Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Disruptive Coloration

Male leopard in South Africa, Wikipedia photo by Lukas Kaffer 
Disruptive coloration is a type of camouflage that makes an animal disappear against its surroundings. It allows both predators and prey to confuse each other and evade detection.

It can not only disguise a subject against its background, but also against others of its own kind, making the boundaries of the form hard to see. The effect would be especially powerful when these zebras are running off in all directions.

Abbott Thayer with Richard Meryman, Peacock in the Woods, 1907.
Early in the twentieth century, a group of artists and scientists developed an interest in this topic, including Abbott Thayer, a student of Jean-Léon Gérôme. His book called Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom contributed to the use of camouflage in World War I.

Doing a painting like this goes against our artistic instincts to separate forms from the background, yet the effect presents a powerful appeal to the viewer.
John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) The Hermit (Il solitario)1908
Other painters took up the idea around the same time, including John Singer Sargent. In his painting "The Hermit," he posed an old man in the foothills of the Alps and lit him with sun-dappled light, which nearly loses him in the the background. 

In the left center of the picture are two well-hidden gazelles. The animals were based on a stuffed gazelle that Sargent brought with him as a prop on his alpine travels. 
Smithsonian article by Richard Meryman, "A Painter of Angels Became the Father of Camouflage"
Wikipedia on Disruptive Coloration and Abbott Thayer
Related Topics on GurneyJourney:
Nude Girls and Overcast Light
Ghillie Suit

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dinotopia World Beneath Podcast Episode 5

It's Podcast Tuesday! Here's the newest episode of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. This one is really immersive -- in more ways than one.

You can listen to the episode with the play button above or by following this link to SoundCloud.

Bix bids good-bye to the dinosaurs at Black Fish Tavern.

The submersible is ready for its journey under the sea.

A giant armored fish called a Dunkleosteus attacks the sub. 

The seafloor is populated by strange life forms.

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 6 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Andy Warhol's Family Kickstarts Documentary

Andy Warhol's nieces and nephews are Kickstarting a documentary about their uncle Andy. The family has a unique perspective on the story of Warhol's rise from his Pittsburgh roots to dominate the New York art scene.

Older brother Paul, who ran the family's junkyard, nurtured Andy's early interest in newspaper images and photography. When I sketched Paul about 10 years ago, he told me, “I got Andy started. We put wax over the funny papers and rubbed over it with a spoon. I got him his first camera. We dug out the basement and put in a red light [for a photo darkroom]."

The docu's producers, Abby Warhola and Jesse Best, shot extensive interviews of Paul Warhola before his death in 2014, and they interviewed Paul's sons Marty and George, who continue to work in the scrap metal and recycling business.

Andy's mother Julia immigrated from Slovakia and brought with her the old-country Rusyn traditions for lettering and ornament that the family still carries on. An ostrich egg, decorated in the Pysansky style by Madalen Warhola, will be one of the Kickstarter rewards.

Andy's nephew James Warhola is himself a gifted painter who has illustrated for MAD magazine. He has written and illustrated a children's book based on his memories of visiting the New York home of their famous uncle. 

James would try on his wigs, and sometimes Andy would ask him to help with some of the paintings. Signed and remarqued copies of James' book will be among the rewards. 

They hope to reach their goal by April 2.
Kickstarter: Uncle Andy: The Warhola Family Film
Book by James Warhola: Uncle Andy's
Previously on GJ: Sketch of Paul Warhola

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 4 of 4)

Gerome in his atelier, from an 1889 edition of Century Magazine

To conclude our four-part look at the teaching style of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) let's consider the remembrances of some of his students looking back on their time studying with him at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

E. H. Blashfield said that Gérôme "permitted me to bring pictures [for criticism] as often as I wished, and he was always more than kind in giving time and attention to young men, talking by the half-hour with enthusiasm of classical antiquity, saying 'surround yourself with everything that you can,—casts, photographs, terra-cottas, vase paintings,—and look at them constantly with all your might.'

Kenyon Cox recalled, "I once heard him say to a pupil: 'When you draw, form is the important thing; but in painting the first thing to look for is the general impression of color.' Surely Manet could say no more....As a teacher I do not believe he has any superiors, and his criticism is always based on essentials, and seldom touches matters of method."

Wyatt Eaton remembered: "In criticism of compositions and pictures he brought to bear his wide knowledge and large experience of physical laws. With me he generally made suggestions which would add to the picturesqueness of my compositions, his criticisms always coming from the intellect rather than from his heart."

George de Forest Brush, said: "As a teacher he is very dignified and apparently cold, but really most kind and soft-hearted, giving foreign pupils every attention. In his teaching he avoids anything like recipes for painting; he constantly points out truths of nature and teaches that art can be attained only through increased perception and not by processes. But he pleads constantly with his pupils to understand that although absolute fidelity to nature must ever be in mind, yet if they do not at last make imitation serve expression they will end as they began — only children."

Thomas Eakins wrote, "Gérôme comes to each one, and unless there is absolute proof of the scholar's having been idle, he will look carefully and a long time at the model and then at the drawing, and then he will point out every fault. He treats all alike good and bad. What he wants to see is progress. Nothing escapes his attention. Often he draws for us. Last time he made no change in my work, said it was not bad, had some middling good parts in it, but was a little barbarous yet....The biggest compliment he ever paid me, was to say that he saw a feeling for bigness in my modeling, 'There now, you are on the right track, now push.'"

J. Alden Weir described his counsel as "just, severe, and appreciative." Abbott Thayer said "One of my innermost longings will always be to get approval of my work." S. W. Van Schaick wrote that his presence "elevated us, in the moment, beyond our capacity; our errors glared in our work, we saw with his eyes, said to ourselves the unsympathetic 'more simple,' 'it is not that,' judged ourselves, only to return to our weakness on his departure."
The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 1889, Volume 7, page 636.
Eakins quote from The Paris Letters of Thomas Eakins)

Series on GurneyJourney:
"Beaux-Arts Instruction" Series: Part 1Part 2, Part 3

Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme


Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 3 of 4)

Earl Shinn, writing in The Nation magazine in 1869, described the terms of criticism that students heard most commonly from teachers in the École des Beaux-Arts, especially from Jean-Leon Gérôme. These terms, and the concepts they represent, provide an insight into the aesthetics that were valued in an academic figure study. Quoting Shinn: 

"Too insipid, too weak and soft.
This is said of the flesh, or, as the French say, the skin."

This condemns our anatomy, when it has the look of being patched on the surface rather than woven under from the bone."

"False sentiment.
This stricture is not necessarily applied to a Della Cruscan* elegance, but has been heard over a drawing of the Laocoön expressing too much passion and motion instead of the wonderfully caught rigidity of the original."

“You have not seized the movement.
 This is one of the commonest of our difficulties; the word may apply to the most inert things, as the sweep of a lock of hair ; the lay of a fold of drapery, or of patterns on the fold; the expression of a supine hand, etc."
*Note: These criticisms have nothing to do with the painting above. "Della Cruscan" refers to members of a late 18th-century school of English writers of pretentious, affected, rhetorically ornate poetry.
The Nation, Volume 9, July 22, 1869, Page 68. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS." by Earl Shinn
Previously in "Beaux-Arts Instruction" Series: Part 1, Part 2

Friday, February 27, 2015

Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 2 of 4)


This is part two of a four-part series examining practices and principles taught the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in the 19th century. (Part 1 here). This post is excerpted from an article by Earl Shinn, an American student in Jean-Léon Gérôme's atelier. Shinn wrote about his experience in an 1869 issue of The Nation.

Students painting from life at the École 
A Week-Long Academy
Students in the École who had graduated from cast drawing and drawing from the nude model were finally allowed to paint in oil from life. The resulting study was called an "academy." The model would typically be standing in a classical pose, lit from high north windows. Students would spend a full week on each study. Here, Shinn outlines how that week was spent.

Figure study or "academy" in oil
by Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin (1808-1864)
"What is really the week’s affair to the Beaux-Arts man is his 'academy.'

"On Monday he hits the pose, which is always vigorously pronounced and spirited, on the model's part, when first assumed; the dash that may be thrown into the attitude while the figure is perfectly fresh can never be caught up again if missed at the beginning.

"By Tuesday the artist has become absorbed in the complications of light and shade.

"On Wednesday the master comes, and perhaps rejects nearly everything that has been done, disfiguring and blotting the sketch from one margin to the other. The model, drooping upon his dais may bear little resemblance to the elastic attitude of the drawing, and the student is accused of attempting to idealize. 'You have been trying to modify nature from your reminiscences of the antique; you have ennobled the head, braced the shoulders,' etc. The study is altered, in the spirit of realism, until all the stark and pitiful ugliness of the model's lassitude is expressed.

"One of the difficulties of a life 'academy' is that, although the example before you is a moving, changing object, now braced, now drooping, now turned a little to the right and now a little to the left, your copy of it is expected to show all the purism of the photograph.

"If you were putting the same model into a historical picture, you would be expected to elevate the attitude and expression; and you would then begin to hear from your critics a great deal about the difficulty and responsibility of borrowing from nature, what to take and what to leave.

"'Only Phidias and Da Vinci,' I have heard declared,  'and perhaps Michelangelo, deserved to have received the revelations of anatomy.' If, on the other hand, you were copying the antique, you would have the full luxury of refining your line and your form, with no limitation of time and with
a rigid model. The life 'academy,' then, is expected to avoid the imaginative qualities of [a] picture, and to win, from a constantly deteriorating example, the accuracy which is so fascinating a quest in copying from statuary. A felicitous study is therefore a very desirable treasure, and old forgotten ones by [Thomas] Couture or [Hippolyte] Flandrin are preserved in the ateliers where those painters have studied, used as paradigms by teachers, or sold as something of unique value in the color-stores.

Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905)

"Another trouble is the variation in the color of the air on different days. 'The patron has accused me,' an energetically protesting youth will cry, 'of seeking the silver tint of Terborg; it was as far from my thoughts as silver from my pocket. But I established my key of color on Thursday, when there was a solid gray rain like slate-pencils; and the Italian turned blue and chattered; and how will you expect the tones of Titian in such a climate, my brothers?'

"On the closing day of the week I have known an incorrigibly gay lad to exhibit a canvas almost completely expunged by the blottings of the professor. 'This was to have been my masterpiece. I meant it for the altar of the church where I was baptized, whether as a St. Michael or a John in the Wilderness. The outline was good until Auguste changed it into a caricature of the Prince Imperial.'"

According to Albert Boime, "An experienced pupil could capture a head in a single session, but the others would often require several days. During the first session, the beginner sketched the head or figure, and then traced the drawing to canvas. When confronted with the live model, the pupil proceeded in much the same way as in rendering the head, only now he drew his pencil or charcoal sketch directly on the canvas. In the second session he traced the painted outline and established the principle masses of shadows in a diluted mixture of turpentine and red ochre. On the third day he prepared his palette carefully and rendered the flesh tones, as well as the hair and accessories. Finally the last session was devoted to completing the ébauche with respect to the tout ensemble." 
Excerpts from The Nation, July 22, 1869, Page 68. "ART-STUDY IN THE IMPERIAL SCHOOL AT PARIS" by Earl Shinn
Final quote from The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century by Albert Boime
More examples of academies at LARA (London Atelier of Representational Art)
Three excellent book sources:
The Lure of Paris: Nineteenth-Century American Painters and Their French Teachers
The Studios of Paris: The Capital of Art in the Late Nineteenth Century

Previously on GurneyJourney:
Beaux-Arts Instruction (Part 1)