Thursday, October 23, 2014

Artistic Anatomy - Odd Nerdrum

Odd Nerdrum is  one of the most interesting and important artists alive today. Nerdrum's pictures reflect the spiritual malaise which overwhelms post-modern man. His paintings are timeless, yet radically traditional.
The figures of Nerdrum's (seemingly) post-apocolyptic landscapes reflect a clear belief in the manipulation of anatomy to express a mood or an idea. The master himself talks about this:
"The highest level you could think about is when you make a picture where you can't say when it was made. You have to make small heads, big hands, long stomachs, so the whole figure is moving upwards". (

"Two Green Feathers" 

"The Singers"

In other of Nerdrum's paintings he distorts the figures in a less graceful way.

"Woman Kills Injured Man"

Man Bitten by a Snake 

Nerdrum works exclusively from life, with multiple sittings from multiple models. He selects those features he needs, distorting and interpreting to create the characters that populate his landscapes.
As an example of this, in my time studying with Nerdrum, I was asked to pose for one of the figures in a painting, that of an old wizard. The model for the wizard was a well-built older gentleman with a healthy head of hair while the figure in the painting was bald. My head came in handy as I was the only bald student around.

This quote from the website sine qua non sums up Nerdrum's work beautifully:

"In Nerdrum's work the body and its natural functions - erections, defecation, even aging- are used to jolt us out of our tidy complacency. His blighted landscapes also do much to increase the overall disquiet. 
But at the core, the essence, Nerdrum's paintings violate with one final traumatic twinge: that of almost unbearable beauty"

For more pictures of unbearable beauty:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Dimension Bomb

Koji Morimoto is one of Japan's premiere anime artist/directors but his work is not well known outside of his homeland. I was never a huge manga or anime fan but I happened to see a show of drawings and paintings from various anime projects while I was in Madrid a couple of years ago. It lead me to look into Morimoto's work. 

If you have 20 minutes you will be transported to another world. Morimoto's film is wonderful.

Artistic Anatomy - Kirby, Steranko and the Laws of Action

What is "artistic anatomy"? It is the deliberate distortion of anatomy in order to make an artistic statement which may (or may not) support a philosophical idea. Artistic anatomy is the "...practical application of learned anatomy for heightened dramatic effect and maximum visual impact. Just as the most elegant words have no effectiveness unless they are used properly in a sentence, anatomical expertise without intelligent and judicious application will fail to communicate even the finest draughtsman's attention."* In today's academies, students are taught fidelity to nature and accuracy of seeing which makes for excellent work which however can sometimes be a little sterile. Interpretation and distortion for the sake of expression is often overlooked when drawing and painting figures.

For much of the 20th century, particularly in the dark days of the 60's and 70's, comic books were where much of the figurative tradition lived. Comic books are a great way to start of a series of posts on artistic anatomy considering that the simplification and distortion of anatomy is key to the art form.

The greatest comic artist of all time,  Jack Kirby, is a example of an artist using artistic anatomy,

Kirby's early work showed a mastery of anatomy but by the end of his career he had developed a short hand for anatomy that was distinctly his. Squiggly lines and sharp, straight lines interplay across the surface of his figures lending a sense of action and urgency to them.  This is the essence of artistic anatomy in the comic medium - "the amplification of anatomy to the point of impossibility and beyond."*

Also typical of  Kirby are the oversized hands, bodies at 8 heads or more tall and exaggerated musculature.  A hallmark of figures in heroic art:



El Greco

Jim Steranko was a young graphic designer who had a short but fantastic run on a series of Marvel Comics in the 1960's. He took Kirby's language and made it his own:

Later, in his self published magazine Media Scene, he wrote an article titled: The Laws of Action" in which he describes how an artist can bring energy, expression and grace to a figure. It is a manifesto that is useful for all figurative artists. Let me know what you think.

* All quotes above taken from "The Laws of Action " by Jim Steranko.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Glimpse of Divine Perfection

"The love of human beauty was the first step towards the love of God's own splendour" - St. Augustine
"A beautiful human body is thus a glimpse of divine perfection" - Dr. John Spike

In my on-going attempt to improve my artistic anatomy I thought I would share some of the recent sketches in my sketchbook. The sources come form a variety of places - wherever I see a beautifully designed body. Fine art, comics and illustration, drawing manuals as well as photographs. I am trying to absorb the mechanics of the body, to memorize the forms and understand how various artists distort the figure for a particular effect.

In an upcoming post I will discuss artistic anatomy and show examples from the range of art history.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dublin with David

I just finished up a 5-day workshop with noted American figure painter David Jon Kassan at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.

The workshop focused on the students learning Kassan's method of approaching a portrait painting. The class was split between David's demo and the students working.

From the first morn David set the tone, wanting the workshop to be a positive group experience. He would move through the classroom, attending to each student individually and guiding them in whatever way he saw necessary for success. David himself was very personable, alternating between cracking bad jokes and espousing his philosophy on painting.

David begins with a drawing on gunmetal gray Daler-Rowney Canford card paper, using Pan Pastel black blocked in with a number 4 trowel shaped drawing tool. From the block-in he refines the drawing with General's Charcoal pencils and white chalk pencils.
(check out this video)

Once completed, the drawing is photocopied and Pan Pastel red iron oxide is rubbed on the back of the copy.  This is placed upon die-bond plastic board that has been prepared with Golden N6 acrylic grey and traced out. Below you can see the beginning stages of the painting along with the drawing on the board.

David uses Vasari colours which he believes are the best.

He paints with small brushes specifically size 2 Isabey Kolinsky Sable round series 6227Z. He builds up texture with a series of lines, focusing on details and small variations. I compared it to a 
Van Gogh, but I do not think David appreciated it!

In order to get the desired texture, David uses Liquin oleopasto medium. Other mediums include stand-oil and M. Graham's walnut alkyd oil. Binoculars are used at all stages of the drawing and painting in order to refine shapes and details.

The final painting was auctioned of with proceeds going to the David Kassan Foundation

Below is my work (no time for the poor ear). David kept telling me to add more texture. The method is a lot different than the way I work which is from large general block-ins down to the specific. Here I had to jump into the detail right away and work from the center out.


David has videos on his drawing and painting methods that are available for purchase through his website:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Art and LIfe in China

My friend Karen Patterson gave an excellent talk at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary entitled: "Surveillance as an Art Form: Art, Life and Ai Wei Wei Under Scrutiny in the Peoples Republic of China". Karen spent 15 years, living and working in the artist community in Beijing. She was was married to the artist Wu Yuren and was a friend of Ai Weiwei. While we may know something in passing of the work of these artists, her talk gives us  close up view of the day-to-day struggles they face. The recording picks up just after the intro:

Ai Weiwei's website:
Karen's website:,
Wu Yuren's website:

Karen and Ai Weiwei

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sorolla Murals- The Painter of Light Goes Uptown

The Hispanic Society of America was founded in 1904 to promote the study of the rich artistic heritage of Spain and Portugal and their areas of influence throughout the world. The Society is located in New York City, way uptown at 155th Street and although it is free, does not receive the numbers of visitors it might if it was downtown. The Society is housed in a beautiful beaux-arts building and contains work by Velasquez, Goya and El Greco.

The high point however are the murals by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 - 1923). The Sorolla Room's panoramic series of 14 canvases present a celebration of regional costumes and cultures entitled, "The Provinces of Spain". This video I took gives you and idea of the scale:

For some wonderful close-ups visit: Sorolla Murals