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Steve McCurry – Revealing The World’s True Colours

steve mccurry photo war

Steve McCurry is an American photographer and photojournalist. 

steve mccurry young

Background

He was born on April 23, 1950 in Philadelphia. Steve studied Film at Pennsylvania State University. After graduation in 1974, he started to work for a local newspaper called The Daily Collegian and started his career as a photographer.

After a few years of working as a freelance photographer, McCurry made his first trip to India.

Back then, he didn‘t know that this country would be the start for his international career, filled with many trips to countries, which suffer from armed conflicts, war, and poverty, but also will give him huge resources to know different cultures and take fascinating pictures.


India

Everything started from a one-way ticket. India for the first trip was chosen not accidentally. Its rich culture promised many vivid and lively shots.

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Through his career, McCurry had visited India many times and collected wide spectrum of pictures. From cities full of people like Mumbai or Kolkata till farmscapes in the Uttar Pradesh area.

While traveling through these places, he started to create spectacular portraits of locals, surrounded by cows and busy with their daily works. You can see deep looks, which catch your attention and give you the feeling, that behind every person, it doesn‘t matter if he or she is young or old, is an individual and unique story, which Steve was trying to bring to the world.

young boy with a gun to his head

India is very generous of giving the photographer plenty of colors – red, orange, blue or green and that perfectly reflects at Steve’s photos. You can see different fabrics on people’s bodies or turbans on men’s heads.

By taking these pictures, the photographer shows, that huge part of India‘s culture can be disclosed exposing the vivid colors of locals, because it seems like every person he shoots is one of a kind and unique.

Steve said: “I think that joy of photographing in India is that you never quite know what is waiting for you around the next corner. There is always, what‘s delightful, horrified, something that you never saw before, something who always can strike you in the face”.

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The artist emphasizes a picture he took in the Rajasthan region, saying that circumstances were favourable, when suddenly dust storm started and it created an exclusive atmosphere for the shot.

Group of women were hiding from the storm covered in the circle and started to sing.

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What McCurry likes of this picture, is how fabric was blown during the dust storm and the fabrics itself symbolize the past, cause they aren’t produced anymore and also the trees are symbol too because there is a big desolation of trees in that part of the country.


Afghanistan and the big break

While being in India, Steve McCurry accidentally snuck into Afghanistan, just before it was invaded by Soviet troops.

He needed to be very careful: shave his beard, put the same clothes as locals wear and especially hide his cameras in a bag.

At that time, there was a military zone with the armed Pakistani soldiers and the whole region was unsafe but also very interesting for a photographer.

khumari afghanistan

When he sent films with pictures back to his family, one of them were printed in Geo magazine and The New York Times, but the real break happened when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan later the same year and then the appearance of these photos was vitally important for all printed media.


The famous Afghan girl

When photo of the Afghan girl was printed on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, it became one of the most popular and iconic pictures in the whole photography history.

The picture was taken at the refugee camp during the Soviet invasion. McCurry remembered, that there was a full class of children, but one girl took his attention from the entering in the classroom, because of her incredible green eyes and mesmerized look.

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At first, a girl was a bit shy, because probably it was the first time in her life when somebody was taking pictures of her, but her teacher told her, that it would be important to let the whole world see her.

To create this portrait the circumstances were perfect – right light, good background and an expression of the girl‘s face.

The authenticity of a girl brought success, because she didn‘t pose, just sat calmly and looked into the lens.

The picture of a girl symbolizes the fear and horror of war and perfectly illustrates how one image can describe individual experiences during a difficult situations of the country during the war.

About the inspiration: “I think what inspires me, is that incredible world we live in, all the ways people live their lives, come out of the mountains, wearing this jewelry, hats, and in the middle east women covered to the top – all of this area of culture is happening in the same little particular place of dust. I am amazed by how we all are the same, we do the same things, we all do them erratically in different ways. So I think the thing, which inspires me is the traveling, absorbing and wandering around this amazing planet”.

And where is that famous Afghan girl now?  Here she is speaking with the BBC.  Clearly the photo was a mixed blessing for her.


Family

Steve McCurry is married and has a daughter, who was born in 2017. He loves to travel with his family to various countries, he hopes, that his daughter could know other cultures, meet different people and learn to speak several languages, because for him it is important, that she could feel comfortable in different parts of the world.


Published works and achievements

Steve McCurry has published books including: The Imperial Way (1985), Monsoon (1988), Portraits (1999), South Southeast (2000), Sanctuary (2002), The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage (2003), Steve McCurry (2005), and Looking East: Portraits (2006), In the Shadow of Mountains (2007), The Unguarded Moment (2009), The Iconic Photographs (2012), Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (2013), From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail.

Through more than 40 years of his career, Steve received various awards, including Medal of Honor for coverage of the 1986 Phillippine Revolution given by White House News Photographers Association, Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize issued by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo in 2018.

Steve McCurry

His works were exhibited in the exhibitions in New York, Hong Kong, Brussels, and other cities. The most important – his works inspired many photographers and creators around the world.

To see Steve McCurry‘s pictures you can visit on of the following sites:

https://www.stevemccurry.com/

https://www.facebook.com/stevemccurrystudios

https://www.instagram.com/stevemccurryofficial/?hl=en


Steve McCurry Videos

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Amrita Sher Gil – The James Dean Effect

Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.

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India’s Revolutionary Artist

She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.

She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.

She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.

amrita sher-gil

The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.

A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.

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Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.

Realizing Potential in Paris

In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.

At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.

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She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.

During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.

In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.

The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.

amrita sher gil

Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul

In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.

The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.

Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.

One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.

Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.

amrita sher gil self portrait

Gaugin’s Disciple

She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.

Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.

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In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.

Decoding Indian Traditions

A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.

Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.

It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.

Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.

She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.

Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.

She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.

self-portrait

In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues. 

Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.

tribal women amrit sher gil paintings

Understanding

The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.

The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.

So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.

In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.

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Living Free, Dying Young

Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.

Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.

She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.

Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.

She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.

In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.

The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.  Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.

Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.

The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.

In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.

The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.

She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.

Recommended Viewing on Amrita Sher-Gil:

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Rob Skeoch – Interview on Street Photography and What it means to be a gritty outlaw

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Today I speak with pro photographer Rob Skeoch, whom I met through a street art show we’re having together along with sculptor Barbara Di Renzo at the Homer-Watson House and Gallery in Doon, Ontario called Inside/Out (Street Art Bombing).

Here’s Rob swimming with a shark somewhere.  Rob looks, oddly enough, quite at home, while the shark looks rather incredulous about things.

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Here’s the show poster:

Street art is a term that may seem rather nebulous to some, even myself (who has been labelled a street artist and is involved in a show about street art), but I wanted to take this opportunity to explore it more, via this interview with Rob (who also fulfills the qualifications for being a street artist in one way or another).  If anyone should know, it’s apparently us!

Here’s some of Rob’s photography hanging in the gallery, looking good and rather mysterious!

homer watson house and gallery show with rob skeoch

Sit back, relax, and enjoy my interview with Mr. Rob Skeoch!


How long have you been doing photography and what got you interested in photography to begin with?

Rob: I’ve been doing photography for most of my life. Starting in high school in the camera club that provided photos for the yearbook.

I always found it fascinating and there was nothing else I wanted to work at. It’s funny how something you first try in high school can still be interesting to you forty years later.


What was the first camera you owned?

Rob: My very first camera was the Kodak X15, a plastic point and shoot with a drop in film cartridge.

Kodak X15

I used this type of camera in high school, until I bought a Pentax F camera in my final year of high school.


What passions do you have other than photography that might surprise people?

Rob: I’ve only been interested in two things for most of my life, photography and scuba diving.There’s nothing as exciting as diving with sharks or any of the big fish.

Last week I was diving in the Red Sea and later this spring I’m in the Philippines, mostly shooting underwater video.


What is a “photo essay”?

Rob: A photo essay is just a story that you tell through a series of photos. Maybe it’s two pictures or maybe it’s a collection of 20-30 shots. If presented properly, in a sequence that makes sense you can make a stronger point than you can with just one photo.

(The following piece was taken from Rob’s photo essay, Streets of Steel, about the city of Hamilton, Ontario – Click here to view more of this and other photo essays by Rob Skeoch)

In a sense the photo essay is a connected group of photos that are telling a story through a similar point of view.

Street photography is usually just one photo so it tells a more limited story. A group of street shots don’t always form into a photo essay either sometimes they’re just a group of photos about a similar thing but each saying something unique.


What type of street photography do you feel that you do?  Do you ever stop to define it as a particular genre or sub-genre?

Rob: Right now my street photography is more linked to portraits on the street. It’s an area I’m planning to explore this summer.

These portraits are different than straight Street Photography which tends to be more random and might be more sophisticated compositionally than portraits would be.

(The following piece was taken from Rob’s photo essay, Searching for China – Click here to view more of this and other photo essays by Rob Skeoch)

searching for china rob skeoch photograph


Do you have any primary influences that made you want to be a photographer? (these don’t have to be other photographers per se)

Rob: There’s so many great photographers who work in the genre but some work worth considering would be from Eugene Smith or Peter Turnley.


How important is presentation with your work and how do you go about it?

Rob: Part of communicating through photography, whether it’s fashion or something from the street is how the viewer experiences the artwork.

If you take great photos and hide them in a shoebox, you’re not really communicating. It’s only by having your artwork out there that the circle becomes complete.

I’ve tried shows using different gallery techniques to get people looking at the show to really see the photos.

Right now my work is printed small so people have to lean in to see it. The small print size forces them to do that. Is it the best way to go? I’m not sure. A small print will rarely have the impact of a larger one but it’s something I’m exploring.

rob skeotch

Will I make 5×7 prints for my next show? Likely not as I want to try different ways to present the work. The great thing with small prints is they’re like jewels hanging on the wall, each one very intimate. Plus the smaller size makes them available to a greater range of collectors.

Photography has become a funny business for those trying to make money at it. The opportunities have never been greater for the real top level shooter while the middle of the road talent is likely making no money at it.

With so many photos being taken and so many genres of photography, it’s hard to find a thread that links everyone together.

Being curious is likely a good trait to have if you want to be an artist, but on the other hand limiting your interests might be needed if you want to rise above the level of hack and take things to a higher level.


You work with a large company currently.  How do you approach work differently for them than you do for yourself?

Rob: For me, I work at Sony in a demanding job, so photography is an outlet from that work, and street photography is my genre because I can do it anywhere

I don’t have to have much time set aside for it, can find a subject anywhere, and don’t need much gear.

If I’m shooting digital I likely only have one camera and a small zoom with me, and if I’m shooting film I likely have one or two lenses and an old Leica film camera.

Although I work in the digital imaging department at Sony, shooting on film is often a nice break from digital and then having to edit on the computer. It’s great to be in the darkroom instead. 

The other thing about shooting film is you get to use some of the all-time classic cameras now that they’re less costly because most people want digital cameras.

With the better cameras the “user experience” is so much at a higher level it just makes the entire process that much more enjoyable.


To see more of your work, where should people go?

There is more work over at robskeoch.com


Thanks Rob!

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The Dadaistic Life of Max Ernst

Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation. – M. Ernst

Dadaism was a movement of the grotesque, absurdity, and an expression of the modern world meaninglessness. Not only paintings, sculptures, and poems artworks, but the life of artists was an artwork itself.

Max Ernst’s life wasn’t an exception.

Early life

Maximilian Maria Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany as the third of nine children in a strict middle-class Catholic family. His parents were devoted Christians who were raising their children to be religious, God-fearing and capable individuals.

His father was an amateur painter and he introduced painting to Max at an early age, which will further determine his life path.

Philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry were areas that first interested him, so he went to study it at the University of Bonn.

He was visiting asylums and got fascinated with the artwork of mentally ill people. But he abandoned this studies because he realized that he had more interests in the arts, claiming that his interests included anything connected to painting.


Love for Painting

His love for painting was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life to it.

In the earliest days of his painting career, he met works of the most famous artists of all time, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cezzane and Picasso, who influenced Ernst’s further work.

His favorite themes were fantasy and dreams, and he adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.


War and Dada

After finishing his studies, Ernst was forced to join the German Army in World War I as a part of the artillery unit, so he was directly exposed to the drama of warfare.

The war was ruinous for this young soldier, but inspiring for him as an artist. He became highly critical of western culture and these charged emotions directly fed into his vision of the world as irrational – an idea that became the basis of his artwork.

Memories of the war and his childhood helped him create absurd, but interesting scenes in his artworks. In 1918, after returning from the war, he took painting seriously.

With Jean Arp, a poet and an artist whom he met before having to go to war, he formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne.

They edited journals and created a scandal by organizing a Dada exhibit in a public restroom. More important are his collages and photomontages he started making in 1919.

His collages represent an important phase of Dadaist art.


Collages

He was using different materials in creating collages, such as illustrated catalogs, photographs of various animals, drawings etc, which resulted in creating somewhat futuristic images.

One of these compositions is Here everything is still floating (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made of cutout photographs of insects, fish and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identities of the things represented.

He approached descriptive expression with his collages. Besides that, a three-dimensional spatial perspective and dreaming illusionism of Giorgio de Chirico heavily influenced his work.

Adjustment to his take on Chirico’s style moved him away from Arp’s plain drawings and provided a transition that later became an illusionist branch of surrealist painting.

Arp’s and Ernst’s attempts to reach “beyond painting” – Arp with his low, painted and machine-cut reliefs, and Ernst with his collages – don’t represent an attempt of anti-art, as much as a response to feeling that the pre-war art was too hermetic and aesthetic.

Their work made a base for painting-poetry that lived through Dadaism and inspired quarter century of Surrealism.

Ernst’s unique masterpieces enabled him to create his own world of dreams and fantasy, which helped him to heal his personal issues and trauma.


Surrealism

In the 1920s, Surrealism occurred.

In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris where he became a founding member of the Surrealists, the group that gathered artists and writers whose work outgrew from the unconscious.

In 1923, Ernst finished his Men Shall Know Nothing of This, known as the first surrealist painting.

He was one of the first artists to apply The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud to investigate his deep psyche to explore the source of his own creativity.

In 1929, he started using techniques of decalcomania – transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together, and frottage – pencil rubbings of the things such as wood grain, fabric or leaves, to stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind.

These techniques resulted with the accidental patterns and textures that made the artist contemplating free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (Histoire naturelle, 1926) as well in many paintings such as The Great Forest (1927) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (1945).

Ernst gained quite a reputation despite his strange style.


Also in 1929, he turned to collage again and created The Woman with 100 heads, which represents his first collage novel.

Not long after, he created the collage novels A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930) and A Week of Kindness (1934).

After 1934, his attention was oriented towards sculpture, where he was using improvised techniques just as he did in painting.

For example, Oedipus II (1934) was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.


Moving to the United States

At the beginning of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States. There he joined his third wife Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him to break through American art scene, and his son, American painter Jimmy Ernst.

While living there, he concentrated on sculptures such as The King Playing with the Queen (1944), which shows the influence that African culture made on him.

He helped to form American art during the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to his ingenious and extraordinary ideas that were different from those of other artists of that time.

Ernst’s obvious denial of conventional styles and imageries in painting was what fascinated American artists.

New and innovative ways of painting interested young American artists, so this unique style of Ernst gained the attention of painters who became familiar with his work.

Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning playing chess with figures that are Ernst’s creation

Conclusion

In his later years, he divorced Guggenheim and married Dorothea Tanning, a surrealist painter who lived in Sedona, Arizona.

They were traveling to various places to learn more about different art techniques. The couple settled in France in 1953. A year after, Ernst received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, a prestigious awards contest.

Max Ernst died in 1976, in Paris, only a day before his 85th birthday. His legacy lived on as he was inspiring artists throughout the world.

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Otaku Subculture History

A wide range of youth subcultures have appeared in Japan since World War II, many of them shocking polite sensibilities and subverting mainstream society with behaviors considered self-centered, hedonistic and deviant.

Among the subcultures that attract the most attention, both among the public and in academic circles is the otaku, the notoriously obsessive fans of anime, manga, video games and other forms of Japanese popular culture.

Otaku: The Social Phenomenon

Since their emergence in the 1970’s and 1980’s, otaku have become a major social phenomenon, engendering widespread fascination as well as fear, disapproval and misunderstanding.

The rise of an otaku identity in Japan has inspired films, books, and art movements, that both demonize and celebrate fervent fan subculture.

Generally styled as “geeks” or “nerds’”, otaku are pictured in Japan’s collective imagination as socially maladjusted young men dressed un-stylishly (often sporting backpacks and anoraks), physically unattractive (usually overweight and gawky), and unnaturally fixated on some narrow corner of mass culture.

Otaku is a vernacular term used by amateur manga and anime fans and artists to refer to themselves. Otaku is a polite, almost stiffly formal way of saying “you” in Japanese.

Combining the honorific prefix o- with taku, meaning “house”, it literally translates as “your house” and carries connotations of detachment and impersonality.

In English, the equivalent might be referring to someone as “sir” or “ma’am”.

How this word, generally associated in postwar Japan with the kind of scrupulously polite language housewives would use with neighbors and acquaintances, came to describe obsessive, introverted young fans of popular culture is uncertain and continues to be the subject of much speculation and debate.

The first publication of the term “otaku” outside of the fan culture is generally credited to Akio Nakamori, who, in 1983, adopted the term to describe the social phenomenon of hardcore fandom in Japan during this time.

Nakamori chose the term otaku to describe what he identified as the particularly driven characteristics of fandom, in preference over the more conventional term, nekura ( maniac or enthusiastic fan).

Nekura means ‘black’ and ‘dark’ and evokes the quality of a melancholic and extremely introverted character.

Miyazaki Tsutomu AKA The Otaku Killer

The widely publicized arrest of 27-year-old Miyazaki Tsutomu in 1989 was a key marker for the negative perception of otaku in public discourses.

Miyazaki was arrested for the abduction, murder and mutilation of young girls. Searching his home, police found evidence that he had murdered four young girls. They also found a collection of 5,763 videotapes and pornographic and pedophilic anime filled from floor to ceiling.

Public debates focused on Miyazaki as a socially alienated youth who was disconnected from reality and immersed within an otaku fantasy.

Japanese media persistently associated Miyazaki with otaku and dubbed him ‘’The Otaku Killer’’; the image of his room-unoccupied and windowless with videotapes stacked to the ceiling around a small, rumpled bed – became the dominant impression of an entire otaku subculture.

The outcome of his trial hinged on the question of his sanity, with the court concluding he understood the consequence and severity of his crime and sentencing him to death. He was executed in 2008.

The figure of Miyazaki still haunts the public perception of otaku.

Degrading Values over the Decades

This subculture associated strongly with antisocial fantasies and habits both violent and sexually perverted became a lightning rod in intense and histrionic public debates over social decay and the deteriorating values of Japanese youth.

For many Japanese, otaku meant an increasing number of sullen youth who would voluntarily taken leave of reality.

In 1960, youth were involved in radical political movements and new popular cultural activities such as manga consumption.

In the early 1970s in parallel with the expansion of these culture industries, youth were considered to be self-consciously immature, regressive, and dysfunctional, because they emphasized individualism and a lack of affiliations with organizations.

In the 1980’s, the mass media and culture industries were criticized for encouraging youth culture for its individualism.

For example, the ‘crystal tribes’ who were considered to be passionless cultural connoisseurs.

In the mid 1980’s, a new term emerged to differentiate a new generation of affluent, consumer oriented youth – shinjinrui ( new human race).

Otaku culture emerged within these contexts, and came to embody in the public imagination a particular section of youth who were considered the embodiment of fragmentation, individualism, and infantilism.

The interpretation of fans as symbolizing the decline of community, with audiences being passive consumers of mass media, resulting in pathological fans who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality, is also considered to be an unacknowledged critique of postmodernity.

Trivia Addicts

From the start, what seemed to characterized otaku, beyond their apparent social ineptitude and isolation, was the compulsion to amass huge amounts of trivial information on obscure, narrow and often juvenile subjects from animated television series to pop music idols to tropical fish.

What set otaku apart from previous generations of devoted fans, was the power and connectivity afforded by the Internet. It provided new means for collecting information and sharing it with like-minded enthusiasts.

What was also striking about this new social formation of highly wired and technologically adept fans, was its sheer size: from the 1980’s on, Japan was said to have a population of at least 100,000 (and perhaps as many as one million) hard-core otaku.

Some scholars describe a long-running power politics surrounding the subculture. The ‘bad’ otaku shuts off from society, in a room with the objects of consumption, not participating in ‘normal’ forms of social formations.

Miyazaki embodied this stereotype and his prominence strengthened it.

In addition, we think of otaku as a male, but before 1989, they were often describes as both women and men behaved in ways the older fans or outsiders found unacceptable.

Before the killings, the otaku men were often portrayed as failures – economically, socially and sexually.

The term came out of the subculture as a negative self-description, but only after Miyazaki did it take on the stronger implication of social pathology.

Roots of Otaku

Many social critics and psychologists have argued that the roots of otaku behavior lay within Japan’s highly structured, even oppressive, educational, and social systems.

They have suggested that the information fetishism of otaku stems from the rigid routines of Japanese schooling, which emphasize rote learning and the memorization of vast quantities of fragmented facts.

The social awkwardness and reclusive tendencies of otaku, meanwhile, were widely understood to be reaction against the pressure for conformity, emphasis on the group, and elaborate standards of decorum that characterize Japan society.

Japan has always been known to be a strict culture, with high suicide rates compared to other countries, especially in modern times.

Japan’s otaku subculture has evolved in a variety of new directions. While many early otaku were fixated on science fiction, the imaginative and visually rich realms of manga and anime soon became the most widespread obsession.

Gyaru-Ge

By the start of the new millennium, otaku interest became overtly sexualized. There was a proliferation of gyaru-ge (‘girl games’, dating simulation software) and female fantasy characters introduced in manga, anime or as collectible plastic models.

The characters are generally depicted as cute, vulnerable and sexually alluring.

Otaku adopted the almost indefinable term moe (derived from two homophonic verbs meaning ‘to burn’ and ‘to bud’) to describe a kind of profound infatuation for these fictional female creation – perhaps platonic, or rooted in frustrated sexual desire.

The discourses around otaku culture shifted as intellectuals such as Otsuka Eiji and Okada Toshio began to emphasize otaku culture as a symbol of Japan’s information society.

This shift also contributed to and was influenced by a transformation in defining manga, and the promotion of certain forms of manga artistic lineage, as part of national culture within and outside of Japan.

Surging Into The Mainstream

The long-term transition in otaku tastes, from science-fiction and animation to pursuits viewed by the larger society as perverted, pornographic, and pedophilic, was driven by the mainstreaming of anime and manga in the 1900’s.

As the Japanese public came to accept forms like anime, otaku felt compelled to move on to more outrageous and offensive obsessions in order to maintain their distance from polite society and their resistance  to its niceties.

Today, the image of otaku in Japanese media is quite consistent in general. The label has lost some of its sting.

The Akihabara district of Tokyo, known as ‘electric town’ for its high concentration of stores selling household appliances, has become a well-known otaku destination since the late 1990s.

Akihabara now has hundreds of businesses, including ‘maid cafés’, where young female waitresses costumed as servants or anime characters wait on costumers, which cater to fan obsessions.

Local authorities have embraced that identity, welcoming fans and holding frequent festivals.

Increased public recognition has helped broaden culture; no longer confined to the image of a person-less room overstuffed with pop-culture cargo, otaku can take on more positive meanings.

It’s not just the obsessive, withdrawn loner, although that picture may never completely dissipate; now it can be the passionate expert.

Despite the positive image of otaku that is emerging, particularly in relation to the export of manga and anime, attention needs to be given to the persistently negative images of otaku and its continued marginalization within Japanese society.

Otaku are also often linked in the public imagination with hikikomori (reclusive shut-ins), chronically unemployed NEETs (‘not in employment, education or training’) and freeters ( youth floating between dead-end, part-time jobs).

All groups are stigmatized in public discourse as symbols of the alienation and drift of Japan’s younger generation today.

The positive image of otaku conflicts with otaku self-definition that emphasizes, as matter of positive subjectivity, their social unacceptability.

Whether it is conceived positively or negatively the continual emphasis is still identifying otaku as different to other consumers of media forms.

Related Videos

Here are two videos related to otaku you might like to watch.  First there’s Akihabara Geeks, the 2005 documentary.

Also, check out the 1994 documentary, simply called “Otaku”.

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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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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