Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!

J.C. Leyendecker painted this image for the Saturday Evening Post's Independence Day cover, 100 years ago. Below are some preliminary studies for the final illustration:

Friday, July 3, 2015

ART ESSENTIALS: Arrogance! (and Doubt)

by Greg Ruth

The conceit of making art is commonly a tightrope walk between the two valleys of Arrogance and Doubt. Crossing successfully to the other side insists we both engage and temper each of these to form a directed passage through the treachery of creating a work so we can turn at the other side of the journey, look back and see what we have done with clear eyes and a distinct vision. There's many teachers, critics and peers that will discourage hubris, or arrogance in making art, but I would argue both are absolutely essential to the act. While this whole premise is an exercise in extremism to make a point, the real purpose here is to recognize the inherent need to be big and bold when making your work. That you can be internally arrogant without being rude about it outwardly. Whenever we make our work we are presuming our own notions of how we see the world, onto the world, and rather than look at that as a negative I want us to take a moment to see it as an essential good. Doubt too must always be present and must at times lead the journey for the journey to fin it's best possible end. It's an affected thing to reduce the creative process like this, but it helps to whittle down something so big and effervescent into something overly reductive so we can grow it back to its needed size. So bear with my doubtful hubris, and don't be afraid to disagree with any of it. 


Geronimo rallying the tribes from INDEH
Arrogance- or if you prefer, simple chutzpah- is the primary force in making art, and has to be present for the act of art-making to even begin. Essential to every artist, and secretly delighted by all. Arrogance plays an essential role in the life of an artist. It like all measures and vehicles for the exploration of art can go too far and not far enough of course, but unlike other aspects of the nature of art, this is not one of choice. It is inherent in the act- a phenomenological Thing in Itself. We must court and dance with arrogance both when we make art and when we present it publicly. (Personally I hold to sculptor Toshio Odate's insistence that art has a requisite public aspect to it or else it ceases to be art and instead is more an act of private self indulgence. He often cited the idea of a tea cup filled with ostentatiously large holes: place it on a pedestal and its art waiting to be filled with the un-spillable ideas applied by the viewer, keep it secreted away in your cupboard and its just a terribly useless teacup.)

The act of making art is largely the enactment of creating something that no one else has made, clothed in the voice of an artist presuming he or she has something interesting to offer. It has for it a bar set above the usual mundane concerns of everyday life. Art neither nourishes, clothes or shelters us. It is scorned by those lacking a vision to appreciate it for this reason entirely. Like love in many aspects art is unquantifiable and ineffable. How then can one justify making something that is not inherently functional? How can one craft such a thing with the arrogance to presume it is despite these practical claims, worth bothering with? How dare one make such a presumption. It relies upon a near hubristic ego mania to presume that one vision, the artist's vision is both worth the time to craft the piece and worthy of occupying some of the limited time of the viewer, reader or audience. The artists demands of the viewer to be seen, his/her works are, as their first purpose, demanding of attention. They have to be. Art is the ignored quiet child in the back of the classroom that has to raise its hand, stand and deliver even and especially so, if no one else in the room assumes it has anything at all to say. Art requires convincing of others to engage with it, it sells itself and demands of others something even willing participants must be coerced into bestowing. Time and attention, observation and consideration. Further to insist upon others to forfeit money that would be otherwise used for the more tangible needs of survival, art is committing a distinct act of salesmanship. It's convincing to squirrel to disregard the nut in favor of a bauble it doesn't actually need to survive winter, but wants anyway. It takes a good measure of arrogance to pull off such an audacious trick. it takes even more to presume others won't see it as such.

In the making of art, the artist has to adopt and hug his or her own braggadocio about what they may be making. The marks and strokes, chisels strikes and smudges on a flawless and beautifully clean surface are a complete expression of this. To look upon it and decide it is not complete until the artist sullies its uniformity with a mark takes a good deal of swagger, whether we know it or not. A level of controlled arrogance can give us the confidence that's required to take us into new directions, or to find succinctly our voice as creatives people. Arrogance taken too far creates that opposite. If we neglect a measure of taming our own hauteur, we shrink and become less expansive. Less observant and clear. Less capable. We as artists must be brave within ourselves at this stage in order to dig deeply and find what it is we intend to express- whether its music, dance painting or film. Arrogance can be a comfort and a guide when we're lost in doubt,. It can be a beacon for us when there's no other reason to get up and work again. It whispers in our ear that we have something worth saying, that it matters and that it's important even when there is no outside support to help us do this. More important still when we are faced with outright discouragement for doing it at all. Arrogance fuels us to pick up and try again when we inevitably fail at our craft. it nudges us forward to stand in a room of strangers and tell them why it matters, and why it's important they pay attention to what we're doing. It fuels us in a publishers office when we sit across from an editor having invented some pretend world, or invented idea we expect and hope they will pay us to bring to life. To stand in an opening inside a gallery receiving visitors to see what imaginary joys we have pulled from our personal sandbox. Arrogance insist to us secretly its own essential nature even when we are being scolded for it from others. The opposite of course is death to the act of making art. So we must, we have to embrace arrogance as a requisite tool of our trade. Tame it, bridle it and mount it, never forgetting who is the horse and who is the rider.


Walt in the grip of the Shadows from THE LOST BOY
Doubt is the other basic essential pole of artmaking. it's not the opposite of arrogance, but it is the countervailing force that can rescue us from arrogance's foulest temptations. Out apprehensions about ourselves drive us to pause and question our choices. left unchecked it can suffocate us into atrophy and surrender, but harnessed and used to its full measure, doubt can deliver us from the fiery pits of self indulgence and claim alterations and directional changes that we otherwise might have to rely upon our audience to deliver. if they bother to. Where arrogance dutifully lies to us, doubt can be a source of honesty. It is the quality of making work that allows us to rise up and out of the place from in which we are making something so that we may see it, observe what's working and what isn't.

Doubt can be our guardian in the strictest Castanedan sense that can swiftly become a guard. Once protector now jailer, doubt can be allowed to flourish too wildly undermining our essential bravado in making work and presuming we have something to say about it. Doubt, while not the primary element, delights in utilizing more tools of trickery and deception to get its way. Like Arrogance doubt is a creature that wants to eat the world. Controlling it, harnessing it is, like with arrogance, an act of throwing a lasso over a tornado and riding it towards a new horizon. But never forget its desire is to consume, and so it must be always left hungry, chained and controlled or it will engulf everything in you. It even has the audacity to express itself as pride, for what is false modesty but disguised arrogance and self importance? Doubt subverts arrogance and uses it to make its own ends come to be. It can choke off your ability to see your own work, to make new work, to branch into new territories and experiment with new ideas. When let loose upon your world it can fill you with so many questions as to grind to a halt the artist's ability to think at all. It can prevent the artist for failing to stand up and make a case for his or her work, to bypass opportunities to do so and to receive praise and accommodations for the work the artist makes. It is tricky business indeed, dangerous and treacherous filled with the promise of more failure than success. But this is where arrogance come sin to pick up the pieces and sidle onward. When properly controlled doubt is your own personal editor and navigator. Incertitude can keep us honestly on the path arrogance fuels us across and is what can allow us to open ourselves to new interpretations and understandings of what we're trying to do. Doubt can be arrogance's needful bridle, and the disquiet it brings later can save us from a thousand pitfalls and elevate us higher than we deserve.

As a recent example... In making INDEH for example, both of these comes into full and daily play with each other. Presumptuously assuming I could sit down with Ethan who had spent more than a decade writing and building a library of facts and narratives on the subject of Geronimo and the Apaches, and scuttle it all mixing and remixing it together into a new story demanded a level of arrogance and doubt on an unprecedented level. Taking on as an anglo this native story, with all its abuses co-optings and betrayals insists upon the presence of both. Sitting down and drawing, shaping and writing the book with Ethan, allowing for that creative intimacy to full unfold and to take that direction it demands of us both to paper and ink, could not happen without both. Daring to then convince others it is worth reading or taking their food money to buy it, to go out and do press and interviews about it pretending confidence when there may be none could not occur without a hefty mixture of doubt and arrogance.

I can no more express the idea of artistic ego without including in some form the dance between these two aspects. I don't think any artist successful int heir career, can. The world insists we rise up and do so humbly, and celebrates it while scorning it at the same time. Arrogance can shield you from the sneers and jealousy of others where doubt wishes to feed, and doubt can throw needed water on the raging egotistic fires of arrogance non stop praise creates. Moderation in all things is considered the acceptable ideal, but in making art, moderation is death to creativity. We must be bipolar and manic in our wild swings between doubt and arrogance if we're to survive the journey, and even to enjoy it. Art should be a wrestling match and a battle we wage upon ourselves if we are to exact it's highest aspirations. As long as you remember to hold the reins return to the saddle and control the swings, you will surprise yourself with what you come up with in art and in life, even enough one hopes, to give it another try and show it to others again. And again.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

From Montreal with Friends

By Donato

We have all experienced that wonderful feeling of running into old friends in the least expected of places.  Well it happened in Montreal this past week.   I rounded a corner, and there in front of me was someone whom I have know for years, but never had the chance to say hello to in person.  This was not exactly a living person, but rather a painting by Briton Riviere of St George And The Dragon which I have looked at for years but never had the pleasure to see first hand until this past weekend.  What a stunner!

Briton Riviere       St George And The Dragon
As you can imagine , it was thrilling to 'discover' this work, especially as I was only passing through the museum on a fast track with my two daughters in tow.  And as much as my children do not mind their father dragging them to an art museum, I had to drop them off with their mother while I went back for a second, in depth, conversation with this work!

A few other wonderful discovers filled the same room as the Riviere, shown below.  My apologies for the poor quality of the jpgs, I only had an older iPhone 4 with me at the time.  This once again proves to me that no matter how much I think I know what to expect out of a museum I have visited many times over the years, inspirational discoveries are always lying in wait!

Gabriel Max       The Raising of Jairus' Daughter
Check out that fly on the young girl's arm!
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret         A sister piece to a work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
And to top it off, I had the pleasure to spend an evening with REAL friends (not the dead ones I visit too often in museums) whom I have not seen in a couple of years, Jean-Baptiste Monge and Margo!  They live in the city of Montreal and were busy preparing prints, art and a new collection of Jean-Baptiste's sketches for the Montreal ComicCon this coming weekend.  Check out JB's amazing work on his website, , if you are not yet familiar with it, and order up his new book before they disappear!

Jean-Baptiste, Donato and Margo

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Harpy Queen

-By Jesper Ejsing

'Harpy Queen', by Tyler Jacobsen & Jesper Ejsing

Tyler Jacobsen and I were signing at the Magic the Gathering Grand Prix here in my hometown of Copenhagen last week. When we found out we were going to the same event we came up with the idea of trying to paint a painting together. I have always wanted to do something with Tyler and was happy he felt the same way.

We sketched a bit back and forth until we were both happy with the image idea. The file went back and forth over the Atlantic via dropbox and we just added onto what the other one did. It felt really easy to take something Tyler started and just refining or enhancing it a bit. In the end I have no longer any idea of who did what. Except the angle, that is all Tyler.

It was a great and very educational experience to have to continue on another artist´s painting. And we are looking to try it out again very soon.

stages of sketches and progress of the final 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Artist of the Month: Diebenkorn

William O'Connor

After WWII in America abstract expressionism ruled the art world.  Rothko, Newman, Hoffman and of course Jackson Pollock, who was on the cover of Life Magazine in 1949, being called "The greatest artist in America."  Undoubtedly these artists helped to transform the art world, and along with mid century modern architects, musicians and designers, the aesthetic of the post war world dramatically changed.  Figurative and representational art had not only become unfashionable, it was taboo.

Artists who bucked this trend often faced ridicule and obscurity from the art establishment.  O'Keefe, Freud, Neel, A. Wyeth, Khalo, etc, all had to wait decades and the advent of the post modernist movement for their work to be noticed.  One of the most influential of these artists was Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)

Diebenkorn had returned from WWII and begun his career in NYC embracing the new abstract expressionism.  Traveling and teaching he eventually settled down in California in the mid sixties and began to work figuratively. In 1967 he began his famous Ocean Park landscape series which he would work on for almost twenty years and produce more than one hundred paintings.

Diebenkorn's landscapes are a beautiful bridge between abstract field paintings and traditional representational art.   Deeply inspired by artists like Matisse he has simplified the environment focusing on the forms of bright sunlit California color.  Like looking out a window he breaks the space with architectural elements, swimming pools, roads, trees and even figures, into harmonious compositions.

Today Diebenkorn's paintings grace the collections of some of the most prestigious museums and fetch millions at auction.  I still often look to Diebenkorn to better understand composition, dividing the canvas into simple forms and colors.  I highly recommend any student or artist interested in composition to take look at Diebenkorn's work.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Scott Gustafson: 2015 Spectrum Grand Master

by Arnie Fenner

Last month at the Spectrum 22 Awards ceremony (during Spectrum Fantastic Art Live), Scott Gustafson was presented with the 2015 Grand Master Award. It should surprise no one that I believe the honor is richly deserved.

The first time I saw Scott's art was in an illustrated edition of Peter Pan in 1991: I was honestly amazed when I first opened the book and encountered his depictions of Neverland, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook (his painting of the battle between Hook and Peter is a classic). Those feelings of astonishment and excitement about his art still come rushing back whenever I pull my well-thumbed copy off the bookshelf.

Above: Only four of many limited edition prints featuring Scott's art that have been produced through the years by the Greenwich Workshop.

A graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he originally planned to be an animator; while I'm sure Scott would have been successful working in the film industry, I think he actually answered his true calling. As modest as he is skilled, Scott is without question one of the finest painters to ever work in our field. Almost impossibly lush and impeccably rendered, his work is engaging, affecting, thoughtful, sensitive, and unforgettable. There is no one quite like him—and, like every other artist to receive the Grand Master Award, there has never been anyone that has created art quite the same way Scott creates, no one else who can see things the way he sees them or could replicate what he does.

Best known for his illustrations and gallery art based on fairy tales, fables, and children's literature, he's also been known to create pieces inspired by Star Wars (early in his career), Robert E. Howard's Breckinridge Elkins, and the Wachowskis' Shaolin Cowboy comic. The Greenwich Workshop has produced an extensive line of limited edition prints and collectible figurines and Scott has even written (and illustrated, naturally) a novel for young readers, Eddie: The Lost Youth of Edgar Allan Poe.

Above: Scott did not know that he was going to receive the Grand Master Award during the Spectrum 22 awards ceremony. So he was surprised to see his best friend Gary Gianni take the stage and start to tell a story about the creative process and someone he knew quite well. The last shot is of Scott and his wife Patty greeting well-wishers in the Folly Theater lobby immediately following the ceremony.
All photos courtesy of Sampsel Preston Photography.

Dan dos Santos spotlighted Scott here on MC several years ago and I encourage those not familiar with his art to hit the link for some insight and exceptional art. I'd also suggest visiting Carl V. Anderson's blog Stainless Steel Droppings for a quick profile. Of course, you should also visit—and bookmark—Scott's website for more info, art, and news.

Above: As mentioned earlier on MC, Spectrum Director John Fleskes came up with the idea of redesigning the awards this year ("Let's make the new awards a classic work of Fine Art!") and worked with renowned sculptors Kristine & Colin Poole to create the beautiful bronze Muse you see on the left. Several additional figures were added to the base to reflect Scott's career illustrating fairy tales. The photo of the award and the portrait of Scott are by Greg Preston.

The Spectrum Advisory Board will start to talk about next year's honoree in the coming months (criteria: must be living, must have a career exceeding 20 years, must have created a body of work of consistently high quality, must have influenced other artists with their work and professional attitude) and, naturally, we're always open to suggestions from artists and readers.

But in the meantime let's celebrate the accomplishments of one of our best, one of our own: 2015 Grand Master Scott Gustafson!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

"The Death of Day"

by Eric Fortune

I was invited by The Cotton Candy Machine Gallery to contribute to this years Tiny Trifecta Show.  The point of the show is to do three pieces at 6x6" or smaller all to be priced at $100.  It's a great opportunity for people who want to collect art with a limited budget to get some pretty nice work from some great contributors(if you're willing to camp outside the gallery the night before the opening).

In my mind it's less about making a piece of art that I would value at only $100.  If I did that coming out of school I'd never get better and I'd never get better paying work.   Well, maybe I would, who knows?  In my mind this is about giving people and fans of your work a chance to get some nice art. The size does make it easier to price it so low but I don't like half assing my art work.  Especially if I feel it has a deeper emotional connection or social commentary.  So I chose to do the best I can for this show.  Also, because my color work tends to be very tedious, working at a small scale in black and white with pencil was such a nice break from the norm that I think I'll do some more in the near future.

Today I'm going to be presenting some progress shots.  In a later post I'll show the other two pieces and share a some of what inspired me to make these pieces.

One of these days I'll do better sketches... just kidding.  I refuse.

I usually go from sketch to transferring a final.  Though sometimes it feels appropriate to figure out proportions better.  Probably because I don't often do more well known faces and I don't think doing likenesses is really a strong suit of mine.

Another challenge for me was working from very limited pictures of  Billie Holiday that I could find online and still tweak to fit my composition and style.

"The Death of Day" Final
pencil on paper 6x5"