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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Two Michelangelos: Postscript - Another Contarelli Chapel Commission

Caravaggio was contracted for two side paintings in the Contarelli chapel, those we have looked at in the last three posts. The project was finished and installed in 8 months. For the front wall of the chapel, the Flemish sculptor Jacob Cobaert was commissioned to complete a "St. Matthew and the Angel" which was rejected for unknown reasons a short while after being installed. The sculpture ended up in Santissima Trinita dei Pellegrini in Rome.

The church turned once again to Caravaggio, asking him to complete a painting for the space. Caravaggio produced this work:

The church rejected this painting as well and if we take a closer look it is easy to understand why. The angel is guiding St. Matthew's hand which, combined with the look on his face, makes him look rather like a simpleton. In addition, the position of the Saint's dirty left foot puts it precariously close to the  eucharist when it is raised during the liturgy. The painting eventually ended up in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum  in Berlin and was destroyed by American bombing in World War II. 

Caravaggio, being the consummate professional that he was, painted a second version that remains in the chapel to this day:

For amazing hi-res images of the paintings in the Chapel visit: Contarelli Chapel hi-res pics.
And an interesting documentary on how they produced the above images: Caravaggio, creating three facsimiles.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Two Michelangelos Part 3

Supper at Emmaus 1601

The most striking feature of this image is the beardless Christ. While it is true that early representations of Christ were beardless, based on the model of Apollo, the bearded Christ, based on the Mandylionbecame convention around the 6th century. There must have been a very good reason for Caravaggio to have broken with convention. If we look to the Sistine Chapel again, specifically the Last Judgement, we see the same face and gesture used by Caravaggio on the figure of Christ painted by Michelangelo. This is our first clue as to the deeper meaning of the "Supper at Emmaus".

Once again Caravaggio dresses his apostles and bystanders in contemporary dress. Compare the reaction of the apostles to the innkeeper, who is seemingly oblivious to the scene transpiring in front of him as the risen Christ reveals himself to apostles (from Luke 24:30 - 31). The innkeeper represents us, the everyman, who asks, "Would I have seen this miracle?"
A further clue to the meaning is the fruit basket, beautifully painted but leaning precariously on the ledge. This basket refers to the Last Judgement. From the Old Testament book of Amos 8:1-3:
"This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. "What do you see, Amos?" he asked. A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. Then the Lord said to me, " The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer. "In that day", declares the Sovereign Lord," the songs in the Temple will turn to wailing. Many many bodies flung everywhere! Silence!

The painting is about salvation and judgement.

For those of you who are interested in reading more about Caravaggio, I highly recommend Dr. John Spike's book on Caravaggio. I have had the pleasure of studying with Dr. Spike and his book is one of the best art history books I have read.
The best book for high quality reproductions is by Sebastion Schutze. It is 12 x 16 inches and is full of hi-res close ups. One can see paint quality in the images. Highly recommended for the Caravaggio enthusiast.
Click on the Amazon widget to the right for more info.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Two Michelangelos Part 2

This is the "Martyrdom of St. Matthew" from the Contarelli Chapel in San Luigi Francesi in Rome.

Caravaggio's version of the martyrdom was inspired by the Golden Legend .  Matthew was murdered while celebrating mass in the Ethiopian city of Nadaber. He had refused to marry the King Hirtacua to Ephigenia, a consecrated virgin. Upset at this, the King sent an assassin to kill the saint.

The white vestments of Matthew set against the dark background bring our attention to the center of the painting, as the assassin stands over the saint, about to kill him. At left we see a group of young men (including Carvaggio's self portrait at the back)  dressed in contemporary 17th C clothing (as in the "Calling"). This group could be the faithful who, upon witnessing the murder, ran to light fire to the kings palace. On the right is the altar boy running away from the scene while just behind him is the altar. The bottom group is somewhat confusing as it seems the figures are distorted and/or limbless. Could this refer to the cripples that St. Matthew was known for healing? The strange space they are in may be a reference to the Pool of Bethedusa – a healing pool in Jerusalem mentioned in St. John’s Gospel. 

It is the grouping of St Matthew and the assassin that is most interesting. Once again Caravaggio references Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, using the body of Adam in the place of the assassin. Below I have photoshopped Adam next to the assassin to demonstrate the similarity:

This assassin is Adam up right, on his feet. Adam who has become sinner and been exiled from Paradise. The assassin/Adam grabs the hand of Matthew, trying to block contact with the palm of martyrdom being offered to him by the angel above. Adam here is an image of arrogance in contrast to the redemptive power offered to Matthew. It is sin that prevents us from receiving the grace of God. In this grouping Caravaggio represents the complex rapport between human and divine.

With  "The Calling of St. Matthew", the hand of Adam became the hand of Christ that calls Matthew. In "The Martyrdom", the body of Adam just created becomes the arrogant body of the assassin of St. Matthew. The angel above Matthew is one of the angles from the flight of the angels within God the Divine Creator.

In the next post we will see how Caravaggio continues to reference the Sistine Chapel in his painting of  "Supper at Emmaus"