Saturday, December 22, 2007

The ghosts of Christmas cards past

A few years ago, I sent out a series of Christmas cards featuring some illustrations that I did with brush and ink. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time and/or energy to do this every year, but I thought that you would enjoy seeing these drawings that I did back in the 1990s, featuring my somewhat skewed sense of humor.

(click on images to zoom in)

Merry Christmas, and best wishes for the year to come!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas advertising ain't what it used to be

I am a big fan of Leif Peng's art blog, Today's Inspiration, which features vintage illustration and advertising art. If you like this kind of thing, I highly recommend his blog!

I was, well, inspired by Leif's blog, and decided to post some vintage Christmas ads, which I found via a google image search. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the names of the artists or the exact dates for most of theses ads. The first ad is from 1926, and you'll see that one of the pieces is signed by Norman Rockwell. Other than that, I'm in the dark on this stuff. If anyone would like to provide any information, that would be really nice-- as Leif rightly points out, so many of these great illustrators of the past are largely unknown today.

If you are as old as I am, these ads will really take you back to another world. I hope you enjoy them.

Hey, kids, how about a nice pocket watch for Christmas? And dig that bearskin rug!

How about.... a new car!
(Note: a car ad with no car! You won't see that today.)

You don't see too many of these any more...

Just the thing for the modern housewife!

Now these are what I call Christmas lights! Later for those little twinkle lights. These are the real deal!

Cool!!! Rifles for the whole family! (Actually, they are just pellet guns, but still-- way cool!)

To go with your pellet guns, hey-- how about a few cocktails! Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a little Johnny Walker. Delicious, and nutritious. "Hey mom, can I have another one?"

On second thought, maybe we should all just have some 7-Up....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Santa Claus by illustrator Haddon Sundblom

The character that we know as Santa Claus has, in one form or another, been around for hundreds of years, having its origins in the 4th century A.D. in the person of Saint Nicholas, who was a bishop in what is now modern-day Turkey. Over the centuries, the story of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe and he was mythologized, eventually becoming known by the Dutch as Sinter Klass. Dutch immigrants brought the legend to America in the 17th century. Santa became fully Americanized in 1823 in the poem "The Night Before Christmas".

Visually, Santa has a pretty lengthy history as well, but the basic version that most of us are familiar with was created in the 19th century by the American illustrator Thomas Nast. (The image on the left is Nast's "Merry Old Santa Claus", from Harper's Weekly, January 1, 1881.) This version of Santa Claus, however, was further developed by the great American illustrator Haddon Sundblom. In 1931, the Coca-Cola company commissioned Sundblom to develop advertising images of Santa, and he created a series of paintings of the beloved character over several decades. These paintings by Sundblom have become classics, and his version of Santa is the one that has become the standard for what most people envision when they think of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus by Haddon Sundblom, 1931-1964







For more information on Haddaon and Coca-Cola, click here.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Faculty meetings

At faculty meetings, I try to be attentive for as long as I can, but sometimes I just start doodling.... When I'm not thinking about anything in particular, I might do something like this. I'm not a misogynist.. really, I'm not. I do admit to having some misanthropic tendencies, but I'm working on it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Art Books: A+, Five Stars, etc.

I would like to share with you some truly beautiful art books that I have picked up over the last year or two. Every one of these books is absolutely stunning!

Odd Nerdrum-- imagine Rembrandt painting pictures of a dreamlike post-apocalyptic world-- that's what Nerdrum's work makes me think of. Nerdrum just might be the greatest figure painter of our day. I saw several of his paintings at the Naples Museum of Art in Florida-- the exhibit was called New Old Masters (term coined by art critic Donald Kuspit). All I can say is WOW! Click here for more information.

Vincent Desiderio-- one of America's foremost figure painters. Technically masterful, intriguingly allegorical, and often poignant. Desiderio was also represented in the New Old Masters show in Naples. Again, exceptional work. More info here.

Todd Schorr-- one of the high masters of what is known variously as Lowbrow, Contemporary Pop, or Pop Surrealism. Beautiful reproductions, many close-ups and foldouts. Details can be found here.

James Rosenquist-- as far as I am concerned, he is the best of the original Pop artists from the 1960s. Unlike Warhol, who became a parody of himself and whose work has become cliché, Rosenquist has created an amazing body of work that has continued to evolve into the 21st century. This book has a ton of paintings that you have probably never seen, and also features a lot of his preliminary sketches (drawings and collage), as well as many photos of him working in his studios, etc. Details here.

Finally, the de Kooning biography. I have already mentioned this book in an earlier post, but am including it again for anyone who may have missed it the first time around. This one won a Pulitzer Prize-- well deserved. If you have any interest at all in de Kooning or in the development of modern art in America during the second half of the 20th century, read this book-- you won't be disappointed! Extremely enlightening, thoroughly readable, with many art reproductions and photos of de Kooing over the years, in his studios etc. Info here.

I think that the Nerdrum and Desiderio books are no longer available at retail price, but both are well worth shelling out some extra money for. As of this writing, the Rosenquist is still available at retail from the Guggenheim bookstore. Todd Schorr's book is still available at retail, and the price is so low it's insane! The de Kooning is readily available under twenty bucks.

Seriously-- do yourself a major favor and pick up one or more of these wonderful books!

Friday, December 7, 2007

A new genre of art?

Students in my 2D Art classes have been working on some still life paintings. Basically, we are doing "observational" paintings-- the object is, in theory, to paint what you see as best you can. (I am working with high school students, by the way.)

The other day, a girl in my ninth grade class called me over to her table. "I'm finished. What do you want me to do now?" (Mind you, this is about three days into a two-week project.) I looked at her painting. "Um.... do you see that dark red piece of fabric that all that stuff is sitting on?" (The various objects are sitting on a number of cardboard boxes, all of which are covered with a large piece of red fabric which also is pinned up on the wall behind everything. The fabric is absent in her painting; in fact, there is no background at all-- the objects are all just floating all over the page. In red paint, she has painted the word LOVE running up the left side, and her name on the right side-- both very large-- and oh, let's not forget the two or three hearts she has also added.)

"Mmmm, yeah, I guess so........"

The objects in her painting are in totally different positions than where they are actually located.

"Why is that ball over here on the lower right side of your painting? Look up here" (I point at the ball); it is actually up there on top of that box way up here on the left. And what about all of these other objects-- NONE of them are even close to where they are supposed to be. And all you've done is outline them in different colors-- they are not even painted in. Did you even do a thumbnail sketch?"


"A small sketch." I hold up my hands, making a rectangle of about four by five inches with my thumbs and middle fingers. "You know, to determine the design or layout of your painting."

"Oh... yeah, I guess so...."

"So where IS it?"

"I dunno. In my locker. Maybe I lost it. I dunno."

"And what about sketching in your drawing on your board before you started to paint?"

"Huh? I don't know what you mean..."

"I have explained all of this repeatedly for the last three days. Okay-- listen: are you willfully ignoring my directions, or not listening, or don't you even care?" (If it seems like I am being a bit impatient, please keep in mind that his whole scenario is par for the course with this student.)

She hangs her head ever so slightly. In a quiet voice, "I guess I'm not a very good listener."

"Geez-- I guess not! So, what's up with this painting?"

She looks up and gives me a great big smile. "Well, you know, I'm just doin' it FREESTLYE!"


"Yeah, you know, freestyle!" She raises her shoulders and waves her hands in a circular motion. Another big toothy smile, eyebrows raised.

"Um.... o-kay..... you know, this is supposed to be an observational painting. You observe the setup; in other words, you LOOK at it, and then you paint it as accurately as possible. NOT FREESTLYE!!!" I let out a big sigh.

"So... you want me to do another one?"

"Well, considering that we still have over a week to go on this project, that would probably be a good idea. And this time, please do it the way it is supposed to be done. No more freestlye, okay?"


Well as you can probably guess at this point, when I came back to her table the next day, what did I see? FREESTLYE!!!

Ya gotta love it. Freestyle. I love my job!

Psychedelic/Entheogenic/Visionary Art: Luke Brown

Back in the 1960s, we used to call it psychedelic art-- some people still use that term. More recently, however, it has euphemistically been referred to as entheogenic art or visionary art. I would say that the term entheogen has become more commonly used so as to downplay the stigma of the use of psychedelic drugs; basically the terms are more or less interchangeable. Visionary art refers to psychedelic/entheogenic art, but it is a broader term that includes art that has its origins in thing such as spiritual visions, dreams, and the like. The surrealist painter Salvador Dali would be an example of a visionary artist; typically his work is more dreamlike than psychedelic. Working in the tradition of Dali is Abdul Mati Klarwein, much of whose work is more overtly psychedelic. Klarwein is most widely known for his work on the album covers of Santana's Abraxas and Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Alex Grey is a contemporary visionary/entheogenic artist, who is very up front about the use of entheogens. Look for upcoming posts on Klarwein and Grey. In the meantime, I would like to present some work by an artist that I just discovered-- Luke Brown. Brown combines traditional and digital media, and creates some really striking images. From his website:

Luke Brown is an intrepid explorer, part of a new generation of visionaries recontructing the templates of culture as we know it. His art speaks of the spiritual mysteries in the human imagination. Mystical experiences, dreams, medicine journeys, and channelled lucid dialogues with the source of creativity itself, seem to guide and be guided by the colourful symmetries and living surfaces of his art. Much of his work emerges from a graceful synthesis of digital and painting mediums. Developing his work through mix and remix technologies, Luke is constantly redefining his style as a spiritual medium for growth. He is intent on mapping his hyperspatial experiences with utmost accuracy, with whichever medium seems best suited, as a form of multidimensional cartography.

For more on Luke Brown, visit his website by clicking here.


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