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Monday, September 25, 2017

Brad Marshall--Watercolors at Sea

Speeding Bullet. Brad Marshall is a freelance artist, illustrator, and instructor working out of New York City (when he's not traveling).
Yesterday morning my wife and I disembarked from Cunard's regal Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, New York. Except for the last two days when we were skirting Tropical Storm Jose in the North Atlantic, it was a thoroughly delightful seagoing experience. The Cunard flagship is now some fourteen years old. She is aging quite pleasantly, though due to the fact that cruising and cruise ships have changed a lot in the past fourteen years she exhibits some slightly dated design elements--things you wouldn't find on newer ships and lacking some features which have become standard in today's cruise industry. But that's a matter for another time. One standard practice Cunard has embraced is the inclusion of art classes on board. I first encountered this on the Celebrity Silhouette (a class in acrylic painting) and was excited to find Cunard was offering watercolor classes taught by a highly experienced New York artist/illustrator named Bradley Marshall (aided by his wife).
Brad uses his own, specially prepared images as content for
his beginning students.
Even though I had taught watercolor to kids in the public schools for twenty-six years, I decided to take the class. It was the first time I'd done any concentrated study in that temperamental medium since college some forty-five years ago. The first two days I followed along with the other (mostly beginning) students in painting the QM-2 and the White Cliffs of Dover. Then I struck out on my own with a watercolor based loosely on a Hawaiian photo from one of Cunard's travel publications. Like riding a bicycle, I'd not lost my touch. Brad offered praise, advice, an occasional opinion, and most of all congenial friendship, one artist to another. I've since learned that several other cruise line offer similar classes in watercolor for the benefit of their more creative guests.

Brad's temporary art class room is on the upper level of
the Queen Mary 2 Britannia Restaurant (in reality the tourist class dining room).
Charlie Parker, Brad Marshall
Brad Marshall was born in 1955 in New York City. He studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art, City College of Los Angeles, and obtained a masters degree from the University of Florida, Gainesville, with a degree in Psychology, Suma Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa. If you're impressed with credentials, Brad has a wall full. Apart from framed diplomas, his diverse studies have come to make him an outstanding instructor, able to skillfully impart his art to others. Though he often works from photos, in his landscapes, Brad tries to paint more than just a realistic image of a scene. He is little interested in simply re-creating a photo on canvas. He paints the sublime places he has seen, trying to capture some of the feeling of those places in his paintings. Rather than painting from a single photo, he works from studies and sketches as well as many photos that he's taken at various picturesque sites, using various elements from them along with his personal observations to form a more captivating image. His effort is to create a composition that gives the viewers a sense of place.

The week of watercolor classes ended with an art exhibit
for the benefit of other Queen Mary 2 passengers.
20th-Century art brought us the concept that a painting was not a representation of something, but the thing itself. Once the camera had freed artists from the onus of Realism, this led to the exploration of more abstract and non-representational work. There is, of course a certain genius in Modern Art painting. Yet it's difficult to simply discard more than a thousand years of representational work and disregarding is nascent importance in the history and culture of the many developing peoples and nations of that broad time span. A realistic painting, brings the viewer a frozen moment of an object, scene, or a person, engaging them, so that they bring themselves into the work. Modern Art has not lessened this goal as something to be desired and striven for.

T-Rex, Brad Marshall
Copyright, Jim Lane
A week of Jim Lane watercolors,


Sunday, September 24, 2017

David Piddock

Herox, 2011, David Piddock
If you were to ask most landscape painters to paint the streets, buildings, and citizens of a major urban center, chances are many would make some excuse having to do with preferring the peace and quiet of the lush countryside to the loud, hustle and bustle of the city. Then once your back was turned, they'd double up in a fetal position sucking on their thumb. The point of this imaginary discourse is to underline the tremendous differences in painting the countryside and the "cityside." Cityscapes are far more challenging. I've done a many of the former and a few of the latter over the course of several years, so believe me, there's a tremendous difference. Landscapes, except for a few manmade intrusions, are mostly the art of camouflage. Cityscapes are a lot more than simple geometry with a heavy dose of extremely complex linear perspective. Add to that the vagaries of lighting, weather, reflections, and textures, most of which are manmade and thus subject to exacting standards of naturalism, even when painted in something less than a realistic manner. The British painter, David Piddock, bends to the demands of naturalism while avoiding the acute worship of realism.

Traffic Light Tree, 2008, David Piddock

At first, casual, glance the immaculate, architectural precision and clear, uncluttered surfaces of David Piddock's paintings of London's riverscape seem to place his work very much within a tradition that stretches well back into the 18th-Century, as in the work of Canaletto and Samuel Scott's London views, for example. From there they extend all the way up to the photorealism of modern times, as seen in the U.K. today by the icy glitter of Ben Johnson's paintings of both historical and contemporary interiors, and townscapes; or Clive Head's complex perspective explorations of the London urban scene.

Give Me Strength, David Piddock

Under the Bridge, David Piddock
However, very quietly, something alto-gether different starts to emerge, something warmer and more playful, though still quite thoughtful and ser-ious as to the poetic wonder Piddock's paintings also present. Certainly there are some complex perspective games going on in many of Piddock's larger paintings as in the classic single-point, Renaissance-style perspective of Lon-don's Greenwich Park and the 180-degree viewpoint of Albert Bridge. In addition, the largely mirror-images of works like Give me Strength (above), Samson at Queenhythe, There and Back and Under the Bridge (left)supplement a number of substantial works which rely simply on a rather more straightforward, compositional approach, such as Herox (top) where the artist is clearly preoccupied with the intriguing interplay of architectural forms and odd juxtapositions to be found.

Samson at Queenhithe, 2008, David Piddock
Born in 1960, the now fifty-seven-year-old artist's work has been called Post-Modern, Pre-Modern, Magic Realist, and New Realist. But of all these, individualistic, might be most appropriate. He delights in ignoring current trends in contemporary art. Magic Realism is the term most often used these days to describe a genre of literature with a darkly comic supernatural dimension dealing with themes such as love, grief and obsession. Using this definition, it could be reasonably applied to virtually all of Piddock's work.

Critics seem to have agreed to disagree as to how to
label Piddock's work. How about intriguing?
Many of Piddock's paintings are set in six different areas of London: Tower Bridge, Bankside, The South Bank, Mudchute, Crossharbour, Exchange Square, and a development behind Liverpool Street Station. The places are recognizable to some extent but his versions of them Piddock's penchant for blending fact and fiction. Piddock raids the contents of London's museums and distributes them around town to various ends. For instance, Bankside lV and Mudchute ll use a tiny ivory carving by Pisano in the Victoria & Albert collection. The damaged head in Southbank l is an ancient fragment from the British Museum. The sculpture that appears in Tower Bridge l, on the other hand, is based on a more recent work by Edoardo Paolozzi which has been dragged a few hundred yards up the Thames Path and re-sited at the foot of the bridge.

London as it isn't and never was.
The light in Piddock's paintings, if not magical, is certainly unearthly, bearing so relationship to any quality of light to be found in the streets of London. His spatial qualities vary widely. He seems most interested in the point where the logic of perspective breaks down. Some of Piddock's paintings go far beyond that point using tilting and rotating viewpoints to create an unsettling, even a disorientating effect. Other of his London works employ simple one-point perspectives and are, by comparison calm and detached. A view such as Greenwich Park (below)seems like an impossible mix of old and new, with 18th Century buildings in the foreground framed by a skyline of skyscrapers and the Millennium Dome. This is however a fairly conventional viewpoint with a wide angle view. The people on the viewing platform draw attention to the process of looking and the contrast between ancient and modern.

Greenwich Park, David Piddock
Piddock's work can be read like a contemporary take on Piero Della Francesca in his emphatic verticals and horizontals, strong surface patterns, carefully judged intervals and restrained detail balanced with a broader description of form. Most are bathed in strong light, however, the artist often creates an evocative world of deep shadows and enigmatic content that keeps us guessing.

Art Sabotage, 2001, by David Piddock, based on
an actual incident when a painting by Marcus
Harvey titled Myra was vandalized while on
display at the Royal Academy. Piddock's
painting freely mixes fact and fiction.


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.