Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cartoons about Modern Art


 For more than a century, cartoonists have loved to take aim at modern art.


This 1910 cartoon caricatures the paintings themselves. Around them, exhibition patrons express various forms of puzzlement and consternation. In the upper right, an American art student likes the color harmonies. At the bottom is a group of people laughing uproariously, with the line "From the pictures' point of view."

From Britain's humor magazine Punch: "Farmers! Protect your crops using 'Binks Patent Futurist Scarecrow'. Specially designed by an eminent Cubist. No bird has ever been known to go within three fields of it."

 "I just can't wait to see your work, old fellow." (Peter Arno, 1953)

A Renaissance painter comes up with the tomato soup idea long before Warhol.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ghostly Gaze Illusion

Here's an optical illusion. This woman seems to be looking to our left when we see her up close, but she switches to looking to our right when we back up and look at the same face from across the room.

Here are two women with light gray eyes. They're looking more or less forward, right?

If you look at the same image files at a much smaller scale, the eyes of the two women seem to be looking at each other instead of looking forward. 

To create the faces, scientists rendered the eyes so that the sideways-looking eyes were rendered in the form of coarse, blurry detail, and the forward-looking eyes were rendered with fine detail. 

Back up enough and these ladies will all smile at you.

Our brains process fine and coarse detail in different ways, as was first made famous with the Albert Einstein / Marilyn Monroe hybrid image illusion. That's also why we need to back up from our portrait paintings while we're working on them. Otherwise we can unknowingly set up contradictory information streams at the level of fine and coarse detail. Every portrait painter has experienced eyes that seem to move or a smile that seems to change when the piece is viewed from farther back.

These gaze illusions have an eerie effect because it's so important to us humans to know which way another person is looking, and misreading gaze direction is a major issue for social interaction. That's also why it creeps us out to talk to someone up close who is wearing mirror shades.
----
The twin gaze illusion was created by Rob Jenkins of the University of Glasgow.
Hybrid images are a technique first published by Philippe Schyns & Aude Oliva in 1994.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Zorn's Self Confidence

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) painted this portrait of an executioner in Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) while he was on his honeymoon in 1885.

Just 25 years old, Zorn was brimming with self confidence. "I never spent much time thinking about others' art. I felt that if I wanted to become something, then I had to go after nature with all my interest and energy, seek what I loved about it, and desire to steal its secret and beauty. I was entitled to become as great as anyone else, and in that branch of art so commanded by me, watercolor painting, I considered myself to have already surpassed all predecessors and contemporaries."

He later translated the portrait into an etching, which is necessarily reversed.

The quote comes from Zorn's autobiographical notes, included in the recent book Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Magic Realism

Magic realism is a genre of art which endows otherworldly significance to ordinary things. The suggestion of death, the hint of history invading the present, or the sense of inanimate objects coming to life is woven into mundane reality.

Robert Vickrey 1926-2011

The movement goes back at least to the 1920s and originated in literature, with a special vitality in Spanish speaking countries. In painting, the movement was defined by the “Magic Realism” show of 1943 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The curators describe artists using "sharp focus and precise representation" to "make plausible and convincing their improbable, dreamlike and fantastic visions."
George Tooker, "Government Bureau," 1956
One of the ground rules to magic realism is that the dreamlike effect has to happen without any overtly fantastical elements, such as dragons, space ships, unicorns, or trolls—or even fantastical effects, such as glowing rays, levitation, or morphing.

"Spring" by Andrew Wyeth, 1978
Andrew Wyeth often combined familiar things from his world in strange ways, such as showing the aging Karl Kuerner lying in one of the last bits of snow on the field opposite his house to suggest the death and rebirth of spring.

Gary Ruddell, born 1951
Among contemporary artists, not everyone fits the description of "sharp focus and precise representation." Sometimes motion blurs and simple backgrounds convey the magic, as with the science-fiction-cover-artist turned gallery painter Gary Ruddell,  whose paintings often deal with points of decision, rites of passage, and the inability to communicate.

Among contemporary photographers, Gregory Crewdson stages off-kilter scenarios of ordinary people in everyday surroundings, but often in states of undress or with weird lighting that he carefully sets up in Hollywood-style shoots. It looks almost plausible, but strangely otherworldly.

In film, magic realism (or the more recent term "magical realism") might include Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, Jan Jakub Kolski's Venice,  and Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kickstarting the "Perfect Sketchbook"


Cherngzhi Lian is Kickstarting a campaign to produce what he calls the "perfect sketchbook," which he worked out after trying pretty much every sketchbook on the market. His ideal book is hardback, pocket-sized and landscape format, with 100% cotton paper and a grayscale on the endpapers for judging the values in the scene. 

Restaurant Patron

I was impressed with the striking silhouette of a restaurant patron who was sitting about ten feet away from me. She had cornrows that ended in long braids, big silver earrings, and red horn-rimmed glasses.

I opened up my watercolor set and quickly laid down some washes starting with the blue highlight color of her skin. I worked as quickly and discretely as I could. I was a little nervous about the possible reaction from her and her boyfriend if she were to notice I was painting her. I tried to remind myself to wipe the look of intense concentration off my face and wear a pleasant smile instead.


Sure enough, when I glanced up she was looking at me and clearly wondering what I was doing. I showed her my sketchbook and told her I'm trying to get practice painting people in watercolor. She and her boyfriend loved it, and only wanted to take a photo to put on her Facebook page.