Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Carl Larsson

Christmas Eve, 1904–05, Carl Larsson
My work has often been compared to that of Norman Rockwell. I'm flattered, I suppose, but I'm also tired of hearing such shallow comparisons. In retribution, I've looked up the artists who Rockwell has cited as having influenced him, painters and illustrators such as Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, and Maxfield Parrish. I like the work of each of these artists but Wyeth and Parrish are the only two I ever paid much attention to. Like Rockwell, these men would be considered by most to be primarily illustrators (doing work for publication) than what we've come to call "fine" artists as in those painting on canvas and collected mostly by museums.
Could these not easily pass for the work of Norman Rockwell?
Moreover, in each case the professional distinction has become something of a moot point in that they all have work in museums around the world, and there paintings are no more likely to be published as prints than those of any other famous artist. One other name I'd like to add to the list of those who influenced Rockwell would be that of the Swedish painter, Carl Larsson. That's based solely on the style of their work (above) which, though not identical at all times, is remarkably similar. Yet, even at that, Larsson is much more linear than was Rockwell once his style had matured. As seen in Larsson's Christmas Eve (top) from 1904, and his Cray Fishing with the Family (below) from 1896 (two years after Rockwell's birth) even the spirit of their work is quite similar. Larsson was born in 1853, making him a full generation older than the American painter. Larsson died in 1917, about the time Rockwell was just getting started. Also he lived and worked his entire life in Stockholm, so it's highly doubtful Rockwell even knew of him, much less felt any influence from the much older artist.
Cray Fishing with the Family, 1896, Carl Larsson
Living and growing up in the latter years of the 19th-century was not easy, especially in small European countries like Sweden, and doubly difficult in a one-parent family. Carl Larsson's father was an alcoholic, to mention just one of his vices, and perhaps a lesser one at that. When Carl and his brother, Johan, were still small children, their father literally put them and their mother out on the sidewalk. Eventually they landed in what amounted to a tenement hell-hole in which as many as three other families were housed in the same room. As a rule, each room was rife with penury and filth. Vice thrived leisurely there seething and smoldering, among rotting, eaten-away bodies and souls. Such an environment is the natural breeding ground for cholera.
Larsson rose from extreme poverty solely as the
result of his artistic talents.
At the age of thirteen, his teacher at the school for poor children urged the young boy to apply to the "principskola" (principle school) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. He was admitted. During his first years there, Larsson battled feelings of social inferiority, confusion, and profound shyness. However, In 1869, at the age of sixteen, Larsson was promoted to the "antique school" of the same academy. There he gained confidence. He even became a central figure in student life while earning his first medal in nude drawing. In the meantime, Larsson worked as a caricaturist for the humor paper Kasper and as a graphic artist for the newspaper Ny Illustrerad Tidning (New Illustrated Newspaper). His earnings were sufficient to allow him to help support his mother financially.
Larsson's studio was typical of artists' turn of the century workplaces.
After several years working as an illustrator of books, magazines, and newspapers, Larsson moved to Paris in 1877. There he spent several frustrating years as a hardworking artist with little or no success. Larsson resisted establishing contact with the progressive French Impressionists, cutting himself off from what he considered a radical movement of change for the sake of change. After spending two summers in Barbizon, the refuge of the plein-air painters, he met a fellow student named Karin Bergöö, who subsequently became his wife and the turning point in his life. She led him to paint in watercolors, which altered his style completely, leading to the more linear, illustrative works seen above and below.
The Larsson family bungalow, still owned by the family but now a museum featuring their father's work.
A studio Idyll, 1884-85, Carl
Larsson, the artist's wife with
their first child, Suzanne.
Between 1884 and 1900 Karin and Carl had eight children, (two of whom died in child-hood). His family became his favorite models. His son, Esbjorn (seen earlier) was their youngest. Fortunately, in 1888, Karin's fath-er gave the family a small house In Sunborn, which they, named Little Hyttnäs. The artistic couple decorated and furnished this house according to their particular artistic taste as well as the needs of the growing family. In later years, Larsson suf-fered from bouts of depression. While work-ing on a large mural titled Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice) for the vestibule of the National Museum, Larsson experienced the onset of an eye problem and a worsening of his frequent headaches. Nonetheless he continued working on what is today con-sidered his masterpiece (below). After suf-fering a mild stroke in Janu-ary 1919, Lars-son spent his remaining time completing his memoirs. He died later that same month.

The painting depicts a legend from Norse mythology in which the Swedish king Domalde was sacrificed in order to avert a famine. After a long controversy it was rejected by the museum. But the debate resurfaced again in the late 20th century, after which it was finally honored with the place where Carl Larsson intended it to be.

Brita and Me,
Carl Larsson


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Briton Riviere

 Giants at Play, 1882, Briton Riviere
Naughty Boy, Briton Riviere.
In that the child appears to
be a girl, I assume the title
refers to the dog.
Very few artists have ever ended their careers having never painted at least one dog. I've probably done a dozen or two myself, which I won't post here in that I have far more fascinating paintings by the British painter Briton Riviere to highlight here and now (click on my website banner at the bottom if you're that interested). I've grown particularly adept at painting canines and their rambunctious offspring, which is to say you can usually tell most of mine from cats (probably the only animal I've painted more often than dogs). Inasmuch as I paint almost solely from photos, I can experiment all I like with poses and fidgety subject manner. I have, however, taught some of my junior high students the tricks of drawing animals from life, including dogs and cats, of course, but also rabbits, piglets, ponies, lambs, one or two other species.

Apollo Playing the Lute, Briton Riviere
Briton, Riviera, 1880,  by Philip
Hermogenes Calderon.
Briton Riviere did not start out to become a dog painter. Few artists do. He was born in London in 1840. His father and uncle were also artists, his father a university drawing master, while his uncle, Henry Parsons Riviere, was a watercolorist. One of Briton's sons, Hugh Goldwin Riviere became a portrait painter. Briton was educated at Chel-tenham College and Oxford, where he earned his degree in 1867. For his art training he was indebted almost entirely to his father. An exhibition Riviere's first paintings appeared at the British In-stitution, then in 1857 he exhibited three works at the Royal Academy. But it was not until 1863 that he became a regular contributor to the Academy exhibitions.

Una and the Lion, Briton Riviere
Aphrodite, 1902, Briton Riviere
Although quite competent as a painter of history and mythological subjects such as his Una and the Lion (above) and his work titled Aphrodite (right), from 1902, Riviere discovered he liked painting animals more than portraits. As Una and the Lion demonstrates, he had a knack for it. He especially loved painting lions. Actually, he propped up the carcass of one in his studio to serve as a model. At a time when other artists were also developing a knack for painting from photos, Riviere resisted the trend and worked from live (or dead) models exclusively. This affection for the king of beast can also be seen in the two biblical versions of Daniel in the Lion Den (below).

Riviere familiarized himself with his animal subject matter to the point of dissecting them much as did Leonardo centuries earlier.
I suppose the lion propped up in the corner of his studio began to smell bad after a few weeks. Riviere began to branch off into more domestic animals. One might guess that more than one of the geese seen below may have met the same fate as the lion. I can't imagine his drawing or painting them from life as seen in his An Anxious Moment (below). The title is somewhat ambivalent as to the cause of such avian anxiety, but one might guess Riviere's wife and seven children frequently had roast goose during the time the painting was under way.

An Anxious Moment, 1878, Briton Riviere

Very many of Riviere's paintings are undated so it would be unwise to assume that he went from lions to geese to dogs in some kind of orderly chronological progression. His discourse on drawing live animals, whatever the species, is as interesting as it is enlightening:
 "I have always been a great lover of dogs but I have worked at them so much that I've grown tired of having them about me. However, you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it. I never work from a dog without the assistance of a man who is well acquainted with animals. Collies, I think, are the most restless dogs. Greyhounds are also very restless, and so are fox terriers. The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture. I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio. I have also done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time."

I can't disagree with any of that but I should add that cats are easier to draw from life than dogs with most domestic animals falling somewhere in between. (Cats take naps...dogs, not so much.) I always put the animal on a short leash atop a folded towel, on a tabletop, with someone holding the leash and petting or calming the animal. The room should be as quiet as possible. Then I instructed my students to draw small sketches starting in the upper left corner of their paper. If (when) the animal moves, they were to start over each time until the model returns to a position similar to an earlier sketch, at which time they should return to the earlier effort and hopefully complete at leas one good drawing. To some extent, though, the artist is at the mercy of his or her model.
Painted animals are always more captivating when interacting with humans, but beware of injecting too much sentimentality into the work. Victorian artists very sometimes did, and have been often criticized for doing so. 

Sympathy, Briton Riviere.
Too sentimental?


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tilo Uischner

Marius, Tilo Uischner
Not just poor drawing,
but poor marquetry too.
One of the art forms I admire most is that of marquetry. It not only demands the eye of an artist, but also the patience of a saint, and the dexterity of a Swiss watchmaker. However, marquetry does have it's limitations. To a great extent, such artists are at the mercy of a massive hunk of organic plant life sometimes centuries older than they are. Then there's the element of happenstance in finding just the right grain and coloration to compliment the intended design. This art form is great for abstract designs, tightly drawn geometric designs even landscapes and still-lifes. What it is not very well adapted for is portraiture. Portraiture being the most difficult and demanding type of painting, it's little wonder marquetry does not lend itself well to creating a recognizable face. All to often, such attempts end up similar to Diana (above, right). Only a precious few marquetry artist even try, and most who do fail...sometime miserably.

Tilo Uischner
Tilo Uischner knows both the strengths of marquetry as well as its limitations. He's also an excel-lent portrait artist. Most of all he knows how far to "push" marquet-ry and then flawlessly switches to acrylics in completing his works, mostly men, women, and quite a number of children. Moreover, he is not hung up on the traditional compositions and style of his Ger-man forbearers. Perhaps most of all, as he paints, he knows when to stop--when to let the wood dominate his photo-based render-ings. He never forgets that it's the gentle presence of the wood which sets his work apart from hundreds of equally adept Ger-man portrait painters.

Can you tell where the wood stops and the paint begins with each one?
Tilo Uischner was born in born in Riesa, Elbe, Saxony (east-central Germany), in 1969. He felt the need to paint at an early age then followed different ways till he became a full time artist. He began drawing at an early age and is mostly self-taught. His family moved to Berlin in 1989 just months before the wall came down. There Uischner studied Economics at Humboldt University. He earned his Diploma in 1995 and started working for a government agency. However, in 2000 he changed jobs to became a creative consultant for event creation. Getting in contact with the fascinating technique of marquetry happened by coincidence almost as he taught himself the technical details by reading books and copying old masters, trusting in trial and error. Today, he combines the traditional craftsmanship of marquetry with contemporary acrylic painting attempting to blur the line between wood and paint.

Usually, only the flesh tones and features are painted.
Uischner focuses intently on his subjects as he tries to portray them in a manner that reveals the truth as to who they are and what they have experienced. He searches for moments of honesty, situations of importance which provoke questions, or answers to all kinds of interpretations he wants to conserve and present in a neutral and subtle manner. Very often these stories are about himself as much as his subjects. Mostly he avoids titles or symbols which explain too much or direct the viewer to a certain interpretation. Always Tilo Uischner searches for ambivalent facial expressions or circumstances which prevent the possibility of a clear or absolutely objective explanation.

I would have been tempted to title Wolf Girl:
"What? You don't like Sushi?"
Tilo Uischner loves to sing the praises of wood: "I'm always asked why I have chosen to work with wood. I can only say that I love this material for so many reasons. It brings its own story into the picture; it reveals its character while you work with it; and it keeps its final secret till the moment you apply the first coat of lacquer. For ages wood has surrounded people to create homes, warmth, or to decorate. I think it is almost exclusively seen as something very positive, and in my pictures it constitutes an inviting familiarity, although one might find something unexpected behind trusted facades."

Tilo Uischner seems to have a great empathy for boys, perhaps because he once was one.

I'll be Back (my title), Tilo Uischner


Friday, August 18, 2017

Giovanni Giacometti

Boathouse with Boats on the Lake, watercolor, Giovanni Giacometti. The fact that the boathouse is unaccountably tilted makes the painting all the more intriguing.
Portrait of Ottilia Giacometti,
1912, Giovanni Giacometti
In this country we've come to call it "The American Dream." That is to say, we've come to expect our grown children to do at least as well in life as we have. Perhaps John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, said it best: “I am a warrior, so that my son may be a merchant, so that his son may be a poet.” In times past, the emphasis was on progeny stepping up to a higher social level with each generation. Today, Adams' words tend to equate to a higher economic plane--bigger house and car, better educated, more invest-ments, and a more secure retirement than what their parents enjoyed. Giovanni Giacometti was not an Am-erican. He was Swiss, but he seems to have instilled the essence of the Am-erican dream in his three sons, Alberto, Diego, and Bruno. Giovanni was a landscape painter who also painted portraits from time to time...mostly his own. He sometimes painted his wife, sons, and daughter too (above, left).

The children of artists frequently get called upon to model.
Alberto (above) and Diego Giacometti both became artist involved in sculpture (bottom), while Bruno became a notable architect. All three did well, although Alberto (above) far surpassed his siblings, even his father, who rather fades into the background among dozens of other outstanding Swiss painters of his time. I guess when you live in a country as scenic as Switzerland, you can't help but want to paint the landscape in its ever-changing seasonal beauty. Such works are the hallmark of Giovanni Giacometti's art. He became a painter so his sons could become sculptors and an architect.

There are ten self-portraits above. Giacometti painted at least that many more (not shown).
Giovanni Giacometti was born in Stampa, now part of Bregaglia in the southeastern corner of Switzerland, in 1868. Encouraged by his teacher, the young Giacometti chose an artistic career, which found him studying in Munich by 1886 where he attended the school of arts and crafts. It was in Munich that Giacometti met Cuno Amiet, who became his close friend as they studied the works of the French impressionists. Supported by his parents, Giacometti moved along with Amiet to Paris in 1888. In visiting the spring salon, the young artist was deeply impressed by some of what he saw. There, Giacometti saw for the first time the works of Gianni Segantini, whom he got to know in person later on.

Giacometti was there when his good friend and fellow painter Gianni Segantini died in 1899. He recorded in various media the man's final days, including a portrait after his death.

Annetta Giacometti, 1911,
Giovanni Giacometti.
As he frequently did, Giacometti ran short of money, forcing him to return to Stampa in 1891. There he suffered a period of loneliness and lack of inspir-ation. However, the showing of his first works in the Nationale Art Exhibition in Bern, along with a commission for a portrait made him a small profit. On the proceeds, Giacometti travelled to Rome and Naples. In 1894 he got to meet his longtime idol, Gianni Segantini, with whom he formed a deep and lasting fri-endship. Giacometti was invited to help Segantini with a mural for the Swiss pavilion at the world exhibition in Paris in 1900. But, again, he ran out of mon-ey. In 1900 he married Annetta Stampa and settled in Borgonovo, where his son, Alberto, was born in 1901, followed by three other children.

Giacometti was a dedicated impressionist, even to the point of
painting his Swiss snowscapes out in the cold wind and snow.
In 1912 Giacometti was invited to exhibit in Dresden with artists of the "Der Brücke". In the same year, Giacometti had a large success with an exhibition in the "Kunsthaus" in Zurich. In 1920 his works were exhibited in Bern, followed by several other international solo-exhibitions. The last years, the artist spent in the quiet of Stampa. Giovanni Giacometti is regarded as mediator of modern French and Italian art assets. He made a substantial contribution to the renewal of Swiss painting in the 20th-century. Along with Cuno Amiet, Giovanni Giacometti belongs to the representatives of Swiss Colorism." He died in June, 1933 at the age of sixty-five.

The Card Players, Giovanni Giacometti, work reminiscent of Cezanne.
Cows in a Mountain Landscape,
Giovanni Giacometti.

The sons' art was nothing like that
of their father. They should have
fed their pets better.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Artists Defining Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
A still-life self-portrait, Jim Lane
It is commonly believed by many that there is no universally accepted definition of art. That may, or may not be true, but the point is, there should be. We might say that art requires thought - some kind of creative impulse - but this raises more questions: for example, how much thought is required? If someone flings paint at a canvas, hoping by this action to create a work of art, does the result automatically constitute art? If you want to know what art is, perhaps the best recourse is to ask those who create art--artists themselves. However, keep in mind the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). That is to say, the best definition is the shortest, simplest, least sophisticated one. The longer the definition, the more complex and descriptive it becomes, and the harder it is to defend. Beware of any definition having the words "beauty" and "skill" in the same sentence. Both words beg many further words as to degree and aesthetic qualities, for which volumes and volumes have been written. That, in and of itself, makes any such definition of art worthless. In fact, beware of any art definition having more than ONE sentence.

A single subject, different definitions of art.
Having discussed and sung the praises of brevity in defining art, I should also mention its pitfalls. Any short, all-encompassing definition of art risks being so broad that, by implication, everything becomes art. Now, having outlined the parameters, as an artist, let me put forth my own, personal definition of art: Art is creative communication. Four words, demanding that art be useful, innovative, and broadly applicable to virtually any product of the human imagination. Notice my definition does not mention beauty. Not all that communicates creatively is beautiful. It does not mention the hundreds of helpful skills an artist can employ in producing art, nor does it try to quantify or qualify them. It does not differentiate between "good" art and "bad" art--that's a matter of aesthetics and personal tastes. Nor does it delve into the realm of morality by injecting the question of whose morality? Most importantly, my definition of art demands that art (and by implication, the artist) has something new to say and says it in a manner others can understand. If an art endeavor does not successfully communicate in a unique manner, then it is simply NOT art. The definition is broad, but not unlimited.

That's my definition. What do other artists have to say? You'll notice that some of the definitions below, while enlightening and thought-provoking, do not offer much practical guidance:

Picasso pretty much said
it first.

"Art is what you can get away with."
                                   --Andy Warhol.

Does he mean purchase, or accept?

"Art is whatever the public will buy."
                                --Pablo Picasso

Harsh, but probably valid.

"Art is either plagiarism or revolution."
                                       --Paul Gauguin.

Unless it's a forgery.

"Art is the signature of civilizations."
                --Jean Sibelius, composer.

Not so much anymore.

"Art is meant to disturb."
                               --Georges Braque.


"Art is vice. You don't marry it legitimately. You rape it."
                                    --Edgar Degas.

Picasso would agree.

"Art is childish and childlike."
                        --Damien Hirst, artist.

What about the king?

Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world."
                           --Leonardo da Vinci.

Yes, Charlie Brown.

"Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible."
                                     --Paul Klee, artist.

I get up to eat breakfast.

"Art is why I get up in the morning..."
                                   --Ani DiFranco.

There's that word "beautiful"
again. I guess architects
don't do ugly.

"Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use."
                              --Frank Lloyd Wright.

He ought to know.

"Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known."
                                     --Oscar Wilde.

Process over product.

"Art is not a thing; art is a way."
                                --Elbert Hubbard.

And finally, a classic example of a definition that is way too broad:

"Art is anything created, manipulated, or displayed by someone. So, by that logic, everything is art..."--unknown