Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nicolas Uribe Interview

I was fortunate enough to have the extremely talented Nicolas Uribe respond to an email interview.

Hope you enjoy it.

Are there any artists you have studied or studied under that have influenced you or taught you valuable lessons?
I was lucky enough to have Steven Assael as a teacher at SVA. Watching
him paint had a profound effect on me. It was so dramatic, that I had
to spend a lot of time after graduating trying to get rid of his
influence. I admire him immensely but I wouldn't want to be seen
solely as his student. He gave us all tools, and it was up to us to
put them to good use.
And as far as studying other artists, oh my, the list would be
endless. There are many, many painters I admire that I constantly
check out. I try to be very respectful and specially very careful when
looking at their work, in terms of not noticing the surface,
superficial way the painting was resolved, but trying to figure out
how they made paint behave the way they intended.

What do you personally consider the most important element in your paintings – form, tone, colour, composition for example?

Not color, I'm afraid... I was never quite interested in color, even
though my work is obviously not void of color. But I guess I always
try to design an image so it can highlight the forms I?m drawn towards.

How has your knowledge of anatomy helped you in painting figures? What attracts you personally to the figure?

To be totally honest, I have no formal knowledge of anatomy, which
became very clear to me when I did some sculptures a bit ago. The
drawing courses at SVA were designed to be able to recognize how forms
and shapes would repeat in the body, and translating those shapes into
a figure was just a matter of observation and repetition. Well that,
and I think it was James Jean who said it best when he said that it
was thanks to comic books that he had learned anatomy.

In regards to what attracts me to the figure, well absolutely
everything. The way the body is able to convey a huge array of
emotions through gestures and subtle attitudes is absolutely
fascinating to me. I don?t believe there's a single human being on
this earth that wouldn't be worth painting.

How would you define and explain your paintings of multiple figures, often of the same person. What is it that you are trying to achieve?

I'm not sure... I guess it's about trying to portray a single moment
made up of multiple events. It?s not about freezing time, it's not
about a specific light at a specific time of day... It has more to do
with believing that no single image can portray reality. Sometimes we
get a better sense of someone or something when we look at them
through various viewpoints.

What art movement or genre do you feel included in, realist /academic ?
Well I haven't received an invitation from any specific movement so I
guess I'm not really wanted... (kidding). I actually don't care about
those things. There are so many aspects of the Art world that I enjoy
so much and provide me with such energy that it would be limiting to
just move within certain parameters.

Are there any current illustrators who you like? What do you think about the separation between illustration and fine art?
Oh yeah... Ive always been a fan of illustration. McKean, Ashley
Wood, Paul Pope, James Jean, Tomer Hanuka, Phil Hale, Craig Mullins,

and a ton of digital concept artists that just blow me away.

Some of your artwork seems to be painted on top of prints of other artworks, often distorting elements of it. Could you explain your technical and thoughts on these paintings?
I just thought it would be neat to work on top of a reproduction of a
reproduction of a work of art. That sort of iteration somewhat
intrigued me. So I photographed some illustrations of well known
paintings that appeared in old Art books I own, and then blew them up
and printed them so I could get a weird dot pattern, coupled with a
bit of pixelation due to the size. What I ended up with was somewhat
of a distorted, abstract representation of a very recognizable, iconic
image, and used that as a starting point to do whatever the hell
popped into my head. It was a fun exercise to say the least.



Go to and look at more of his artwork

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shawn Barber

Shawn Barber is a SF based artist and illustrator who has worked for a number of clients such as Target, Subway, Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, to name a few.
He recently painted a portrait of Barack Obama for inauguration day.

Having significantly worked as an illustrator and teacher, Shawn Barber has turned to more personal work such as “the doll series”, and his giant undertaking “Tattooed portraits”.

Tattoos serve as the perfect medium for expression on a body besides evident expression and pose, they are a reflection of the person and evidently contribute to a more complete portrait. The sitters are revealing not only their figures when they unclothe themselves, but their personal markings and symbols.

In some instances the tattoos overwhelm the figure continuing onto the picture plain, having more significant than the face and body.

Shawn Barber manages a blend between the realism of tone and colour of the figure, and the design of the tattoos. Often the intensity of the tattoo seems to overwhelm the canvas and take a life of its own.
the following Q&A is from the FAQ section of his website

"I noticed your illustration style and your regular painting style to be quite different, what changes do you have to make in your style in order to paint a successful illustration (as opposed to the more "fine art" style, so to speak)?"
"my paintings are completely different than what i do commercially. the paintings are much larger- avg 5 ft.- and they become finished works through the process. they are much more ABOUT process and the experience of painting, where as the illustrations are direct, interpretations of my sketches. it's a different mindset for me. i have no time restrictions or obligations to anyone but myself and my own aesthetic when i paint these large works. i don't show them in galleries and i basically make them because i want to, and i have to. it's a way for me to release myself, my stress, my thoughts, my past, my fears - everything is dealt with when i paint. time does not matter and has no bearing on these works. i make them for me and others seem to enjoy them- but i make them because i want to express myself through this medium. if i was a singer or songwriter i would be in a band, but i'm not. i'm a painter. the illustrations are a lot of fun for me and they offer different challenges. they are fairly quick and because of that i don't get too emotionally attached to them. they allow me the opportunity to paint every day and i have the freedom of time when i don't have an assignment."

What advice would you give a new illustrator / artist in general? (style, the business itself, etc . . . )
• #1- "be true to yourself and your art. i see too many carbon copy cats out there that are denying there own work. influence is one thing, but stealing is not only unethical, it's disgusting and totally disrespectful. • get the gag book (for any and all questions regarding the business side)- * be patient. be persistent. draw, draw, draw, draw, draw. draw from life- draw from memory, try to stay away from drawing strictly from photos. paint, paint, paint, paint, paint. look at old masters and copy their works. read, read, read, read. read everything- i would suggest reading a few specific books... ben shahn's 'the shape of content' ; robert henri's 'the art spirit' ; jospeph campbell's 'the power of myth' ; krishnamurti's 'the first and last freedom' ; carl jung's 'psychological reflections' ; and laurence g. boldt's 'zen and the art of making a living'... put together a strong body of work (minimum of 10 pieces) and send out portfolios to the specific people that YOU want to work with / for. ( i call them my "hit list"- i keep sending them books until they hire me...) print out postcards and send them to who YOU want to work for / with. you can get names and addresses from the graphic artist's market book, going to the bookstore and looking at EVERYTHING that uses illustration and send your work to them. target a market. i've targeted doing graphic portraits as a starting point for a career in this field.... then expand on that and branch out. only make images that YOU want to make- if you make what you THINK people want and you hate doing it, they will probably hire you to do what you DON'T want to do- so do what makes you happy...put your work on the internet-"

Shawn makes some interesting points about being an artist.
“Being a Professional Artist"
"Be Prepared to Struggle The life of a freelance / self employed / gallery artist is not an easy one. It definitely has it's ups and downs. The pros- you can be creative everyday, you can set your own schedule, you can travel whenever you like, you are in control of your day to day, including your future... The cons- inconsistent cash flow, stress of not knowing when work will come, sometimes you have to do work that is less than exciting, no health insurance, bills sometimes get paid late... Be Down for the Long Haul It's not going to happen overnight. If you're lucky- in 5 years you maintain some sort of consistent work flow, sales and success. For most, it takes 7-10 years. The first 3 years are the hardest. With a lot of people, these are the 'make-or-break' years.

Frustration, lack of motivation, laziness, insecurity and lack of drive will overwhelm most people who even think about being an 'artist'. You can't claim to be something if you make no effort
or have no aspirations. Wanting to be and being are two completely different people. Make a list of goals, no matter how lofty, outrageous or small they may be. Work diligently and daily until you achieve these goals. Appreciate and celebrate the small successes, but stay hungry and keep your focus on the future and the unaccomplished goals. Put yourself around successful, healthy and creative people. If your friends are excited about life and what they do and who they are, that energy is contagious. People that have no drive, no direction or aspirations are dead weight- they are going nowhere, talk about the same things and, typically, their depression and negative energy will affect you and take you away from your own goals.

Sometimes it's difficult, but if someone truly cares about you, they should be happy for your success and dedication, not jealous, bitter or resentful. Life is way too short. Be honest with your work and your weaknesses. You HAVE to be your own worst critic. Do not settle for where you are. You should constantly strive to get better and learn something new. Complacency turns into laziness, which falls into boredom and mediocrity. Why do something if you don't care about it? No one is 'making you' do it. If art is a hobby, that's all well and good- but don't fool yourself and think you're something that you're not. Be humble. Realize that you're not that good. There are 10,000 artists living that are better than you. There are 100,000,000 in art history that are even better. Feel good about what you do but don't lose sight of this reality. Challenge yourself to do things you don't think you can do, either out of fear or lack of knowledge. Expose yourself to ALL kinds of art- painting, sculpture, film, furniture design, illustration, architecture, animation, etc. Ask yourself WHAT and WHY you like certain aspects of your favorite art pieces and allow that to nurture, inspire and motivate your own work. More than anything stated, the most important ideal is to HAVE INTEGRITY.
Stand behind what you do, have your own voice, your own aesthetic and your own opinions. Don't try and be the 'Flavor of the Month'. Please, Please, Please- whatever you do, don't be a jackoff. The art world is very small. Don't let yourself get labeled as a clone, a copycat, a spineless, unoriginal bastard. No one will respect you or your work. It's lazy and unethical, disrespectful and disgusting.
Don't turn work or commissions down. No job is too small. Sometimes, you even have to do work for free.... ALWAYS be professional. Try to challenge yourself and take on more than you can handle. You will be surprised, when it comes down to crunch time, if you focus and make deliberate decisions and actions- you will accomplish much more than you thought you were capable of.”

Shawn Barber is a contemporary artist and illustrator whose work ethic and artistic practice has had a strong impact on my own art. He is tirelessly dedicated to his craft, prolific and brilliant. I hope you enjoy his work.

Life Drawing Reflection

I have been going to open life drawing at Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA) most weeks this year on a Thursday night. Drawing begins at 6:00 pm and concludes at 9:00 pm with a short break in the middle. Each week, artists and art students arrive with a number of materials, conte, charcoal, gouche etc and draw or paint the figure in whatever fashion they want. Because the class is “open” there is no teacher present, only an organizer who sets the timer for each pose. This allows those attending the freedom and opportunity to create without the dictating presence of a teacher.

Usually I begin by drawing small studies into my sketchbook in pen or pencil, sometimes favoring a brush pen when the pose suits it. Poses start at 2 minutes, and gradually increase in time, the final pose being between 30 minutes and an hour. Because I usually choose work on smaller drawings, the shorter poses suit me. On longer poses I tend to lose concentration and lose interest.

Over the weeks I have attended this class I have used a number of drawing tools, such as charcoal, pen, pencil, conte, brushpen and coloured pencils. Approaching the figure from life, I find the structure of the figure the most interesting. Light, musculature, line and tone are all aspects relevant to studying and observing the figure, however the structure is crucial in establishing a convincing figure. By structure, I am referring to the interlocking anatomy and shapes of the figure. How the ribcage connects with the arms and neck, how the bottom connects with the leg, how each limb is connected. It is this approach that seems the most logical to me, although it doesn’t suit everyone.

Walking around the life drawing room reveals a number of different intentions and styles. Some artists prefer to draw solely the face, some make only gestural marks indicating the flow of the figure.

Each week there is usually a different model. Having variation in models has allowed me to see how different and similar bodies are. Some models are thin, their ribcages visible, thighs slender and long, other models are larger, rounder, with softer curves. Model variation allows the artist to draw the figure with different approaches. Drawings of thin models suit hard line drawings and sharp silhouettes, with the emphasis on slender lines. Larger models suit drawings with heavy tone, usage of charcoal for getting light and shade looking 3-d.

Having both male and female models has also shown me how variation in drawing style suits different shapes. Men have squarer torsos, more suited to cubes and rectangles. Women have more elegant torsos, suited to curvy lines.

Life Drawing has been a crucial part of my extension studies program. It has allowed me to interact with other artists and observe the figure from life (primary research) and has been integral in the practical component of this study. The life drawings I complete are part of my folio, with some being part of the exhibition.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Exhibition Reflection 2

As the artworks are being taken down from the first exhibition (see earlier post), others are being put up elsewhere. Earlier this year, I participated in a youth art class organized by the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA). The Class occurred over 2 days, being led by local artist Trevor Newman. The subject of the class was self portraiture.

The first day began with introductions and a viewing of artworks from the AGSA’s permanent collection. Images by prominent Australian artists such as Mike Parr and Ivor Hele were shown among a diverse collection of artist’s styles. Trevor Newman gave a short lecture on the significance and practice of self portraiture and demonstrated some practical art skills. Students returned to their easels, brimming with inspiration and ideas, sheets of paper and charcoal in hand. Each student had a mirror to draw from and a supply of art materials.

Students then began to draw their appearance. My first portrait was done on toned paper with red conte. My intention was for an accurate likeness. I first began by drawing the shape of my head, then massing in the tone and form of the face. The face was separated into roughly 5 tones, the paper tone, white conte, soft red tone, hard red tone and black charcoal. As the likeness emerged, I received comments from instructor Trevor Newman. He was pleased with the emerging likeness and had some advice for getting the tones accurately. As I completed this first portrait, Trevor approached me and instructed me to create another self portrait, this time less concerned with my “bread and butter” traditional approach.
I got new sheets of paper, another colour of conte and began my second drawing. I drew quicker, spontaneously, not concerned with absolute realism. I redrew my head from other angles, giving the impression of movement. I created a third drawing in a similar matter.

The following day Trevor gave an evaluation on the progress of students. Each student was approaching the subject differently. Some drew with soft delicate lines, others drew with force and dynamism, others simplified and some exaggerated. The magnitude of different styles and skills was overwhelming. Trevor was pleased with the progress of my drawings and had succeeded in getting me “out of my comfort zone” and into unknown territory. His persistence and energy for me to branch out and attack the subject anew gave me confidence and vigor.
I completed another self portrait, using the first traditionalist drawings as a prop against the mirror at a skewed angle, to redraw the portrait from a new angle, not using my face as the reference, but using the drawing of my face as reference.
This was conceived as an experiment after having seen Mike Parr explain his process for drawing images such as this image below
Mike Parr
at the Summer Art Scholarship earlier this year.

I created 2 quick drawings in this manner. The second day had concluded and Trevor gave a finishing speech. He was pleased with the progress of all the students and interested in my future plans as an artist.

This experience was rewarding and enjoyable. I felt I was challenged as an artist and that the outcomes of my drawings were successful. I had gained a contact in Trevor Newman and interacted with students my age with a similar interest in drawing.

On Friday the Fourteenth of August, the works of participating students were hung in Carclew Youth Arts Centre. The exhibition was in a large room, and the drawings were all mounted and hung close together. The room was packed with the students and their parents. My artwork was hung as a series of three, the traditionalist drawing on the end and the looser drawings beside it. Although I had outlined the hanging order ( which image next to each image), the images were hung according to colour choice( Red, Blue Red), I had originally intended the realist drawing to be in the middle.

Speeches began at 8pm by Mark Fisher, head of the education department at AGSA who welcomed those attending. He gave a brief overview of the self portraiture course then began to award prizes for participants. The exhibition was a joint exhibition with a life drawing class, and the figure prizes were announced. Mark then announced the winner of the Self Portrait class.

Mark called my name and I accepted the prize to my nervous horror. I accepted the prize (I received the book- LETS FACE IT: THE HISTORY OF THE ARCHIBALD PRIZE, the 2009 Archibald Prize catalogue, a certificate and a gift voucher to the AGSA bookshop) and stopped to have photographs taken. I have an ambivalent attitude to art exhibitions having some element of contest, of winners and losers. On one side, it is fantastic to be rewarded on artistic achievements and hard work, but on another side it can be devastating not winning. Also when it comes to judging artworks, bias is always inherent, and judges often make puzzling decisions.

After I was awarded the prize I was approached by a number of people asking about my intent with the images and future plans regarding art. The experience had similarities to my earlier exhibition (see earlier post). Interacting with strangers who ask very direct personal, probing questions is sometimes difficult. Although I do not feel entirely self conscious, I find myself anxious projecting myself to people I do not know.

The experience was largely pleasant, the artworks were all hung well and the exhibiting space had good light. I received a number of warm compliments and congratulations from people which was nice. Having my artwork hung in a group context was good to see the range of different styles. The experience was a lot of fun and made me feel engaged in the local art world.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nicolas Uribe

Nicolas Uribe (born 1977) is a contemporary figurative artist who currently resides in Bogotá Columbia.
His images feature multiple figures of the same model, their form often from multiple view points. Interestingly, the subjects face is often created with little significance, sometimes covered or obscured. The pose is always of central importance. Nicolas Uribe’s style has made progression from his artworks dated from 2004. In these earlier works, figures appear ghost like, being painted with grey light values. The subject gives the impression of being barely there, shifting between vision and emptiness, captured fleetingly. The underlying beauty of his paintings lies in his technical and imaginative proficiency. Nicolas is above all, an intelligent artist.

Título: Waterfalls
Oil on Linen
Size: 160 x 180 cms
Año: 2005

When asked about his portraiture work he replied “The concept of a likeness is also something I’m not really interested in. I would much rather paint a believable human being, that an empty likeness.”

FucsiaFunkPunk , 2009

I guess it’s an attempt to portray a version of reality not by making a single representative icon, but to find essence in repetition. The echoing rhythms that are produced by motion, or replication, or even duplication are very sensual elements that broaden the vocabulary of painting if you will. The small difference between shapes that only seem similar, create a sort of respiratory system where the painting breathes. It’s really very attractive. There are also many direct references in terms of manner, to photography and digital post processing. That initiative, coupled with a technical decision to incorporate wax into my paintings, led me to what you describe as ghostly. I find them to be very sexy paintings, where the tonal range is reduced and requires the viewer to make an effort and really observe the subtlety present in each painting.
In his more recent work from 2008, Nicolas juxtaposes elements of historical relevant artworks, painting over sections, altering their appearance.

Título: Venus
Mixed Media
Size: 100 x 140 cm
Año: 2008

"GO: What do you consider an artist's job, and/or responsibilities, to be, in a wider context? How do you see the role of the arts, particularly painting, in society, what can it uniquely offer?
NU: I actually feel very strongly about this, and I’ll be very blunt. I actually believe that even though the Artist may have the possibility to have strong social impact, or project a voice that can be heard, I believe Art is completely useless. It’s only purpose should be to create some sort of exchange between the work of Art and the viewer. It can communicate, reject, invite or simply avoid the viewer. And whether it provokes empathy, apathy, disregard, it does not have any impact on its nature nor quality. Art has never meant to be beautiful, or universal, or solve inequities of an unfair world. Art is made to be experienced, and whether its life is ephemeral or eternal is in the end unimportant."
The quotes come from an interview at
Another of Nicolas’ talents is in appropriation and reexamination of classical artworks, painting over the top of reproductions.

In the image below, the face of Jesus Christ has been appropriated, and a torso has been inserted, genetalia explicit, with the words love machine painting below. The image immediately confronts the viewer with it’s sexual frankness and the disproportionate head.

Título: JesusChrist!
Mixed Media
Size: 90 x 70 cm
Año: 2008

Oil on Linen
Size: 245 x 280 cm
Año: 2002-2008

In this image above, Nicolas paints the sensuality of skin with a series of twisting nudes, the many faceless women identity less.

Título: Coffee Break
Oil on Cardboard
Size: 75 x 50 cms
Año: 2007

Nicolas Uribe is a unique artist in the contemporary art scene, with some elements of abstraction and modernism in his work, with his classical/illustration background he creates artworks that are both bold and bizarre, contemporary and traditional. Nicholas is also an artist who understands presentation of artworks on the internet, his website features high resolution and low resolution photographs of his artwork so the viewer can get an impression of his artwork up close and at a distance, something that is often poorly done on artist’s websites. Nicolas remains one of the great new figurative painters of the 21st century.

War Art

A war provides the artist with a number of interesting themes and events to record and document. A war artist records the war uniquely, some are soldiers with an interest in drawing, others are sanctioned by the government and some create propaganda.

War images have been present for centuries, Velázquez painted this treaty painting.
The Surrender of Breda 1635 Velázquez, 1634, 307cm x 367 cm

Rubens painted The Massacre Of the Innocents-1611

Otto Dix 'Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor [Stormtroops advancing under gas]' 1924 etching, aquatint, drypoint Collection of the National Gallery of Australia,

Verwundeter (Herbst 1916, Bapaume) [Wounded soldier - Autumn 1916, Bapaume], plate 6 from Der Krieg Intaglio etching, aquatint Edition: ed. 58/70

Some artists have taken an expressionistic approach to record the horrors of wars-
Der Krieg [War] 1924 arose out of Dix’s own experiences of the horrors of war. Otto Dix had volunteered for service in the army and fought as a machine-gunner on the Western Front. He was wounded a number of times, once almost fatally. War profoundly affected him as an individual and as an artist, and he took every opportunity, both during his active service and afterwards, to document his experiences.

In 1963, explaining why he volunteered for the army in the First World War he had this to say:
"I had to experience how someone beside me suddenly falls over and is dead and the bullet has hit him squarely. I had to experience that quite directly. I wanted it. I’m therefore not a pacifist at all – or am I? Perhaps I was an inquisitive person. I had to see all that myself. I’m such a realist, you know, that I have to see everything with my own eyes in order to confirm that it’s like that. I have to experience all the ghastly, bottomless depths of life for myself"…[3]
In the same interview, he also had this to say:
"As a young man you don’t notice at all that you were, after all, badly affected. For years afterwards, at least ten years, I kept getting these dreams, in which I had to crawl through ruined houses, along passages I could hardly get through."

Others paint as nationalistic propaganda

Battle scenes provide the artist with a number of poses for the figure, fallen corpses, attacking soldiers, arming guns and weapons, waiting in trenches, receiving medical aid, manning horses/vehicles.
Ivor Hele, Australian troops disembarking at Alexandria after the evacuation of Greece
painted in Aldinga, South Australia in 1943
oil on canvas
139.9 x 206 cm

The war artist faces tremendous risks in war zones to experience and record what he or she sees. War artists commissioned by the government and not enrolled in the military enter war zones unarmed and prone to danger. What sparks the civilian to enter war zones to be an artist? Otto Dix’s remarks reveal one attitude, the ability to be witness to such human actions, however other interests are present in war artists.

George Gittoes is a contemporary social realist who travels to war scenes through out the world, including Nicaragua, the Philippines, Somalia, Sinai, Southern Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, South Africa, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Bougainville, Tibet, Timor, the Congo and bear witness to those who have experienced trauma through their environment.

His images, including dead bodies, diseased children, blindness and amputation are confronting and take a different perspective to the media. Constant bombardment of disturbing images in the media has caused many people to feel “desensitised” to violence. It is harder, however, to become comfortable or familiar with Gittoes’s images, as his art appeals to human emotion and ideas of justice, rather than political theories.

Gittoes pursues his career as war artist and the topics he looks into because he believes that by focusing and questioning man’s inhumanity will we be able to understand and change ourselves. “ I believe there is a role for contemporary art to challenge, rather than entertain. My work is confronting humanity with the darker side of itself.”

Kibeho (Rwanda)
oil on Canvas 240x258 cm 1995

Does war art have more or less impact than war photography? While the artist can exaggerate with style, embellish poses and scenes, the war photographer merely records with their camera. The effect of reality as expressed through painting and photography differ. War paintings are so entrenched with the human element/ emotions that they offer a subjective personal view, whereas the camera offers a more objective view, although the photographer is still present in its composition and creation. Personally war paintings seem more eternal and powerful. Photographs have to ability to confront us, to display viewers with real scenes of life captured, but not recorded with the sensibilities of the senses. War paintings present us with images conceived through human eyes, human ears, fingers and noses, photographs present us with mechanical snapshots of powerful moments in human history.

The third of May by Francisco de Goya 1814 :Oil on canvas Dimensions 268 cm × 347 cm Location Museo del Prado, Madrid

Austrians executing Serbs
The comparisons between these two images are striking; both depict soldiers executing unarmed foes. In Goya’s painting, the innocents are unarmed civilians, in the photograph Austrians are executing unarmed Serbian soldiers. The immense emotional impact is shared between the two visuals; both generate emotions of disgust, sympathy and terror.

These two images can exist in the wider framework on the power of art versus photography in terms of value, integrity and effectiveness. When analyzing these two images, some background information is to be known about how the images were created.

Goya was a Spaniard who was appalled by the treatment of occupying the French army at the start of the 19th century. The painting was commissioned by the provisional government of Spain at Goya's suggestion. Goya did not experience the scene shown in the painting, although he witnesses several similar events. Because of the commissioned nature of the work, it has a particular bias against the French which has some historical precedents. It is a large painting, measuring 268 cm × 347 cm and would have taken considerable time to plan and finish. It is likely he hired models to pose for the characters in the painting.

The photograph was taken instantly of a squad of Austrians seconds before firing at a number of kneeling, blind folded Serbians. The photograph is in high contrast, the blacks stand out against the whites. The image was taken by an Austrian photographer. This photograph captures a brief second, the moment before the execution as the soldiers steady their breath and aim.

Goya’s paintings serves an obvious purpose, to document the injustice of the occupying army, however the purpose of the photograph is a little ambiguous. On one level it serves as a historical document, but it isn’t clear why the photograph was taken and the intention of the photographer. Both images share similarities and differences and both have substantial emotional impact on the viewer.

John Singer Sargent, gassed
Imperial War Museum
Oil on canvas
Full painting -- 231 x 611.1 cm

When analyzing War Art it is crucial in understanding the background behind the artist and their intent creating images. The effectiveness and integrity of the art depends on the truth and skill of the artist when creating these haunting works. War art serves many different purposes, as a visual reminder to the horrors and disasters of war, to document and preserve the lives of soldiers and to serve as nationalistic propaganda. War art is one of the most powerful documents of man’s inhumanity to man that we have available to us today. It preserves the visual history of man’s violent struggle through sanctioned murder and destruction and reminds us of our own mortality and safety.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Death in Art

Kevin Llewellyn Cadaver Study

Death is the end of life, the living’s last heart beat and breath and the completion of the life cycle. Death is represented in art as a cloaked skeletal figure, a skull and corpse among other guises. The cloaked skeleton is the personification of death, the grim reaper, who approaches as death becomes inevitable and ends life. The skull represents the peeling away of the face revealing the casing of the mind.

My interest in death lies in my interest in mortality, old age, the decayed body and the anatomical structure layered in a lifeless body. With death comes a peeling back of layers, skin, muscles, organs – embalming and mummification complete the process for the deceased. For organ donors the non living body becomes a sum of it’s parts, a commodity to help the living if possible.

In philosophy and religion, death presents us various views and beliefs. Two philosophical notions, dualism and physicalism, question whether there is an immaterial soul or whether the body is only a complicated organ capable of immense things. Most religious views have a belief in the afterlife and the continuation of living in some other form after life has been completed. For Christians death leads to heaven, or hell to nonbelievers. For Buddhists death restarts the life cycle in reincarnation, the person becoming another living entity in another shape.

The theme of death in art has been around for centuries. Death and the last living hours are present in the passion of the Christ, a subject matter that has been present strongly through art’s history. Christ on the cross has seen much iteration throughout the centuries, from El Greco’s Christ Carrying the Cross

To Velázquez’s Christ on the Cross- 1632

Death in art has the power to confront the viewer with their own mortality, their own livingness, in ways that surpass normal emotions. In most modern countries, death is something that is hidden away from people, separated into cemeteries and funerals. Most would agree that death is an inherently bad thing, that living surpasses death in possible everyway. In Mexican culture, death is celebrated in the Day of the Dead (El Día de los Muertos- Nov 2nd) the holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. Death in culture has such wide ranging importance between nations and societies that simple analysis does little justice to the range of connotations.

In Ancient Greece death was personified as a bearded and winged manKevin Llewellyn

In Germanic folklore Death was a guise of Odin. The 'Grim' of Grim Reaper being derived from Grimnir, a name for Odin.
Wotan takes leave of brunhild by Konrad Dielitz

Old Slavic tribes viewed Death as a woman in white clothes, with a never-fading green sprout in her hand. The touch of the sprout would put a human to an everlasting sleep.

In the Bible, the fourth horseman of Revelation 6 is called Death, and is pictured with Hades following him.

Autopsy Alexander Carletti

Autopsy is a painting which I began featuring a medical examination of a corpse. An Autopsy is a medical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a human corpse to determine the cause and manner of a person's death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present. It is usually performed by a pathologist, from the Greek words "pathos" meaning "disease" and "logos" meaning "a treatise" = a treatise of disease.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. 1632

Death as a cutthroat by Alfred Rethel

Egon schiele
Death and the maiden 1915

Triumphing Death by Alfred Rethel

Dantes inferno
"This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of thoses
who lived without disgrace and without praise.
They now commingle with the coward angels,
the company of those who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.
The heavens, that their beauty not be lessened,
have cast them out, not will deep Hell recieve them-
even the wicked cannot glory in them."
Inferno, Canto III, lines 34-42: Virgil on the Neutrals in the Ante-Hell.

Here one must leave behind all hesitation;
here every cowardice must meet its death.
Inferno: Canto III, lines 14-15

Death presents the artist with the theme of decay and mortality, a reminder to the living of their own livingness. The theme fits into the dark arts, the macabre and gruesome, the unhinged and strange. Death is an event, an experience, the terminal experience of one’s life, however death has a wider relation than that in art. Images of death personified, the dead, corpses and autopsies among other images, form the fabric for death’s tight grip.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Exhibition Opening: A New Experiene

So far in this blog I have never talked about my own artwork. The following post is a reflection on having my first solo exhibition in a gallery.

Having an exhibition was a completely new experience to me, it was both unnerving and exciting. Having an exhibition for the first time means exposing the private act of painting into a public context, and considering that few people see my artwork, usually only people I know on a personal level, it is intimidating to show strangers your craft and receive a response. I learnt a number of lessons dealing with interacting with people, presentation of artwork and finances.

Firstly, approaching someone at a gallery requires initiative; I had to phone the gallery to arrange an appointment and bring in my artwork. The first time I did this, I brought in about a dozen artworks and propped them against the wall of the gallery space. I talked to the gallery director and owner, Russell Starke at Greenhill Galleries and discussed my artwork with him. He said he liked the artwork and was interested in seeing more, although he was apprehensive about showing the work as an exhibition. He told me to phone back in a month, with the artworks signed by myself.
I phoned him back a month later, with more artworks complete and arranged to meet him a second time. I brought in a larger number of paintings this time, and a folder of drawings. He was impressed by the direction I was taking and arranged to have my work featured in the next exhibition in a fortnight’s time. He also asked me to prepare a disk featuring all the images, named, edges blackened, hooks to hang them attached and with their size proportions. The following week I fulfilled these tasks and brought in my artwork to be hung in the gallery space. I was presented with a list of the artworks as insurance. I briefly discussed pricing with the gallery assistant and the director, they suggested pricing between 250 and 450 dollars which was more than I expected.

The following Friday I went to the preview exhibition, which is an invitation only event where potential buyers have a chance to buy the artwork before the exhibition opening. At the preview event I was introduced to the other exhibiting artists and was introduced to a number of people attending. I viewed the artwork hanging in the gallery for the first time. The work was hung in the hallway; the images were close together, some above others. In the space of the hallway, there was little distance between the viewer and the artworks so standing at a distance was not possible for most of the works. The paintings were beneath a strong artificial light and images that had Liquin or varnish were very shiny. The lighting also showed various parts of paintings which were not entirely covered with Liquin, and shiny in places. Having the artworks closely spaced together meant you could not entirely focus on one painting; another painting would be in peripheral vision. At the preview exhibition I talked to a number of people, including a young couple who were doctors. At the start of the exhibition I was a little anxious about why I was there, and also conscious of making a good impression. I made an effort to dress more formally and also to be polite to people. I think that the preview went fine, although I was slightly disappointed that no artworks sold, I thought that considering their relatively low price and the stature of those attending that I might sell one artwork.

During the Preview exhibition I was approached by people who wanted to understand what was behind the exhibition. I explained that the images were based on a theme of the life cycle-life and death. The Dolls being representative of birth, although static lifeless objects, and the skulls were symbolic of old age and death. The feedback I received at the preview was mostly positive. People made comments such as “ this is good, strong work, very dynamic”. Under the intoxication of wine, one man commented that he liked the style of the paintings, but considered it too dark to hang in his home. This comment did not come as a surprise; it further reinforced my belief that the average art buyer is more interested in art as decoration than art as art, or is interested in lighter subject matter.

On Sunday I attended the exhibition opening, arriving at 11:30. Some of my friends arrived and viewed the exhibition. I started talking to Ms Bonython who asked me who interested me in contemporary art. I said I liked the artwork of Jenny Saville, Lucien Freud and Odd Nerdrum, choosing names I thought she would recognize. At 12:00 speeches began. Gallery Director Russell Starke addressed the crowd first and introduced the three artists exhibiting. At around 12:30 I left the exhibition with my friends, returning after 1:00. I talked to an artist who exhibits locally; she gave me some positive feedback about the artwork and asked about my plans after art school.
The overall exhibition was a success in the sense that I could present my artwork in a public setting and receive feedback. Through the process I learnt lessons about presentation of artwork and talking to strangers. Having an exhibition also taught me about people’s interest in purchasing artwork, and how difficult it is to sell an artwork in the current economic climate.

Photos taken at Opening Exhibition