Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Elizabeth McGhee

Graeae, 2014, Elizabeth McGhee
If you're ever in need of subject matter for a painting, try this--try Greek mythology. It's a content area rich in love, hate, suicide, murder, ambition, fratricide, matricide, patricide, ego, beauty, war, peace, sex, romance, nobility, bravery, enlightenment, and a generous dose of stupidity. And if you love to paint nudes, you'll be like a kid in a candy store. For some unknown reason I could never quite fathom, virtually all the Greek deities tend to live their lives like outcasts from the Mt. Olympus Nudist Colony Inc. And of course, male or female, they're always depicted as near-perfect physical specimens--the men, lean and muscular, the women voluptuous and seductive. What more could a figure painter wish for? Just be sure to consult your Bullfinch's Mythology so as to get your narrative accurate. There are experts on this sort of thing and if you get your gods mixed up or confused (which is easy to do, there are so many of them), they'll tell you about it. And one of the first might be the figure painter, Elizabeth McGhee of Southern California.
Sociologist, artist, instructor, and expert on Greek Goddesses.
Elizabeth McGhee paints modernist portraits of the Greek gods, though most of the goddesses. In fact her "Mythica" series (top and below) will eventually consist of some eighty paintings modernizing ancient Greek myths, She plans to explore the ways in which our digital age relates to archetypal stories that have been passed down through the millennia. Strangely enough most of her formal training was not in art, but in sociology. Although it would be an understatement to refer to her as either an amateur or a part-time artist, she finds the two fields--art and sociology--coming together as she conceives each portrait, then poses friends and colleagues to model for her mythological paintings. Elizabeth derives from a family of artists originally from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Scotland, as well as the local Laguna Beach art scene.

How many of these Greek deities have you ever heard of before?
Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick received her masters degree and Ph.D.. in sociology from the University of Chicago while along the way picking up a masters in Education from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Before her career as an academic researcher, she was a classroom teacher for ten years in public and private schools both in the United States and abroad. She has held faculty research positions at the University of Chicago and Weill Cornell Medical College. Her research, investigating collaboration networks across home and school settings, has been published in peer review journals and funded by grants from the Health Resource and Services Administration, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Spencer Foundation and the National Academy of Education. Geesh...! 

Gravy Train, Elizabeth McGhee
Dr. McGhee's often turns to humor (below) to address serious or controversial subjects in her artwork. In the case of her still-life paintings of toys (above) she is examining how symbols are interpreted by individuals through the lens of cultural dogma. Her intention is not to promote a particular concept or ideal, but to inspire analysis and contemplation in her viewers. The main story told of Icarus, for example, is his attempt to escape from Crete by means of wings that his father constructed from feathers and wax. Icarus ignored instructions not to fly too close to the sun, which melted his waxy feathers causing him to fall into the sea. Icarus' curiosity and ambition to fly higher was admirable, rather than the result of excessive pride. What kid wouldn't want to fly higher if he had wings? And at that age, not listening to a parent's warning is to be expected.

Transparent, Elizabeth McGhee.
(I have no idea what the title means.)


Friday, September 22, 2017

Mertim Gokalp

Strawberry Kiss, Mertim Gokalp
Maja, Mertim Gokalp
No other type of art has changed more in the last 150 years than that of the portrait. Back at the beginning of that arbitrary time period, roughly 1867, a painted portrait was usually quite dull, stiff, highly posed, and lacking in excitement. The only critical factor was whether or not the outcome "looked like" the sitter; but of course, that goes without saying with any portrait. Though the Impressionist were primarily landscape oriented, the advent of impres-sionist portraits was the first break with the stodgy tradition of stoic classicism. They must have come as even more of a shock when first displayed than did landscapes by the same artists. In the years that followed Expressionism also left its mark on portraiture as did Cubism, and even Surrealism. However, no artist in the history of art changed the nature of portraiture as much as did Andy Warhol in the 1960s and thereafter. So distinctly characteristic was his work that he scarcely even had imitators.
Sacrifice of the Model (series), 2015, Mertim Gokalp
Quite apart from the effects of all the "isms" upon the painted portrait, no other factor had more to do with the new freedom involved in painting portraits during the past century and a half than did the development of portrait photography. Yes, it put many portrait artists (especially the miniaturists) out to pasture, but it also freed all the others from the slavery of realism. It's interesting to note that today, virtually all the stylistic elements mentioned above are still viable and to varying degrees, still popular. For example, take a look at the work of the Turkish/Australian artist Mertim Gokalp. Usually when I write about artists today, there arises the phrase, "He (or she) also paints portraits." I dare say that today, even the best portrait artists among us also paint any number of other areas of content, many in fact, more often that they do portraits.
Sacrifice of the Model, 2015, Mertim Gokalp
That's not the case with Mertim Gokalp. He paints faces and figures to the exclusion of all else. Gokalp normally paints with a fair degree of Realism, but that's not to say he's a slave to that style. His portraits can be quite impressionistic at times, and expressionistic at others. And, like many artists today, Gokalp paints series, his bearing themes such as the "Sacrifice of the Model" (above) in which Gokalp seeks to direct the viewer’s attention to look behind the canvas, to think about all the models, artists, artist’s wives, all who sacrificed sometimes an ear [Van Gogh], their vision [Monet], or the ability to hear [Beethoven] for the sake of art and recognition. Clearly, art is dearer than eyesight, space, and liberty, beyond what can be valued, rich or rare, no less than life itself.

Bille Brown in a Turkish Bath, 2013, Mertim Gokalp,

Self-portrait, Mertim Gokalp
Mertim Gokalp was born 1981 in Istanbul. He holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, Istan-bul. Founded in 1882, Mimar Sinan F.A.U. is Turkey’s leading Fine Arts Uni-versity. Mertim moved to Australia in 2009 and since then he has participated in many group exhibitions and solo exhi-bitions. His contribution to the contem-porary Australian art scene has been recognized by the Australian Government with a ‘distinguished talent’ visa, allowing him to live and work in Australia. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2013 with his portrait of Bille Brown (above), and a finalist in the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize 2015 with a painting from his "The Sacrifice of the Model" series.

From the "Feathers and Kisses" series
Another of Gokalp's series, "Feathers & Kisses" (above) aims to unveil the mysticism of women using angelic and divine references, hence the ‘feathers’, while exposing something deeper, instinctive, and natural--the ‘kisses’. In another of Gokalp's series, "Borderline," he presents a pervasive pattern of instability, of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and marked impulsivity that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of context. This series of works mainly focuses on psychological struggles of contemporary women, inspired by his subject's relations with various objects.

The Red Shoe--Simon Burke,
Mertim Gokalp
And finally, in a series that might seem rather mind-boggling to most portrait artists, Go-kalp's "50 Faces of Balmain," from 2012, showcases 50 portraits of Balmain locals (his hometown) by Mertim Gokalp. The Contemporary Gallery of the Balmain Art and Craft Show hosted a solo exhibition as a special event. The Red Shoe--Simon Burke (left) is from that series. For Gokalp, painting is a synthesis of feelings, inspirations, reactions and struggles; it is a way of breathing in and out…Painting portrait is one of Gokalp's passions as it is a great area to explore the underpinnings of human psychology. Using the narrative potential of portrait painting,, he aims to challenge the viewers and confront them with their most inner feelings. Gokalp's portraits are not literal representations of people posing or sitting. They are instead, subjective portraits of the psyche. All portraits reveal something about the subject, but they are open to many interpretations as they are enigmatic most of the time. Gokalp's portraits are a celebration of the human form. He aims to capture particular psychological moments. He paints a reflective, subjective relationship with his subjects. As an artist trained in a Fine Arts Academy, he always tries to live up to the standards of great academic masters.

Transient, Mertim Gokalp

Mama Keeps Me Warm,
Mertim Gokalp


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Alberto Andreis

Solid Afternoon,  2008, Alberto Andreis
Architectural Surrealism--if you've never heard of it, chances are you're one of millions of others in the same boat. The reason for that is I just made it up. Sometimes you have to come up with new words or combination of words in order to say what you mean or describe what you write about. The phrase comes from a close look and an even closer study of the work of the Italian painter, set designer, and interior decorator, Alberto Andreis. Take a look at one of his pieces, Solid Afternoon (above) dating from 2008. It's surrealistic and it's an architectural structure floating upwards in a surrealist manner. So, if you don't like my newly minted description, what would you call it (short of describing every detail)?
New York Tales, Alberto Andreis
Titles are, after all, a kind of literary shorthand, used in place of what I jokingly referred to as "describing every detail." The problem I'm having in writing about Signor Andreis stems from the fact very few of his paintings have titles, or at least they seem to be unpublished. I suppose the reason for this is that like a great many artists today Andreis paints in a serial manner, creating any number of works that are quite similar in theme, appearance, style, or other attributes. In the process, titles either devolve to serial numbers or are omitted altogether. (Gallery owners hate that.)
In the Evening, 2006, Alberto Andreis
In Andreis case, the series have titles such as Viaggi (travel), Solidi (solids), Sogni (dreams), New York Tales, Disegno (drawing), Babele (Babble) and...well, you get the idea. Each series is usually finished before being displayed at an art gallery exhibition, often named for the series. Working in a series with a common theme is something of a marketing ploy foisted upon artists in making his or her show seem very much like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors to see and buy.

Alberto Andreis was born in Brescia, (northern) Italy in 1959. He graduated from the Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan majoring in Scenography. From 1983 to 1989 he was assistant to the set designer to Ezio Frigerio, which eventually involved participation in the project for Cyrano de Bergerac. He won an Oscar for costumes, and a nomination for the best set design. Other major prose and lyric performances include C. Goldoni's Gracious Woman at Nürnberg Theater in 1988, I love you Maria! in 1990 with Carlo Delle Piane. In the same year, Andreis did the scenery for Shake-speare's As You Like, at the Teatro Romano in Verona; Delusions in 1992, U. Betti's Goat Island at Teatro Toselli di Cuneo, and in 1997 Antigone of Sophocles at the Villa Theater in Rome.
A little fanciful for my tastes, but still elegantly attractive.
At the same time, Andreis has extended his work experience to interior decoration, collaborating with architect Celeste Dell' Anna and architect Diana Terragni, as well as various projects for Versace stores, the palace of the Sultan of Qatar, for the study of the Architecture Laboratory Association, utilizing trompe-l'oeil both in Italy and abroad. His work as a painter is parallel to previous experiences, although it has been augmented in recent years.

Shipwreck, 2007, Alberto Andreis

Babble (series), 2016, Alberto Andreis


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bruno Walpoth

Life-size and life-like, Bruno Walpoth's figures are usually named for the model, though this figure is titled. This is a detail view of a nude teenage boy.
Being a painter, it may sound strange, but I can honestly say that most of the paintings I see in museums and on the Internet don't impress me very much. I guess I operate under the mindset that if I could replicate the painted image with a fair degree of verisimilitude myself, then it can't be all that great. I know, that's not a valid way to judge such works, but in writing about art for these many years, I've kind of become jaded in this area of art appreciation. Very large paintings impress me. Paintings rendered with various glazing techniques do too. Photorealism impresses me--all of which are things I've never had the time, pat-ience, or inclination to attempt (much less master).

                              Bruno Walpoth, carved wood.

Bruno Walpoth carves wood every day for a living. It's only "no big deal"
if you're not a woodcarving sculptor.
In other areas of art, I'm easily impressed by outstanding photography, daring architecture, innovative design, and carved sculpture. Having said that, the Italian wood sculptor, Bruno Walpoth impresses me. Walpoth is a man of few words, somewhat like the Spencer Tracy of the sculpting world. Just like that legendary American actor who downplayed his greatness by reducing his craft to “know your lines, come to work on time, and don’t bump into the furniture,” Walpoth treats his achievements as if they are simply part of a daily routine. He is a wood carver who makes lifelike figures. What’s the big deal?

Walpoth stains his wood with white pigments as he carves,
which accounts for the translucent quality of his flesh tones.
Walpoth was born in Bressanone, (northeastern) Italy in 1959. He now lives in Ortisei, a small ski resort town in the Italian Alps. He comes from a family of artists. His grandfather and uncle were both sculptors. Wood was the medium he grew up with--lime wood, nut wood, birch, and walnut--among other preferred source material. Walpoth utilizes a chisel and file to free his creations from their original shapeless confines. He was a Master Student of Professor Hans Ladner, at Munich's Academy of Fine Arts.

There is a somnambulant quality to many of Walpoth's works.
Part painting, part sculpture.
Under Walpoth's coaxing, men, women, and children emerge from blocks of wood. They seem to have recently been awak-ened from sleep and are just starting to gain their bearings. Walpoth's creations are meditative and introspective—having been dreamed up by a visionary artist, they seem caught in the last stages of a dream themselves. Unlike a subject who is smiling broadly for a photographer or pre-ening for a portrait artist, these characters are stripped of artifice and pretensions. They seem so real because they are so vulnerable and off guard.

Probably one of Walpoth's
three sons.
The live models for his sculptures are quite real. They represent friends and family—his three sons have serve as models from time to time—as well as people he has seen on the street. Viewing everything with the eyes of an artist, a passing glance from a passer-by can trigger a need to capture that expression. The biography of the person who has impressed him doesn't matter. He is not looking to write a narrative nor trying to communicate a message or convey a lesson. Since his works are lifelike in size and proportion, their physical aesthetics say much about their being human. Walpoth points to the sculptures’ expressions: “When standing in front of the work, one should have the impression that the characters have a soul. I would like to achieve that.”

The flesh tones of Walpoth's work have a smooth, polished, finish while in contrast, clothing is merely roughed in.
Art critics think he has accomplished that goal. “Each new figure is a challenge, an attempt by the artist to breathe a soul into carved wood,” says art critic Lisa Trockner. “The true-to-life form of the body is the means to an end—the conveyor of the psyche. The viewer is turned inside out imagining the mental state of the figure. Walpoth’s figures are not a revival of lost ideals, but rather through the presence of the public, they are repositories. They reflect the viewer’s own store of impressions.”

Walpoth is quite clever in integrating the heavy base of his sculptures with the figure itself, demonstrating the manner in which the sculptor causes the human form to emerge from its confinement.
Walpoth's work is minimalist yet monumental. Very often his wooden figures are nude or only partially clothed, so that the bone structure of the apparently androgynous bodies, which he tends to favor, is made clearly visible. While the un-clothed parts of the figures have been sanded down smoothly and exhibit a skin-like texture, the clothed or hirsute areas are rougher, displaying traces of the chisel or of being painted with pastel-like pigment. The smoothly polished skin shows evidence of white paint. Permanent ‘white-ning’ of the nude flesh of the body is achieved through meticulous sanding, working the paint on the surface into the wooden material, thus rein-forcing the pure, virtually translucent character of the skin while simultaneously dehumanizing it. The wood itself becomes trans-formed. It appears to dematerialize even more than when simply coated in white. The material itself therefore becomes irrelevant; it is rather the form that is highlighted.

Photo by Wolfgang Moroder
Val Gardena, fountain in Urtijëi, Bruno Walpoth.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Kazuhiko Sano

Dinosaurs and Friends, Kazuhiko Sano
There was once a time when science was not yet so advanced and many people thought that dinosaurs were giant bipedal crocodiles. Today we have discovered that many dinosaurs actually had...feathers! Like a peacock with teeth! When I was growing up I liked three major activities, drawing, playing "cowboys and Indians," and playing with my toy dinosaur collection (which I still have, by the way). By rights I should have become a dinosaur artist or the next John Wayne. Either way I might be rich and famous by now, like Kazuhiko Sano. Of course, like Sano, I'd also be dead by now. He died in 2011.

Kazuhiko Sana hold a self-portrait painted in 1974 while in college.
Kazuhiko Sano was born in 1952. He was raised in Tokyo, the son of an architect. He struggled with the post-war environment and new attitudes of the country. Kazu (his nickname) pursued drumming, with influences of the Beatles, the Kinks and Drifters. He also loved the music of James Brown, Elvis and Jackie Wilson. He became a pianist prior to a life-threatening motorcycle accident on the streets of Tokyo. His father was involved in the booming business of rebuilding Japan from the allied bombing of World War II. His father pressured Kazuhiko to become an architect. The pressure yielded somewhat when instead, Kazuhiko's younger brother chose to follow in his father's footsteps.

An untitled Kazuhiko Sano illustration. Often illustrations
are not titled by artists as when they are canvas.

Sano began noticing the color and musical shift in society with 1960s acid rock and the psychedelic culture. He felt that the level of complexity was beyond his skills as a drummer, but the world of paint and illustration began to fascinate him. He tried to enter the prestigious National Univer-sity in Tokyo with a focus on Graphic Arts since there was no field of illus-tration in Japan at that time. However, Sano's efforts failed to land him a place in the university, which focused on academic prowess. Therefore, Sano left Japan to enroll in the San Francisco Academy of Art. There he once more entered as a Graphic De-signer, but was quickly guided into Illustration by astute staff once they observed his work. Sano’s self-driven assignments during his three failed years trying to enter the National University in Japan, proved to be what set him apart. He couldn’t speak well in English, but he was able to arti-culate his images in English very well.

Anyone you recognize?

Kazuhiko Sano created the winning design for
the 2008 Frank Sinatra commemorative stamp.
Mammoth and elephant comparison.
Sano reached heights within the field of illustration and painting that couldn’t have been attempted without the solid base set by his father’s artistic sensibilities and work methods. Even though his profession was not what his father would have chosen, or hoped for, Sano's career was shaped by his father. His life was allowed to progress to the highest levels of success only through the foundation laid by his father and, undoubtedly, his father before him.

Dinosaurs--where art and science meet.

It's unclear whether Sano's dinosaur paintings came before, after, or simultaneous with the other major success in creating book covers for many Star Trek paperback books (below) and posters for the competing Star Wars movies. If Trekkies don't recognize the name Kazuhiko Sano then they should. I counted some thirteen different covers, which may not include them all.
Kazuhiko Sano was Star Trek's most prolific cover artist.
Take your pick. Which Sano poster do you like best?

Monday, September 18, 2017


Cupid always has wings, rides a dolphin, lingers in trees, and is usually naked.
It's not uncommon that when someone mentions Cupid, the first image we bring to mind is that of cute, chubby, little flying toddlers, flitting around the mythological or valentine worlds, armed with bows and arrows, zipping them off randomly at whom they please. Of course, it should be added that it is uncommon for people today to mention Cupid in the first place. Yet he (Cupid is always male) is without doubt the most identifiable figure in all of mythology. Cupid is Roman, by the way, his Greek identity being Eros, while his Canadian-American persona is Justin Bieber.

Amor Vincit Omnia (Love Conquers All), 1602-03, Caravaggio

I mentioned the pop heartthrob in jest, but in fact, his image is much more closely akin to the numerous paintings of Cupid that have accumulated in the major museums all over the world than the cute little valentine putto (top) we usually associate with the son of Venus and Mars (his parentage is actually somewhat debatable). Vulcan and Mercury have also been mentioned as his fathers. In art, Cupid often appears in multiples as the Amores, or amorini later in art history, the equivalent of the Greek Erotes. Eros was a relatively minor figure in Greek art, but Cupids are a frequent motif of both Roman art and later Western art of the classical tradition. In the 15th century, the iconography of Cupid starts to become indistinguishable from the putto.

Cupid Shoots an Arrow at the Lover, 14th century Italian
In Classical Greek art Eros is generally portrayed as a slender winged youth. However during the Hellenistic period, he gradually came to be portrayed as a chubby boy. During this time also, he acquired the bow and arrow which represent his source of power. Anyone, even a deity, who is shot by Cupid's arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire. In myths, Cupid is a minor character who serves mostly to set the plot in motion. He is a main character only in the tale of Cupid and Psyche. When wounded by his own weapon, he experiences the ordeal of love. His tradition is rich in poetic themes and visual scenarios, such as "Love conquers all" and the retaliatory punishment or torture of Cupid.

From the iconic to the virtually unknown, artists for centuries have found Cupid to be a socially acceptable use of nudity and relatively subtle eroticism (and sometimes not so subtle).
Although not as common in sculpture as in painting, by the late 18th and 19th-centuries numerous marble sculptors such as Johann Christian Lotsch, Edme Bouchardon, Filippo Tagliolin (below), Antonio Canova and others were producing freestanding winged boys which now, and perhaps then as well, have come to be favorites of the gay community. Most were not cute little putto.

It might be well to note that with sculpture, it's sometimes easy to mistake a Cupid for an angel. The main differences being, angels seldom sport bows an arrows and are usually not depicted quite as nude as Cupid.
Romans identified with their Cupid the Greek Eros and the legends concerning him. In the Christian era, Cupid is usually depicted as an angel, a chubby, winged boy stripped of his bow and arrows. Sometimes the ancients represented Cupid as riding on a lion or a dolphin, or sometimes as breaking the thunderbolts of Jupiter, which were all ways of signifying his power. Cupid is usually spoken of as blind, or blindfolded. As such, he figures in a large num­ber of legends. His name frequently occurs in literature, and, as seen above, he has always been a favorite subject with sculptors and painters.

Cupid Sharpening his Arrows,
1798, Robert Lefèvre
One of my favorite Cupid stories is the tale of Cupid the honey thief. The child-god is stung by bees when he steals honey from their hive. He cries and runs to his mother Venus, complaining that so small a creature shouldn't cause such painful wounds. Venus laughs, and points out with poetic justice that he too is small, and yet delivers the sting of love. The story was first told about Eros in the Idylls of Theocritus (3rd century BC). It was retold numerous times in both art and poetry during the Renais-sance by Edmund Spenser and furnished subject matter for at least twenty works by Lucas Cranach the Elder and his workshop. The German poet and classicist Karl Philipp Conz framed the tale as Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in someone else's pain) in a poem by the same title. In another version by a German writer, the incident prompts Cupid to turn himself into a bee.

Cupid the Honey Thief,
1514, Albrecht Durer,