellow, French ultramarine blue, and Shiva casein white. That differs from the palette he uses to paint the black citizens of the Bahamian island of Eleuthera (where he maintains one of three studios). The black figures are painted with French ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, brown madder, and Shiva casein white.
Scott will be teaching and demonstrating during American Artist's Weekend With the Masters conference taking place from September 23-26, 2010 at the Laguna Cliffs Resort & Spa in Dana Point, California (www.weekendwiththemasters.com).