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My Chat with Wolverhampton Artist Stephi Konstantinou

Today I speak with artist Stephi Konstantinou, a painter out of Wolverhampton, England, who originally hails from the island of Cyprus.

Stephi has been creating art from a young age, and, these days, she specializes in a pleasing variety of paintings and artworks.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that as soon as she began to take an interest in art as a precocious youth, teachers and fellow students alike began to take an interest in what she was doing, drawn, as they were, to her for her rare artistic talents.

These various artworks that Stephi has been creating, for many years now, range from ephemeral watercolours of landscapes, which feature romantically rich colour palettes and evoke different moods, to pure abstract works, to representative illustrative works featuring people and animals that show a more whimsical, fun side of life.

Her work is very wide-ranging in terms of style and content, but Stephi is the kind of artist who embraces the freedom within the artistic process, which I feel is evident in her work.  To someone who has more self-imposed mental and spiritual shackles, she seems infuriatingly free of such barriers. 🙂

In the art world at large, which is often so serious and snobbish, Stephi is one of the few artists I’ve encountered who seems to draw and paint for the sheer joy of it. She paints what she wants when she wants, and how she wants, yielding some very interesting results.

This is why I was very interested to chat with her, to see what drives such an artist to continue to create.  It can’t simply be inspiration and wonder, can it?

In these days of the trying to wring a penny out of every single moment, I was curious to see if behind Stephi’s radiant, smiling countenance was actually the gateway to a blazing furnace of raging ambition.

Here is my little Q&A with Stephi Konstantinou – enjoy!

I read that your dad was a big influence on you artistically.  Can you tell me more about him.

My dad was definitely a big influence on my creativity when I was a child.  I grew up watching him create stonework and he was also a wood sculptor.

You also mention somewhere that your first art teacher, Marie Constanti, taught you a lot of skills.  What would be the most important skills she taught you about art?

Miss Marie Constanti taught me some basic artistic skills, and I progressed from there. The most important thing she taught me, I think, was how to focus, and, most importantly, to create with your heart, rather than with your mind.

You are clearly influenced by nature.  What do you think is special about the nature in Cyprus?  What is it like there, in terms of geography, and also what is the mood like there around the nature?

I live near a forest, and the trees there bring me great inspiration!  In general, Cyprus has very nice greenery everywhere which I find very inspiring.

Also, hearing the birds or the wind blowing while creating is tugs at my creative impulses and leads me on to some new creative journey.

Do you think that politics have any effect on your artwork?  Although your art seems to be not about politics that I can tell, I wonder if you feel like some of the political unrest in Cyprus or elsewhere has influenced the way you work at all?  Maybe not in style, but perhaps in method?

My artwork is not political, in my opinion.  Rather it is simply about letting your imagination see another way to live, and to continue following your dreams.

I would say you have a very romantic style of painting.  It comes across in your landscapes and color choices.  Would you agree with this label – “romantic”?

Yes, I would say so.  I create with my hands moreso than with brushes, as I love the feeling of connecting my hands to the painting directly through the paint itself.

Related question…Are you an idealist?  Do you try to see things in a positive way, most of the time?  Or are you secretly a nihilist?

I believe through my life experience that I am an idealist.  I want to contribute something positive to society and I want to improve the lives of others through my art.

How long have you been in Wolverhampton and how has that affected your artistic style?

I have been in Wolverhampton for 4 years now. The journey there has inspired me and affected my artwork deeply, in both logical and more mysterious ways. 

My education as an artist really intensified there.  I had my studio in Chapel Ash.  Also, I have been participating in different kinds of exhibitions, and even volunteering to work on various murals. 

Overall, my artwork has seen a lot of development while I’ve been here. 

When it comes to mounting / framing your artwork, how do you do it?

When it comes to framing and mounting my own artwork, I have always done this myself, from chopping the wood for the frames, to stretching the canvases.

Some of your art is in black and white.  What materials do you use for that, and why is it some of your art is in black and white?

The black and white work I have done has grown into a sizeable collection by now, and, mainly, it has been inspired by traditional Japanese music.

All of my work has been created using acrylic paints, with some of them having been sold to Japan, while others to private collectors in America and Canada.

Your earlier work seems to have a more cartoon or caricature style.  Do you still work in that style?

My earlier work was like this, but it has since changed.  I have spent years developing my craft and finding my own style that is a merging of some of the previous incarnations of my art from over the years.

What’s your studio like?  Is it organized?  Messy? 

My studio is tidy sometimes, but it can get a little messy.  I am an artist, after all.

Is there an artistic medium you’d like to try sometime which you haven’t tried?

I am always into learning how to use new materials or other new methods, but, at the moment, I’m happy creating with acrylic paints.

When you paint a scene, are you basing it on a picture or just from memory?

Sometimes, I’m basing my work on a particular landscape, or I will mix reality with my imagination, and let the creative moment guide me.

What are your favourite animals?  Do you have one particular favourite, and why is that?

My favourite animal? I love all of them, but some I particularly enjoy most are cats, rabbits, and my dog.  Honestly, I just have a love for all animals.

Do you see art as having any elements of magic, or are you a hardcore realist who thinks magic and wonder are foolish pastimes?

There are definitely elements of magic in art. Also, I love dancing while creating. I feel like an actress in whatever I do.

You have a way with painting trees.  Do you know a lot about trees?  For instance, did you know that trees talk to each other?

I tend to paint a lot of trees, as there is something about them make them special to me.  Many times I do feel like they are whispering to each other.  Sometimes, when I walk amongst them, I feel like I’m going in slow motion and I am filled with a feeling of joy.

How long does it take you to paint a picture, on average?

It can take half an hour, to an hour to finish a work of mine, but there is no set time.  It depends on the process and the materials I am using.  I like to simply go with the flow.

Do you have a preference between paper or canvas?

Paper is my favourite material at the moment to work on, but you never know when that may change.

When is your next show?

Nothing in this life is certain.

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Sava Šumanović – A Tragic Painter In A White Suit

Life is only one sad nothing. – S. Šumanović

Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.

This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.

Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.

He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.

In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.

Rising Star

Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.

Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.

Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.

In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.

After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.

In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.

Struggle and Joy

Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.

His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.

But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.

In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience. 

Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.

Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.

Knowledge and Experience

That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.

Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.

He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.

This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.

He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.

During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.

The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.

Murder

He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.

Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.

His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.

She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.

Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.

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Takashi Murakami – Everything’s Melting

“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami

Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.

Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.

During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically. 

The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.

Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.

As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.

Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work

In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese painting that combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).

Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)

These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.

In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).

In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.

In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.

In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.

The Arrival of Mr. DOB

At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.

Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.

In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.

The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.

The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.

The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.

Fine Art?

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.

Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?

Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applauded Murakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.

In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.

At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).

Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. 

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.

Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Kaikai Kiki Co.

In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.

The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.

In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance. 

In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.

Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.

This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.

Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.

Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.

Mr. Pointy

In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.

Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.

Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.

This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.

Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.

Luis Vuitton Collaboration

In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.

One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.

Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurring the distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)

In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.

The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.

Everything is Transient

According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.

In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.

Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo is roughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.

Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.

Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.

He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.

Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.

Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?

Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.

He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.

In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.

In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.

Visit: http://www.takashimurakami.com/

Oh, and he has worked with the American provocateur himself, Mr. Kanye West.

Here’s an interesting interview video with Murakami that touches upon how he thinks about things.

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Discussing Watercolours With Candice Leyland

As an artist myself, I like to know what makes other artists tick. There are so many different mediums an artist can apply to their work, with each having its own distinct characteristics.
 
Watercolour paintings have always been of interest to me because of the relatively light touch they require. I’ve done them, and they are not easy to get right, especially for an OCD-having person like myself.
 
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that watercolours are quite easy to “ruin” or overwork, generally. To produce a stunning watercolour work, I would say is no easy task.
 
Now, for an artist like Candice Leyland, who is specializes in watercolour works of art, she makes it all look rather easy.

Candice is an independent artist who produces and sells her work in my neck of the woods, which is to say south-western Ontario – Kitchener-Waterloo region, to be precise, although she was born in Palmerston.
 
She is a teacher at the local landmark Homer-Watson Gallery, and she is also represented at the Uptown Gallery in Waterloo, ON.
 
As it mentions on her website’s About page, Candice is known for her rather moody, ethereal but at the same time slice-of-life style of painting, featuring very warm-looking and inviting paintings of everyday things like animals, scenery, and flowers.
 
Sort of a cross between Edward Wesson and Norman Rockwell, maybe
 
Speaking of flowers, here is one of her pieces simply called “Tulips” – rather self-explanatory.

In the hands of a lesser artist, these things might seem boring, but as we know from the countless artists from history who have done well with their craft, a great artist can make anything look interesting if it is captured the right way, with the right timing, colours, and, of course, the mysterious X-factor!
 
I could start listing off the many artists who have made the ordinary into extra-ordinary, but I digress. The point is, Candice has that gift herself, and I think you will see it is evident in the work.
 
She has an eye for the little details that makes a piece of art
 
I had a chance to ask her a few questions about how she approaches her work, and her thoughts on watercolour paintings in general. Please enjoy my little chat with Candice Leyland! 🙂


When did you start painting and why?
I had very little interest in art before high school. I remember we had to choose one “arts” course. Since I was shy and was already intensely studying piano, I didn’t want to take drama or music, so I defaulted to fine art class.
 
I had planned to get my “arts” courses out of the way so I could focus on science and math for the rest of high school. It is kind of funny that that one decision had such a huge impact on my life.
 
In art class, we started drawing and the teacher insisted that drawing was a skill that took practice.
 
Many people, even as adults, believe that being good at art is some kind of god given talent that people just “have”, but once I learned that it was a skill I could master and improve, I was hooked and motivated to improve.

I spent every spare minute I had practicing in my sketch book – I loved creating things and experimenting. I did sculpture, pottery, silkscreening, photography, and I devoured every book on art history I could find.
 
I fell in love with the impressionists. I spent lunch hours in the art room listening to music and making art.
 
Are you partial to creating any other types of art?
I play piano and guitar and sometimes draw, but I mostly work in watercolour. I feel it is the best way to express myself. I am addicted to colour.
 
In the past, I’ve worked extensively in photography (both commercial and artistic) and have tried oil and acrylics. I keep coming back to watercolour.
 
When did you start watercolour painting, specifically? What drew you to watercolour?
In Spring of 2016, I picked up watercolours. It felt like forever since I had been creative and I wanted to get back into making art.
 
I was always drawn to the lightness and simplicity of watercolour, but its non-toxicity and portability were the biggest draw factors for me at this point in my life.
 
I had a medically fragile child and lived in a relatively small home. Watercolours allowed me to paint from the kitchen table or even the couch safely and relatively mess free.
 
When I dove into it, I taught myself through books from the library and youtube videos. My colour theory and drawing skills from university were a solid foundation and learning watercolours came relatively easily to me.

Where do you buy your paints and do you have a preference when it comes to brands or quality of the paint itself?
I shop at a lot of places in Kitchener Waterloo. I like to support the small shops like the Artstore on Caroline Street.
 
I tend to use QOR watercolours by Golden. This is a relatively new brand (although Golden has been making Acrylics for decades). I love the vibrancy and flow of these paints. I’m pretty much obsessed with them.
 
Locally, QOR Watercolours are only available at Curry’s I tend to get my paints there. I sometimes use Holbine watercolours or Daniel Smith.
 
What is involved in the process of you sitting down to paint?
I have a very minimalist set up for a studio. My process usually involves printing my reference photo, taping a piece of paper up and getting fresh water. This is one of the biggest benefits to watercolour.
 
There is hardly any set up and take down. No barriers to creativity.

What style of art do you consider yourself to be doing?
I struggle with describing my own work or fitting myself into a mold. I feel like impressionistic florals is an accurate description. My work is moody and ethereal and focuses on light and colour.
 
What type of surface do you generally paint on?
This is where I get snobby. Only Arches brand paper, Only Cold Press: 140 lb or higher.
 
What size of brushes do you generally work with?
Round Sables between 4 and 8 and a big old mop to wet the paper.
 
Do you feel there are any drawbacks to using watercolour you’ve found in your experience using that medium over the years?
The main drawback to watercolours is the expense of framing, but good framing makes a significant difference in preserving and presenting your painting.
 
I have experimented with modern mounting methods such as adhering paper permanently to board or using ground watercolour mediums, but in my opinion, the best way to display a watercolour is to have it professionally matted and framed.

Other than that, I mostly see advantages. People always tell me how “unforgiving” watercolour is. I always hear comments like, “watercolour is so hard!”
 
I will admit that once a painting is ruined it can be hard to go back. But to me, this is not a drawback, it is a strength.
 
Watercolour paintings are often faster to make and can be less expensive to produce other mediums. If a painting isn’t working, you have the opportunity to start fresh.
 
The nature of watercolour forces you let go of control. Don’t get me wrong, with skill and technique you do have a great deal of control over the medium, but the freedom and chance of painting in watercolours is what draws me.
 
It frees up the creative process tremendously.
 
How do you decide when a piece is done?
Someone gave me a great piece of advice about this. He said to sign your painting when your close to being done, and then give yourself a limit to how much you can fiddle with it afterward.
 
After I sign my painting, I allow myself a few tweaks, then walk away. Watercolour paintings are so easy to overwork. When the painting is signed and complete, I post it to social media.
 
I love the relationship I have with my followers. I did have a teacher that once told me, “If you hate a painting – Do it again! If you Love a Painting – Do it again!” which is great advice.

You are always learning and improving. A painting might be done, but you are never done learning.
 
Would you recommend any other watercolour artists for people to check out?
My best friend Lee Angold and her botanical illustrations amaze me.
 

Visit: https://candiceleylandart.ca/

 

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Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia Multimedia Artist Živka Suvić – An Interview

As an artist myself, I am drawn to other artists. When I come across an interesting artist, I look at their work and imagine what caused them to create it. In all cases, the time and place of an artist influences their work, even if it is doing so unconsciously.
 
We are all influenced by our country, our upbringing, experiences, and so forth. Every artist has a story, and it informs their work in intimate ways. This is an obvious fact, but that doesn’t make it less interesting, because seeing an artists’ work is like seeing into their life in some way.
 
When I came across the work of Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia multimedia artist Živka Suvić, I was very interested in her creative process, because there was so much work and it has an intensity and energy that myself, as a Canadian, finds very different from the art I tend to see around here in Canada.

This is only logical. Every country in this world is different, and Serbia certainly has its own character. What that character is, I don’t know exactly, having not been to Serbia.
 
I know Serbian-born people who are living here in Canada right now, but it is not the same as visiting the country or knowing their history in detail. Clearly, Serbia has had its share of unrest, and like it or not, this often breeds great artwork.
 
In my own rather uneducated way, I could sense
 
Working in multiple mediums including assemblage, portraiture, landscape, and even incorporating video, Živka’s work seems to me to be of the sort that comes from a dark, restless soul. At the same time, there is hope in her work.
 
In her portraits, eyes stare back at you, some
 
After checking out Živka’s website, I wanted to ask her some questions about her work. Art speaks for itself, but if you have a chance to talk to the creator of that work, why not?
 
And so, I spoke with Živka recently and got a better idea of what makes this Serbian artist tick. I hope you enjoy our chat!


Q: What inspires you to make art these days?
Art is my path, my way of communicating, my way to express myself. Since I was a child, I enjoyed painting or drawing. Later, I choose art to be my life’s occupation, or maybe art chose me.
 
I don’t know, except to say that this is the way I function. Inspiration is around everywhere…
 
Q: What descriptive words come to mind to describe your own artwork?
Collecting, expression, time, materials…these are some of words. Also…consistency…etc.

Q: How much does Serbian culture influence your artwork?
I’ve finished my studies at the Art Academy in Serbia, and during that educational process, we students were well informed with the world of art history.
 
Art history also covered the national history of art, but the focus wasn’t necessarily on national works. On the contrary, we had the freedom of choice to choose our models.
 
Probably, the national culture has an impact on my work today, perhaps unconsciously, and certainly that social situation plays a big role on my life…
 
Q: How often do you show your work publicly?
I would say often. Last year, I had five independent exhibitions, and this year I have two. In addition, I exhibit in group shows.
 

 
Q: Has a secret patron ever emerged from the shadows who wants to give you a vast sum of money to support you in your endeavours?
No, there was no secret patrons. I have customers, buyers, but patrons…no.
 
Q: Why do you like creating artwork which has a tactile surface?
I use specific materials, and their nature allows me to create artwork which has a tactile surface. I use papers, different thickness, cardboard, and decoupage technique. That’s why the surface is tactile.
 
Q: Do you consider your art messy?
No, I don’t consider my art messy. There is a certain order within what I am doing. Every act of creation requires certain a chaos around it, but within the work there is a line.
 

 
Q: Do you consider some of your art to be “dark”?
Yes, I do, they are probably dark. But they are just some of my works. I think about the effect my work could have on the observer. I can control what I want to exhibit.
 
Q: When painting your landscapes or your expressive portraits, do you paint from memory or prefer to do the work live?
I usually combine the two. Sometimes, I start live and finish my work from memory….or vice versa.
 
Q: What is your special connection to New Zealand?
I spent a year and a half there studying, and New Zealand remained in my good memory. I met wonderful people and made friends there.
 
Q: What is the purpose of an assemblage, in your view?
Specifically, assemblages that I’ve made in New Zealand stayed in the Art school in Dunedin, as an exhibit and demonstration material for future students.
 
I created them through a process of collecting discarded materials which were put in pillows and boxes. Each pillow symbolically represents a dream.

Q: How often do you like to visit the ocean? Do you prefer oceans to lakes?
I’m fascinated by water, in general. Right now, I don’t have any opportunity to see an ocean, but there is a river passing trough the city I’m living in.
 
Q: Do you have any artists from the past who serve as inspirations to your work now?
Yes, I have many artists who are my inspiration, even though their work has no direct impact on mine, like Robert Rausenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Arman. These are some of artists who inspire me.
 
Q: What are your artistic goals for the future?
Goals…I’m working on my new paintings and maybe, in the future, I will develop a story about assemblages. I have a goal to continue working, exhibiting, and selling my work…
 

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Animation in 2018 – It’s Not What You Think

For most of the medium’s history, animation meant thousands of hand-drawn and painted transparent cells flashing on-screen 24-times (or less) per second, just the way Uncle Walt used to do it

Nowadays, animation isn’t just hand-drawn Disney films and saturday morning cartoons, it’s computer-generated 3D blockbusters, it’s the dances in Fortnite, it’s Thanos and Iron Man in The Avengers.

The digital age has created plenty of new industries that call for animation, but we’ll focus on the big 3 industries most people think of when they think animation.

We’ll start with the grand-daddy of them all.

Film

What happened to hand drawn movies like The Little Mermaid or Snow White? Pixar.

Pixar is responsible for both pioneering CG animation and popularizing it. We all know Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

3D-animated family films are nothing new to us but whenever someone hears “animator” they think of someone drawing pictures. A lot of animators in 2018 can’t even draw, and they don’t need to.

Why spend years perfecting a skill that’s not even required to have a successful career? An animator working in film is going to be using their CG skills much more often than their drawing skills.

There’s another aspect of film animation you may have overlooked: VFX. The amount of computer generated visual effects on major Hollywood releases is staggering.

Consider that Avatar met the qualification for a “Best Animated Feature” nomination. Consider that without VFX, The Life of Pi would have been a movie about a boy talking to an empty boat in an old pool.
 
Iron Man would be a series about Robert Downey Jr. making wisecracks while wearing spandex and pretending he was shooting lasers out of his hands.

 

Consider that the upcoming Lion King remake (https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/get-right-disney-animated-not-live-action-remake-lionking-143343.html) is not a “live-action Lion King” movie, it’s likely a 100% CGI film, even more so than the “live-action Jungle Book” remake which featured an entirely 3D-animated cast with the only exception being the protagonist.

Television and Tweening

Think television is the only safe bastion for hand-drawn animation? Think again. Television studios have ditched a lot of hand drawn frame-by-frame animation in favour of “tweening”:

Drawing each body part separately and having the computer drag that part across the screen from Point A to Point B.

Compare the early 1990s seasons of Arthur to the newer 2010s seasons.

Arthur Season 1:

Arthur Season whatever:

Arms pivot from the shoulder and heads pivot from the neck instead of being redrawn over and over in a slightly-different position each time.

So why use tweening?

Tweening means that animators with poorer drawing skills can still animate effectively. Tweening is faster than doing an entirely new drawing every frame and time is money.

Tweening means you can have the best artist draw out all the body parts you need and then that character will always appear consistent.

In the hand drawn days there was always the risk of someone drawing a character “off model”. A large group of different people all trying to draw the same character several thousand times throughout a project would inevitably lead to a few frames where that character didn’t look like themselves.

Sometimes there’s a nice mix between hand-drawn and tweened, a recent example being Rick and Morty. Sometimes hand-drawn still lives on strongly in Adventure Time and Legend of Korra (animated in South East Asia), but it’s done digitally now.

Animators are drawing in ToonBoom animation software instead of on paper.

That means artists can be more accurate in drawing new frames, colours don’t flicker due to paint-mixing, and you can always throw in a 3D car (because 2D animating a car is a job no one wants to do).

Video Games

If you’re at a AAA studio (Think Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty) it’s 3D animated and motion captured with a few exceptions like Overwatch’s delightful hand-keyed cartoony animation.

Despite some Andy Serkis controversy stating otherwise, motion capture is not just a matter of an actor moving around and then the animation is done.

After an actor’s movements are recorded, there is a lot of cleaning up to do. Sometimes the motion capture camera isn’t able to see one of the markers on the suit. You’ll have arms spasming in 3D space or maybe a head that’s offset from the neck by a kilometre.

You also rarely have any animation on the fingers, and facial animation is recorded separately but more commonly the face is animated manually by animators in 3D software.

If you’re an indie studio, 2D animation is much more common. Cuphead is every animation nerd’s dream right now as it was drawn onto animation paper (a huge rarity in film much less in video games), but even then it was scanned into Photoshop and traced and coloured digitally.


 

Conclusion

So what is animation in 2018? Ditch the image of the man in the suspenders drawing with a pencil and replace it with the image of someone working in front of a computer using a drawing tablet.

Animation is found in the 3D films of Pixar and Disney, but it’s also hidden in every major modern Hollywood film in the form of VFX.

The weird-looking 16-frames-per-second (or less) saturday morning cartoon is gone and has been replaced (for better or worse) by digitally animated, sometimes handdrawn kids’ shows that aim to appeal to girls and boys instead of only one or the other.

Animation is your gun firing in Call of Duty, your candy exploding in Candy Crush, and even the way a window expands on your OS.

 

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Cartoon Design and Character Development Basics with Animator Carlos Campos

Today I had a good talk with my buddy Carlos Campos, a freelance animator who I’ve worked with on many smaller productions, generally of the short animation variety.

In fact, if you have ever seen the Youtube channel Kindertunes, you may have seen one of his animated kid’s songs that we’ve done together, such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Teddy Bears Picnic, or Take Me Out To the Ballgame.

Here are some of his designs for bears that appeared in the Teddy Bears Picnic video.

On our animation projects we’ve done together, Carlos mainly uses Powerpoint, but there are of course other options for programs which can animate, none of which I know how to use myself. In other articles on this website, Carlos has given tutorials on how he designs shapes in Powerpoint.

Today, I grilled Carlos on how he goes about designing a character for one of his cartoons from the ground up. This process of character development, I would say, is animation 101.

It’s part of the process you’d need to know in order to start an animation project of any kind. This is why it was so interesting to me, that I wanted to ask Carlos how he goes about developing a character.

It so happens, he’s currently working on a character for a new animation project about an old rat, and that character is in development as we speak.

Enjoy our interview on the basics of cartoon character development!

Q: Hey, Carlos, I hear you’re doing a music video about some rats. Can you explain this a little?

A: Well, that is true! But not about any kind of rat, this one is an ironing expert!

Q: Oh really? Interesting…

A: Yes! Many Mexican children know about it, since it happens to be a character from a traditional children’s song.

Q: What song is it from?

A: The name is “Una rata vieja” which translates to “An old rat”.

Q: Ah. And so you are in charge of the video, and so also you must create some digital rats.

A: Exactly.

Q: How do you do that?

A: The process involves different questions, such as Why? How? What? and Where?

“Why?” is a crucial one. The answer has to be the motivation behind creating a character. A purpose. In this case, as it often is, it’s about transmitting a message. An uplifting, fun children’s song, in Spanish, from the rich, Mexican culture.

In order to convey this vibrancy, there are important elements to be taken into account. Using clear, simple, universal symbols that are grounded in reality in a creative way.

So I start with basic shapes such as triangles and circles. But they are very rigid and unlike forms found in nature.

I sort of smooth the edges and make each shape into something more organic.

Then, I put the pieces together to make a character model that can be tweaked, moved around and edited easily, which will simplify the animation process.

Q: Do you differentiate between a mouse and a rat somehow, or do you just aim for the basic form? I’m no animal expert but i’m sure there’s a difference. At the same time, I understand you’re focused on simplifying the shapes.

A: As you can tell from the pictures, the rat’s body is quite elongated. If it had been a mouse, I’d have made its body more compact, but that’s a very good question!
 
It depends.

The main difference is that a mouse is smaller than a rat. That’s it! I n this case the song revolves around a “rat” character and no mice are ever mentioned so it’s hard to see the contrast.

Q: What program are you using to do the design and animate, is it all one program?

A: Yes! It is Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 from the Microsoft Office Suite for the Mac.

Read my interview with Carlos about storyboarding in Microsoft Powerpoint

Q: How long have you been using it, and how does it factor into the way you design characters? Are there any other programs you’ve tried which are similar, that you maybe don’t like as much?
 
What’s the advantage of designing in Powerpoint? Sorry for all the questions…

A: I have also worked with the Adobe Suite for more specialized projects. The learning curve is quite steep though, and some of them such as Photoshop and Illustrator may be better suited for tasks such as photo editing and graphic design.

Then there is 3D software such as AutoDesk Maya. There are huge differences in how each program is used, and I honestly prefer the qualities of animating in 2D.

This also involves the “How?” aspect of character design. The medium used does affect the outcome. There are digital tools such as the ones stated above, and traditional ones.

One could create characters by sculpting, drawing or painting them. Writing them, too!

Q: So do you usually stick with Powerpoint then?

A: Yes! It is my platform of choice for this type of project.

Q: You could make them out of ASCII code.

A: Hahaha, very true! Must be hard to animate though!

Q: Do you ever draw the characters first or do you make them in Powerpoint from scratch?

A: I might draw them first but to me that’s very rare. I do it mainly for storyboarding. When creating them, I like to do it straight on PowerPoint.

Looking for other examples for inspiration is very helpful, too!

The style can vary dramatically from one project to the other if the niche is very different. A rat in a horror-movie animation will appear differently to that in a children’s video, of course, even though they’re based of the same animal.

Q: So how long will it take you to create a rat like this one here? What’s his name again?

A: Traditionally, it’s a “she”! In this case I’ve decided to have “genderless” I guess, so that any kid can identify easily with it.

Another key thing: making characters relatable somehow.

It doesn’t really have a name… “Rat”, I suppose!

Q: Does Powerpoint do any texture?

A: It has the option to add textures from a pre-existing library or through and image file.

Q: Do you think you’ll add texture to this rat, or keep it as is?

A: Again, I think keeping it simple might be a good idea, especially for younger viewers who might be overwhelmed with too much detail.

In some scenes there might be several elements on the background already or I might add texture on there too.

I’m open to new ideas and/or seeing how the style develops.

Q: So the design is partly to please the audience that might be watching, but also to make it easier to animate? Not to overcomplicate it….

A: Exactly! And it can also be a matter of personal preference. I tend to like keeping things minimal in all aspects of life. It will be part of the animation which is already in progress.

Q: How many basic picture templates do you have in a given animation? For instance, how many are there in this one?Do you need some basic ones to work with?

A: Oh, what do you mean by picture templates?

Q: As in, static images of the character.. where you just need to move certain parts of their body, not everything

A: Oh, right. Well, again it varies. A 30 second sequence could have 10 individual “slides” with the character. Then when the setting or the pose needs to change, I create another one.

Q: How long do you think this rat video will be when all is said and done?

A: The length of the song is around 1.5 minutes, so around that.

Q: And how many emotions would you say are conveyed in that whole time?

A: About 10, probably. Other scenes also provide context and do not necessarily include the character’s facial expressions. That give moments in the animation “room to breathe”, so to speak.

Q: So what would some of those emotions be? anything in there specific or complex like “indignancy”?

A: Hahaha…No. Maybe more like calm, shocked, then relieved…

Q: That’s part of the plot, I guess…

A: That’s it! They match the lyrics as the story unfolds.

Q: Right.. How about colours? How do you decide on some of those, such as the background?

A: The color palette is tetradic. That is, it uses four colors, made up of two complimentary color pairs, with their different shades. This is to make sure that they all look harmonious together.

The rat was originally meant to be dark gray, but the color was then changed to a grayish-light blue.

This change was made to avoid the cliché while making it look friendlier in a way. More “cartoony” yet still grounded in reality.

Q: Did you learn this somewhere or would you say it’s more common sense?

A: It also ties in with the other shade of blue used in one of the backgrounds. This is all color theory! It can be common sense to an extent, but it is also an important principle in graphic design.

The rest of the palette includes a warm, brick orange, vibrant blue and greens, and even variations of pink. They are all reminiscent of the bright colours typical from traditional Mexican architecture. Gives it that sense of fun and liveliness.

Q: Ah.. so the colours are fairly meaningful then

A: Yes! Imagine if they were all red, blue and white, or dark and eerie-looking? That would make people think of anything but Mexico!

Color is a big part of our culture of celebration. We actually call “hot pink “rosa mexicano” here, which translates as “Mexican pink” since we like those bold hues so much! They are part of our identity.

Q: Wow, there’s a lot of little details to be considered. I can’t wait to see the final result.

A: Yup! It makes every project an interesting one.

 

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Still Lifes of Suzanne Valadon – Where No “Decent” Woman Would Tread

Much has been said on the nudes of Suzanne Valadon, and rightly so. Truly, they are wonderfully composed and naturally iconoclastic in nature.

Women. Real women portrayed in natural scenarios by other women was unheard of in the late 1800s and into the 1900s. Generally women did not tackle nudes at all; the powers that be fearing the practice would corrupt delicate souls.

Valadon, exempt from propriety due in part to humble birth and in other part her choice of tawdry career as an art model, was able to express herself in ways other women could or would not at the time. She was admitted into salons (where no “decent” woman would tread) and even found herself the first woman painter of Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA), in 1894.

Here she is pictured with her son, Maurice, in 1889.

All this is quite spectacular on its own, but I would like to leave the icon smashing and feminist critique behind for a short while. I’d even like to leave the entirety of her personal life behind. Today we will look at Valadon as a genderless painter of fruit and flowers. We will examine her still lifes and perhaps see the merit the SNBA saw when they chose to add her to the pantheon of art gods.

Bouquet de Roses dans un Obus, oil on card, 1913

One of my favourites, Suzanne places roses inside an obus (cannon shell). To the roses she gives definition with her characteristic heavy lines. To the obus, however, she uses soft short strokes.

This renders an object of war nothing more than a harmless vase. The placement of the object on a kitchen sill next to feminine lilac drapes annihilates the last bit of danger to the point that the obus loses its meaning entirely.

Even knowing what cannon shells of the period look like, a viewer would be hard pressed to identify it as such. Bordering on symbolist, she keeps the colours orthodox and avoids contrivance.

It is a balanced work that evokes a timely “Frenchness”, and a little titter at the tender emasculation of a phallic object (whoops, some feminist critique slipped in).


Untitled, oil on card, 1930

Speaking of timely Frenchness, what could be more delightfully 1930s French than a blue vase stuffed with roses? Never a servant of style, Valadon takes a more post impressionist (but not quite) look at these flowers.

Her beautiful built up highlights and shadows are made somehow more realistic by the presence of clear brushwork. The flowers are lit up from within.

Her choice of perspective is ever so slightly naïve, causing the vase to float, lending extra emphasis to it as a focal point. Objects in the background are arranged firmly in reality though, grounding the whole thing on what I’m sure was a wonderfully printed tablecloth.

Valadon painted many roses, tulips, orchids and the like, but her greatest still lifes often involved the honesty of circumstance her nudes had in spades as well.

A common basket of even commoner duck eggs waits quietly for the cook, nestled in straw. The stonework is alive with colour, both in light and shadow.

Valadon does not half paint even the most simple of highlights. The way the light falls over the eggs and onto the wall brings to mind an open door; perhaps the cook has come for these blue cast beauties at last.


Basket of Duck Eggs, oil on card, 1931

Nature Morte au Lièvre, Faisan et Pomme, oil on card, 1930

Pieces like, Still life with Hare, Pheasant and Apple, convince us of Suzanne’s sense of humour. An old hare dangles almost peacefully from hind legs drained and awaiting a competent cook to relieve it of its skin in one swift pull.

The young pheasant seems to be dreaming grand, worried dreams despite its questionable life status. Apples sit pertly on a plate, as if to rub in how alive they are; not knowing they all share the same fate.

A quick laugh is had at the idea of a “nature morte” of dead animals. It’s so on the nose if it weren’t for the sombre, reverent overtones this piece would risk vulgarity. As it stands though, in characteristic Valadon style, she goes just far enough.

We feel the ambivalence of the old hare, the tragedy of the young pheasant and the haughtiness of the apples. It mirrors truth, not to mention the sanctifying warmth pervading the scene is downright Fauvist.

Given her close ties with Ganguin, this is unsurprising. Suzanne’s emotional colour vocabulary is extremely developed across her still lifes and painted portraits.

So far the emphasis has been on her later, more developed works, but what of earlier material?


Nature morte au compotier de fruits, oil on card, 1917

Again, nearly symbolist in nature, this fruit bowl is absolutely uncommon. Her slight naivete of perspective keeps a sense of stuffy refinement far away from her popular and often grossly academic subject.

Colours, simply layered, build a juicy pear and living grapes. She bothers to paint the calyx of an upside down apple though. In fact, this composition is rife with luxurious, unnecessary details.

The brocade stripes of the wall cover, blue details on the china pedestal bowl and the delicately defined wicker table stand in sharp contrast to the relatively faceless fruit.

She forces the viewer to realize detail in objects she omitted it from. Like so many excellent paintings, it is what is left unpainted that is remarkable.

Remarkable works, Valadon has many. In her time she was a immensely popular and respected artist, though time can cruelly erase that which does not fit the appropriate narrative.

Suzanne, when she is mentioned at all, is mostly talked about in terms of being a revolutionary woman (she was) or being a woman in the den of great men (Ganguin, Cezanne, Latrec…).

Her life is often cast, if cast at all, in the red glow of bawdiness thanks to the childish puritanism of our modern world. This I think, though titillating, is unfair.

Her work shows a greatness of spirit and a delicacy of soul. She mastered the concepts of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’; played with humour and nuance.

Everything about her art suggests an actualized, inspired, aspiring mind. If anything, Valadon achieved in life what most artists only achieve in death.

The respect and admiration of her peers. It would be wonderful if she were appreciated in death the way she was lauded in life.

Let us quietly appreciate a grouping of more typical Valadon still lifes and see what Gauguin saw in a talented, young art model so many years ago.


Bouquet des Fleurs 1937

White Fruit Bowl undated

Roses dans une Verre 1937

Her confident lines are instantly recognizable as is her slightly off perspective. Even working with universal subjects, she manages to make every vignette intensely personal.

Her still lifes are as intimate, in my opinion, as her nudes and deserve as much notoriety in popular art critique beyond the French Riviera. Though, it must be said again, her nudes are extremely worthy of examination.


The Future Unveiled, 1912

So please, no more of this “Mistress and Muse of Montmartre” crap that appears in so much analysis of her. When it comes to Valadon there is plenty to talk about inside the frame.

Speculating on the woman more than the work does no one any favours and has constantly robbed the present of the honest presence of a brilliant artist. Suzanne Valadon; a Crown Jewel of Montmartre.

This is her rightful place and there she will live in my heart and mind forever.

Photo of Valadon, Photographer and date unknown


 

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Best Painting and Art Making Apps for your Smart Phone – ArtFlow, 8bit PhotoLab, TextArt, and More!

by: A. Martellacci

My art is made from wire, garbage and string.

Until a few years ago, I did not have a smart phone. It seems odd I would bother trying to create art with technology at all. Maybe I’m afraid to be left behind. Maybe my junk art collection is beginning to alienate people. Either way, I wanted some good clean fun.

With no idea where to start, I gamely opened the app store hoping to trip over something interesting. I did so right away because my phone is creepy and can read minds.

ArtFlow, was the first suggestion google curated. It looked just technical enough to be useful and unassuming enough to be immediately comprehensible from its short bio and pics. The reviews were glowing, except for occasional id10-T error reports.

ArtFlow

The user interface is clean… like, blank. Tap the little white dot in the corner to view the toolbars and tap again to hide. I like it. Not all tools are available in free mode (duh), but many of the most useful brushes and pens are there.

Both RYB and HSV colour wheels are free to use, for what it’s worth. It is obviously designed for tablet and slows a bit on the phone if there’s too much going on.

Using just the tip of my finger and the charcoal setting, I was able to create gentle blends without any of the smudges of real life.

Obviously, super accurate sketching was out of the question on my tiny phone screen, but I ended up pleased with a few of the pieces. Building colours with air brushes (standard, shading and foggy) and the round brush was especially zen.

Not being much a fan of markers in real life, I was surprised to find myself enjoying them especially.

Canvas size presets are standard, and therefore useful. Saving is also standard. Save to anywhere. Send to anyone. Zooming in and spinning the canvas works great.

The app’s ability to delineate between brush stokes and the zoom function taps was consistently good; so no accidental mark making

The thing I was sad for but don’t begrudge, is layers can only be added in the paid version… which I have now. The layers work great and don’t cause slowdown on my (crappy) phone.

ArtFlow is the perfect pocket scratch pad. I love sketching with it when I have a spare moment. It will always have a front page spot on my phone.

Never knowing when enough is enough, I went back to the all knowing algorithm interface known as, the Play Store, and scrolled for a long time. Nothing looked immediately interesting. Searched: “art apps”. Scrolled. 8bit PhotoLab. Interesting.

8bit PhotoLab + Bonus App

Holy crap! I loaded an image of Luna. Yes, from Sailor Moon. Wut? My finger must have slipped. I scrolled to the Commodore PET monitor setting and this happened:

This is going to be awesome!

There are a million different settings. Great fun to play with. I finger sketched a cube with ArtFlow.

These are some of my favourite 8bit PhotoLab filtrates of the above cube after spending (a lot of) time messing around.

All kinds of monitor, colour palette and even vector graphics filters can be customized to create the most vintage computing or modernaesthetic effects. I have not reached the end of this app’s free functionality (but I bought it anyway). Oh, and it goes great with another little free app I found.

TextArt

TextArt. Free font selection is limited, though you can upload your own. TextArt, and the endlessly nifty, 8bit Photo Lab, created this delightful abomination.

Notebloc

Not comfortable drawing on a screen at all? Use Notebloc to scan and trim your meatspace sketches (and notes) instead. It does a pretty good job of it. Photographing flat things is not as easy as it seems.

Notebloc proves useful for in situ scanning and saves in pdf. I’ve already used it professionally and am creeping the Notebloc tablets on amazon.

Here are a collection of jellies and aspics. Don’t let their bouncy, colourful looks fool you. One is made from pickle relish, another from tomato soup and I think there’s even some sour cream and mayo in there.

What happens when you mash Notebloc, 8-bit Photo Lab and TextArt together? You get my new forum avatar.

This collection of apps puts a whole lot of fun and functionality in the palm of your hand. They play well together, are either free or cheap and translate well to smaller screens.
 
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need some time alone to fingerpaint.

 

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Niki de Saint Phalle – Ready To Kill

In 1960 I was a very angry young woman. Angry at men and their power. I felt that they had robbed me of my own free space in which I could develop myself.
 
I wanted to conquer their world, to earn my own money. Angry with my parents who I felt had raised me for the marriage market. I wanted to show them that I was somebody, that I existed and that my voice and my scream of protest as a woman was important.
 
I was ready to kill.

Niki Saint Phalle’s unique brand of feminist art expressed both jouissance and angst in equal measure, and explored the complex and confounding ways in which biology and culture co-construct the female experience.

She was born on October, 29, 1930 to an aristocratic Catholic family as a second of five children; her father André was a wealthy French banker, and her mother Jacqueline Harper was an American, but raised in French.

Soon after her birth, facing with aftershocks of the Black Tuesday, the French wing of the Great Depression, the Saint Phalle’s lost their fortune; her father was forced to close his finance company and they moved to the United States.

From an early age, Niki pushed the boundaries in her personal and artistic life. She attended the prestigious Brearley School in New York, which she found to be a formative experience for her, and a place where she became a feminist.

However, she was expelled for painting the fig leaves covering the genitals of statues on the school’s campus red.

Coming of Age

When she was 18, Saint Phalle eloped with Harry Mathews, a person that she knew through her father.

Both of them were artistically inclined, oversensitive, overtly rebellious romantics, and they bounded together as such. While Mathews studied music at Harvard University, Saint Phalle began exploring painting, and gave birth to their daughter Laura in 1951, when she was 20 years old.

In 1952, the couple moved to Paris, where Mathews continued to study music, learning to become a conductor, while Niki studied theater to become an actress, and she was also modelling for Elle and Vogue.

The following year, Saint Phalle was diagnosed with a nervous breakdown, and hospitalized in a psychiatric facility.

At this point of her life, she had gone through a violent nervous breakdown, caused by the facts she had married young and somehow accepted the conservative values and the lifestyle of her family that she wanted to reject so badly.

Niki was first treated with a barbarous treatment, a series of electric shocks, but luckily, she ended up in the hands of a humane psychiatrist who restored her to mental health.

She was encouraged to paint as a form of therapy; somewhere in between the shocks and analysis, she began doing her first collages, and soon after that her first paintings.

They were so original and compelling, that her husband, following her energetic example, gave up all thoughts of a musician career and began writing for the first time since 1949.

The couple moved to Majorca off the coast of Spain, where their son Philip was born in 1955. During this time, Niki developed her imaginative, self-though style of painting, experimenting with a variety of materials and forms.

During the visit to Barcelona, she was stuck by the work of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi and his park Güell, which was instrumental in Niki’s early conceptualization of the elaborate sculpture garden she would fulfill much later in her career.

Saint Phalle’s art was also influenced by other various artists such as Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Jackson Pollock.

At the end of the 1950s, Niki and her husband moved back to Paris; in 1960, she divorced Mathews, giving him the custody of their children. She met artist Jean Tinguely, with whom she would collaborate artistically; within a year, they had began a romantic relationship, and eventually married in 1971.

Niki Saint Phalle’s first solo exhibition in 1961, punctuated a dynamic period of her early career and she met a number of influential artists living in Paris at that time, whose use of found objects was to have a strong influence on her work.

On show were several of her Shooting Paintings. They were made by fixing polythene bags of paint to a board, and covering them with a thick plaster surface. Viewers were invited to shoot a rifle at the surface, popping the bags and causing the paint to run down the textured white surface.

The process of creating the artwork became a live performative event done in the public eye, and with the public’s participation, challenging traditional perceptions of the artist as a hermetic figure. Shooting Paintings involve the viewer directly and physically in the creation of the work, and leave the resulting image to chance.

In this period, Saint Phalle’s artistic work had become a bold act of defiance, reclamation of space for herself, and for women. She started to articulate these ideas and combining them with other social and political issues‒ amidst an atmosphere of radical ideas, from civil rights, anti-war and anti-violence protests to campaigns for women’s rights and sexual liberation across the West.

Famous Works

The Crucifixion piece, from 1963, an abstracted female figure, is made from found objects and fixed on the flat surface of the wall. It partly resembles to the method of sculptural assemblage, a combination of collage and sculpture that brings in a third dimension by adding elements that project out of a planar, two-dimensional surface.

The work responds to the genre-blending of mid-century abstraction and expresses Saint Phalle’s attitude towards the female condition, which she saw as a highly ambiguous and contentious state.

The figure comprises together suggestions and formal elements of the constructed, biological-cultural stages of womanhood: youthful and sexualized, maternal and abundant, elderly and confined.

The figure has no arms, indicating a lack of female agency and disempowerment within a society that strongly delineates woman’s roles in accordance with diminishing reproductive capacity.

Her most famous and prolific series of works, the Nanas, were inspired by a friend’s pregnancy, her reflections on archetypal feminine forms, and the vexed positions that women occupy in modern, patriarchal societies.

‘Nanas’, a French slang word roughly equivalent to ‘broads’, is a title that encapsulates the theme of the everywoman as well as the casual denigration that closely accompanies the rhetorical grouping of women as a social category.

The Black Venus (1965-67), a large-scale sculpture presents a non-traditional view of the goddess figure and does not conform to the stereotypes of female beauty established by Western classical art, and does not recall sculptural goddess form of the Ancient Western world.

Instead, the figure is large-limbed, black-skinned, actively in motion, and adorned in a colorful, cartoonish bathing costume.

In 1966, she collaborated with Tinguely and Olof Ultvedt on a project for Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. The trio created a large installation Hon-A Cathedral, the largest nana figure; the installation provoked a strong reaction from the public.

It is a large-scale sculptural work which viewers could enter from the vaginal opening, and could hold up to 150 people at a time. ‘Hon’ is the Swedish word for ‘she’, implying that the sculpture is both a symbol for the every-woman and a cathedral-like space for the worship of woman and femininity.

Its structure references classical architectural theories about the entrance to cathedrals and their metaphoric and symbolic relationship to female genitalia. The feature also presents the woman’s body as a place of exchange and creation, a generative space of new life by way of its exit.

That was also the period when Niki worked on Le Paradis Fantastique, a commission for the French Pavilion at Expo Montreal, Canada in 1967.

While she was working on this project with Tinguely, St Phalle’s lungs were severely damaged by polyester resin toxic fumes. Her favorite material, polyester, was the cause of her recurring health problems.

During the early 1970s, she spent some time in the Swiss mountains recuperating from a serious lung illness. In Swiss, Niki met childhood friend, Marella Caracciolo Agnelli who was a well-connected socialite with a penchant for collecting art.

Saint Phelle told her about her vision of creating elaborating sculpture garden of Tarot symbology. With Agnelli’s help, she acquired a parcel in Tuscany, Italy. In 1978, the foundations were laid, and two years later, the construction of the first sculpture began;

The Empress, an enormous sculptural building designed in the shaped of a sphinx, became her home and studio for the next decade.

Elaborately decorated with mosaics and ceramics on the outside and Venetian glass on the inside, the work maintains the aesthetic of assemblage used in many of her earlier works.

Niki spent many years completely immersed in the creation of her dream place. After nearly 20 years of intensive work, financial and health problems, the garden was opened in 1998. It contained vibrant mosaics and colossal sculptures, based on the Tarot cards symbols.

Tarot is an ancient, venerable set of cards, with picture representations of archetypal, elementary situations upon them. They described existential, human experiences and psychic states. Saint Phalle was deeply convinced that the cards have a considerable meaning.

She saw the Tarot Garden as a site which crosses boundaries into the religious and where everyone is potentially able to have a direct experience of the archetypal content of the Tarot.

The idea came from Antonio Gaudi’s Park Guell, but the garden became much more than a simple variation on Gaudi’s concept. It was her absolute, on-going concern, and a deep, captivating theme for life.

Jean Tinguely died in Switzerland, 1991, and Saint Phalle began to make a series of kinetic sculptures, his chief sculptural medium, to honor his memory.

The Grotto

The Grotto, Hanover (2001-2003), the final instalment in a series of semi-architectural works accessible to public is the last project Saint Phalle worked on before her death.

This particular cave was originally built in the baroque style in 1676 as a place for members of the Hanover court to escape the heat.

Niki was invited to turn the space into an immersive art environment; she created a design in response to the formal qualities of the existing architecture, and maintained the original function of the Grotto.

Grotto consists of three rooms, each decorated in different style. The central room’s (‘Spirituality’) walls feature a spiral of yellow, gold and orange mosaic pieces made of glass and ceramics, along with river pebbles and seashells.

The room on the right is set against a field of dark cobalt blue, inspired by the work of Henri Matisse.

The final room is bright and full of silver shards of mirrors, creating an impression of continuous daylight inside the dark cave. The room features sculptural figures in a range of styles from across Niki’s career, acting as a form of retrospection of her oeuvre.

Death

Niki Saint Phalle died on May, 21, 2002, after six months in intensive care in La Jolla, California. Her death was caused by emphysema, a chronic obstructive lung disease.

Saint Phalle continually disrupted long-held conventions in art; her iconoclastic approach to her identity and society at large made her an early and important voice to both the development of early conceptual art and the feminist movement.

Her work often combined plastic art and performance in new ways, blending and dismantling hierarchies between sculpture, painting and performance in a way that would influence conceptual artists and their thinking toward developing new and hybrid forms rather than refining single-medium-specificity.