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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Will Cotton

Abandoned Churro Cabin, 2002, Will Cotton
What do you do when you just like to draw two themes? Anyone who knows the art or illustration market would say you're limiting yourself too much and you're not going to get a lot of jobs. Or, you can become simply the best in whatever the combination and work it for the rest of your life! There are many such cases of artists who specialize in a single subject and earn their living from it. New York City artist, Will Cotton, falls into this category. Between paintings and illustrations, the guy always illustrates skinny woman in the middle of fat. And it makes for success! He only paints scantily clad models frolicking in sugary treats. Guys, if one doesn't make your mouth water, the other will.
Take two sweets and blend well. The result is a delectable confection--an iconic style and content some artists struggle to discover for decades.
Will Cotton didn't just one day decide to stir together "cotton" candy and naked ladies. Long before he mixed the two he delighted in painting both separately (above). Cotton works from models set up in his studio, which doesn't mean he works strictly from live models. He readily employs every trick and device available to artists today--photography, digital imaging, scale models, and real, edible sweets created in his own bakery. Cotton has even taken cooking classes to better fabricate these painstaking miniature worlds. The use of models (both live and homemade) lends the paintings all sorts of details and lighting effects that would be difficult to achieve from merely fantasizing about the subject. For all of their dreaminess, the painting process is more technical than whimsical. The structural logic of gingerbread, icing, marzipan, and various candies is carefully adhered to.
Not all that Will Cotton "cooks up" in his studio kitchen is edible, but much of it least for a few days.
Although Cotton is a consummate painter, he's at least equally adept as a sculptor, as is every pastry chef. How can a pastry chef be so thin? It would appear he only photographs, draws, and paints his confections, somehow eschewing the temptation to consume them...or even lick the spoon. Will Cotton was born in 1965. He grew up in Melrose, Massachusetts, but lives today in New York City where he has recently published a book Painting & Works on Paper. In its 176 pages, between photography and post-production, he evokes a unique insatiable desire for sweetness and sweetness. He focuses on the photo elements ranging from sweets to candy, lollipops, menthol, icing, or ice cream. In his Manhattan studio, Cotton creates works combining iconographic burlesque and pin-ups with rococo references.

To create his permanent confectionary sculptures Cotton includes such tasty ingredients as plaster, polymers, wood, and various color pigments.
Cotton studied at the New York Academy of Art, but received his B.F.A. from the Cooper Union, in 1988. His works from the 1990s depicted pop icons sourced from contemporary advertisements. Cotton described his early works in as an impulse to make paintings out of an awareness of the commercial consumer landscape we live in. He notes that every day we're bombarded with thousands of messages designed specifically to incite desires within us. Then around 1996, Cotton began to develop an iconography in which the landscapes themselves became objects of desire. His paintings often feature scenery made up entirely of pastries, candy and melting ice cream (top). He creates elaborate miniatures of these settings from real baked goods made in his Manhattan studio as a visual source for the final works.

Candy Land, New York Magazine, May, 2013

Since about 2002, nude or nearly-nude pinup-type models have often populated these candy-land scenes. As in the past, the works project a tactile indulgence in fanciful gluttony. The female figures are icons of indulgence and languor, reflecting the feel of the landscape itself. Cotton notes that these paintings are all about a utopia where all desire is fulfilled all the time, meaning ultimately that there can be no desire, as there is no desire without lackings. Cotton's art makes use of the common language of consumer culture.

Cotton's Domino, from 2015, refines the sweetness to it's basic element--sugar--employing photography, superb draftsmanship, computers, and painting.
Visual threads in Cotton's work, are drawn from imaginary worlds as in a sort of Candy Land board game with gingerbread houses, pinup art, and cotton candy, as part of the cultural lexicon. The dream of a land of plenty paradise is also a thread that runs through not just Cotton's work, but all of human history. His work updates the idea of a "land of milk and honey" first mention in the Old Testament Bible, but also in European literature and art.

The Will Cotton cover portrait of a frosted Martha Stewart, 2015.
Will Cotton has exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. His works have also been exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Seattle Art Museum, the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany; the Hudson River Museum; the Triennale di Milano, Italy, the Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris and the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Havana. His work is in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum, Washington and the Columbus Mu-seum of Art, in Ohio, as well as many prominent private collections, including, one would suppose, that of Martha Stewart (above). Cotton's brush would seem to be something of a fountain of youth. Obviously his most well-known subject is the teen idol, Katy Perry, with whom he has worked as the art director for the video hit California Gurls (bottom), as well as having designed the cover photo on the same album, which is all very sweet.

Will Cotton and his clones at work in his studio.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Alessandro Algardi

Pope Saint Leon arresting Attila, 1646-53, (St. Peter's Basilica), Alessandro Algardi--undoubted his major masterpiece.
It's not all that common an occurrence, but every generation or two there comes along a single artist who so far outshines the work of his peers that they get left behind in the dust. In the realm of the arts and sciences in general, Leonardo fits the bill. Raphael and Michelangelo competed for dominance in painting while Michelangelo stood head and shoulders over any other Renaissance sculptor. Although such masterful standing in their fields made for some incredibly powerful works of art, the "big three" also crowded into the background some very respectable competitors as evidenced by the fact that, at the moment, I find it difficult to list any from memory.
Terracotta sculpture, fired in two hollow halves, which were joined and filled with plaster to strengthen and stabilize the work. Obviously, a little more plaster in the shoulder areas would have been helpful.
During the Baroque era, Caravaggio grabbed the painting limelight while Gian Lorenzo Bernini took center stage in sculpture. Virtually the only sculptors of an note left in Rome where Francesco Borromini, Pietro da Cortona, and Alessandro Algardi. If you've drawn a blank on these unfortunate artists, you've served to prove my point. Borromini was better known as an architect of church facades than as a sculptor while Cortona was more famous for his frescoes than as a sculptor. That leaves onlys Algardi as any kind of competition for Bernini, who was both architect and sculptor.

An indication of why Bernini stands "head and shoulders" above all other Baroque sculptors.

Portrait of Alessandro Algardi,
artist and date unknown.
Alessandro Algardi was born in 1595. Algardi, was the son of a silk merchant from Bologna, one of the Papal States at the time. He was trained under Lodovico Carracci at the local art academy, where he acquired the skills of a first-rate draftsman. After a short period of activity in Mantua Algardi moved to Rome around 1625, where he designed the stucco decorations in San Silvestro al Quir-inale and gained some success as a restorer of classical sculptures. in carving the monu-ment to Cardinal Millini in Santa Maria del Popolo, the Frangipani monument in San Marcello al Corso, and the Bust of Cardinal Laudivio Zacchia (above, right). Algardi em-erged as the principal rival of Bernini in the field of portrait sculpture. Though his work lacks Bernini’s dynamic vitality (above, left) and penetrating characterization, Algardi’s portraits (above, right) were appreciated for their sober realism.

The Tomb of Leo XI, 1630-44, Alessandro Algardi.
Algardi maintained a close association with Pietro da Cortona, who helped establish his reputation in Rome and also familiarized him with the classical style in sculpture. Italian tastes in sculpture owed a great deal to their attitudes toward historical accuracy and the influence of Christian archaeology. One of Algardi's most important commission came in the 1630s for the marble tomb of Pope Leo XI in St. Peter’s. It was completed in 1644 and erected 1652 even though Pope Leo XI reigned as pontiff a mere 27 days in April of 1605. The commission came from the pope’s great-nephew, Cardinal Roberto Ubaldini. Algardi emphasized Leo’s munificence with allegorical figures of liberality and magnanimity. Unlike Bernini’s tomb for Pope Alexander VII, which combined white and colored marble with bronze, Algardi’s papal tomb was sculpted entirely from white marble.

Hercules and the Hydra,
copy of the Greek original,
Alessandro Algardi

Titan, 1659, Alessandro Algardi
After the election of Pope Innocent X in 1644, Algardi surpassed Bernini in papal favor. Between this date and his death in 1659, Algardi produced some of his most celebrated works, among them a colossal marble relief of the Meeting of Attila and Pope Leo in St. Peter’s created between 1646 and 1653 (top). Algardi's high relief was to influence strongly the development of illusionistic reliefs. Although he was generally less theatrical (less Baroque) than Bernini, in this particular work Algardi effectively created a larger than life-size narrative dramatically conveying its principal event. With his gesture of pushing away Attila, Leo points to the miraculously airborne Saints Peter and Paul, who have come to lend divine assistance. The deep shadows, emphatic gestures, and heavy drapery patterns work together to create an arresting and convincing sense of papal power.

Although Algardi was best known for his portraiture and an obsessive at-tention to details, from an artistic point of view, he was most successful in portrait-statues of groups of children, where he was obliged to follow nature most closely. His terracotta models, some of them finished works of art, were prized by collectors. An out-standing series of terracotta models is at the Hermitage Museum, Saint Pet-ersburg.
Head of an Angel,
Alessandro Algardi


Sunday, October 15, 2017

1950s Art

My own recollection would probably read: "The Thrifty Fifties."
Several months ago (actually, more like several years ago) I began a series exploring in some depth the art of the 20th-Century. I arbitrarily started with the art of the 1960s. From there I've covered the art of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. I should logically move on to the art of the 2000s, but not only does that seem like an awkward title, it's actually the first decade of the 21st-century. I would also deem it much too recent from which to gain much of an historical perspective. So instead, I'm going backward from where I began to the art of the 1950s--an era I can barely remember, and thus one in which what I know about its art comes mostly second-hand.  

Those artists predicting life in the future were mostly optimists. With technology and science, all things seemed possibly.
Chronologically, decades are neat and tidy demarcations of history. However history (including art history) seldom cooperates with such artificial timespans. For example, Abstract Expressionism reached it's peak in the 1950s but didn't really pass from the picture until sometime in the mid-1960s. To add to this complexity we find that during the 20th-century art began to creep into virtually every aspect of modern life from advertising, to entertainment, fine art, not-so-fine art, to precincts in which its validity as art of any type was highly in doubt. For the sake of lending some semblance of order to the chaos inherent in art history, I'll divide the art of the 1950s into three categories--fine art, printed art, entertainment art, and dubious art.

Pollock's art evolved during the early 1950s. Search (just above) was his final painting before his death.
In the area of Modern Art (contemporary was the new buzzword), three names dominated during the 1950s. Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and totally in a realm of his own, Norman Rockwell. Jackson Pollock (above) only saw the early years of the decade. He died in a drunken car crash on August 11, 1956. Despite his truncated career, Pollock's "action paintings" stand well above all other from the Abstract Expressionist era.

de Kooning, more than any other artist of the era, let the Abstract Expressionism movement to its protracted death at the dawn of the 1960s.
If Jackson had a rival as the founder and major proponent of the New York School, it would be in the person of Willem de Kooning (above). In his work we can see something of a history of the artist's development as well as that of the entire movement as it served as a climactic exclamation mark leading to the Minimalist "curtain call" the following decade.

The favorite artist of the Saturday Evening Post and most of the rest of America as well during the halcyon days of the 1950s.
For myself and most other people living blissfully happy lives during the fifties, only one living artist was a household name--Norman Rockwell. Most people at the time were unaware of Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko, Frankenthaler, Motherwell, Gottlieb or any of the others making names for themselves on the New York art scene. Both as an artist, and visual storyteller, Rockwell might well be considered the heart and soul of the entire decade.

The "good ole days" weren't always good, but they were the best American had known in decades.
It was a decade in which a virtual flood of new products, inventions, and easy-living technologies hit the post-war market of the most prosperous nation in the world. It was the decade we were inundated with plastics, diet sodas, television, tail fins, V-8 engines, transistor radios, 707s, dishwashers, backyard grills, Barbie Dolls, Sputniks, and all manner of new food products from the overstocked corner grocery stores. Just as important, however, is the fact that the 1950s were the days before manned space travel, color TV, Pop Art, Pop Tarts, recreational drugs, the Beatles, the pill, men on the moon, and Vietnam.

Racism Incident at Little Rock, 1957, Domingo Ulloa
Before we loose our minds wallowing in nostalgia, it's important to remember that this era of postwar prosperity was not distributed evenly among those living at the time. While the middle-class likely never had it so good, and the upper classes basked in the gaudy luxuries of the day, many others struggled. Principally they were blacks, Latinos, Native-Americans, and those in rural areas still bearing the lingering effect of the Great Depression. The 1950s were also the years marked by the onset of the civil rights movement, Brown vs. the Board of Education, Little Rock, Jim Crow, and a host of other harbingers of things to come a few years later. Domingo Ulloa's Racism Incident at Little Rock (above) deftly captures the fear and hatred that blacks felt and endured as they waited for their equal rights, then nearly a century late in coming.

Propaganda art--artist were not immune to the demagoguery and fear mongering associated with the era. In fact, they were sometimes a willing party to it.
Art had a part in the unsettled political and social upheavals of the time--McCarthyism, "I Like Ike," war in Korea, "Ban the Bomb," and the first seeds of yet another war, this one in Vietnam. All this played upon the minds and efforts of artists to cope with a fundamental need to make their thoughts and opinions known despite a society far more interested in what was playing Saturday night on TV or at the local Drive-in Theater. It was prime time for James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

By today's standards, movies of the 1950s could almost be termed "wholesome."

The Drive-in Theater, Dan Hatala.

Gil Elvgren, pin-up with photo source.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Amazing Maze Art

The world's largest snow maze at Zakopane, Poland, under the ski-lift.
Snow is fun. Just ask any avid skier. Everyone else--those who find themselves trying to drive in the stuff--hate it. For kids, on the other hand, every blessed one of'em are unanimous in their love for God's winter adornment, if for no other reason than what's come to be known as "snow days," when school is cancelled. There's sledding, snowball fights, snowman (or snowwoman) building, and one of my favorites as a child, maze building. Mine were never very neat or artistic (like the one above), but nonetheless, lots of fun (as seen below).
The maze comprises more than a mile of paths with
 12 gates, illustrating the 12 days of Christmas.
Many years ago when I taught art (shortly after some stone-age kindergartener first splattered God knows what on a cave wall), one of the activities I urged upon my seventh-graders was that they create (on posterboard) an artistic maze designed to reflect some theme in which they were interested. Naturally, I got a lot of sports mazes, skulls, and comic book characters (and that was just from the girls). I posted them on the walls of the art room and just outside in the hall. The young artists and I all got a kick out of watching the older kids passing by as they tried to find their way to the end.
Maze by Pannekaka, one of the most complex, and thus, most difficult "pencil" mazes I've ever encountered. Entrance is at the lower left corner, exit at the upper right corner. Good luck!
Regardless of their size and sophistication, all mazes have five commonalities--a beginning, an end, walls, halls, and dead ends. Quite apart from any artistic attributes, mazes are basically tests of intelligence--how quickly you can get to the end. the Pannekaka Maze (above) is mindboggling. (Hint: print the damned thing out, don't even try to work it on the screen.)
The Maze at Glendurgan Garden, Cornwall, England.
Although garden mazes have been popular since at least the 17th-century (above), similar mazes have seen a resurgence in popularity during the past decade or two among rural communities in the form of cornfield mazes (below). Such works of art are usually computer-designed using an enlargeable grid, then hand "carved" from large fields of cornstalks, often specifically planted for such autumn entertainment, augmented by hayrides, live country music, square dancing, campfires, pumpkin carving, and fall snack food offerings.
Cornfield mazes are often quite beautiful (from the air) and reach surprising degrees of sophistication and difficulty.
Even highly complex mazes can be created from virtually any "coloring book" type image. All that's needed is a pencil with a healthy eraser, a black ballpoint pen, and a bottle of "White Out." You simply choose an entry and an exit point then draw in with pencil a convoluted path from one to the other (to make sure the maze is actually workable). From that point on, the effort is mostly an act of cruelly, artistic, deviant behavior as you begin complicating your design to make it ever more difficult. When finished, go over the pencil line with a ballpoint pen using the White Out fluid to correct mistakes of make changed as you near the end. The storybook maze below was created in such a manner.
Be careful not to destroy the original image as you draw your maze. A ruler helps a lot. Try not to draw passages that are obviously irrelevant.
When human-scale mazes move inside, they are often the effort of artists in which the overall effect is of equal or greater importance than the maze itself, as seen in Bjarke Ingels' BIG Maze created for Washington's National Building Museum. The whole maze takes on a concave shape helping to lead the user to the center by the relative height of the walls.
Bjarke Ingels unveils BIG Maze for Washington's National Building Museum
Ingels' BIG Maze if pretty conventional for a gallery setting. However, artist have been known to really play games with visitors' minds when they begin to employ unusual materials such as glass (and even more disconcerting) mirrors, in their creations.
Seeing ones way clear.
Some maze art is meant to be seen from above. Other works from eye-level. and some from the inside as experienced by anyone having visited a small carnival "funhouse" featuring a mirror maze (even a small one). Usually cramped and based upon a triangular grid, imagine how disturbing it would to round each corner only to meet your own reflected image most of the time. Such mazes, despite their often modest-size layouts, can prove to be amongf the most difficult maze art.

Mirror Maze, Es Devlin. this maze has something that sets it apart from any other...a specially-designed scent. Maybe it should get stronger as one nears the end.
Although the inclusion of mazes in paintings is a relatively new, adventure for artists such as Pat Presley with her 3-D, sci-fi inspired "Death Star" cube (below), it's not without precedent.

Concept Art Maze, Pat Presley
About 1953, Canadian artist, William Kurelek, produced The Maze while a patient at Maudsley Hospital in London. Kurelek was born in 1927 into a Ukrainian immigrant family in Alberta, Canada. He suffered all through childhood and the Great Depression from the oppression of his farmer father, to the point he became extremely withdrawn. Eventually he retired to a private world of his own weird fantasies in which he cut away the flesh of his arm. Fortunately, Kurelek was shocked back to reality when he actually made some cuts to his arm. At the age of twenty-six, Kurelek was admitted for psychiatric treatment and given a makeshift studio where his doctors felt that "painting therapy" was helpful. It was during this period he painted The Maze (below).

The Maze, 1953, William Kurelek
A "comforting" maze.


Friday, October 13, 2017

Basil Gogos

How many of Basil Gogos' movie creatures can you name? Extra points if you can name the actors playing them. Subtract ten points if you can name them all--you need to get a life.
I was about seven, (maybe eight) years old when my family got our first television. The date would have been about 1952. It was black and white, of course, but not the little eight or ten-inch round screen most people bring to mind when they picture vintage TV sets. Ours was a grand and glorious Zenith table model with a custom-tailored base that gave it the look of a console TV. The screen was a generous 21-inches (measured diagonally, of course. At the time, 24-inches was a big as they came. As impressive as our "home entertainment center" may have appeared in the living room, it was grossly lacking in program choices. We got only one channel, WTAP TV, broadcasting out of Parkersburg, West Virginia, which carried only NBC programming. (The programming day began at two in the afternoon, ending at midnight.) Out of all that I remember Superman at four in the afternoon, Your Hit Parade one evening each week, and maybe a western or two interspersed among the other limited offerings with a local half-hour of news that would be laughable by today's production standards.

Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, by Basil Gogos
In the late 1950s, Universal Studios released their vast library of horror classics to television (though apparently not to NBC). I never saw a single one. Thus I never developed a taste for such fare, which thankfully lingers to this day. Later in life I did come to recognize the names Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and others. However, until he died about a month ago (September 13, 2017), I had never heard the name of the artist who had much to do with making these actors famous--Basil Gogos.

Born in 1929, the artist eventually went from painting monster movie images to inventing them at Hollywood's behest.
Famous Monsters of
Filmland, 1961
Today, Gogos' paintings are as iconic as his subjects. Gogos' early work was in men's adventure magazine and paperback book art as well as work on movie posters and other areas. The release of Universal Stu-dios' horror classics to television sparked a "monster craze" among baby-boomers, which gave birth to a new phenomenon--the monster magazine. Famous Monsters of Filmland (right), was filled with monster photos and articles on horror movies and their stars. It was the premier publication for young horror film fans. Issues of the new magazine practically flew off the newsstand shelves and into kids' hands due in no small part to their striking cover paintings by Basil Gogos. Like a Bizarre Norman Rockwell, his stylish portraits of horror film characters and stars were extremely popular on magazine covers throughout the '60s and '70s. Gogos' interpretations of movie monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frank-enstein, and the Phantom of the Opera, breathed new life into the old black and white movie classics. His powerful use of color and bold, expressionist brushwork gave a sense of excitement and, at the same time, sophistication to his paintings which has gone unmatched for more than fifty years.

Basil Gogos was born into a Greek family living in Egypt. When he was sixteen, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. Having always been Interested in art, even from a young age, Gogos spent his early adult years at various jobs while only studying art periodically. Gogos attended several New York area schools. While attending New York's Art Students League, Gogos had his greatest artistic growth studying with noted illustrator Frank J. Reilly. After winning a com-petition sponsored by Pocket Books at school, Gogos began his professional career with the cover painting for a western paperback novel called Pursuit (right) published in 1959.
Pursuit (1959), cover
art by Basil Gogos.

Gogos cover pinup, 1967.
During the 1960s, Basil Gogos provided a steady stream of illustrations for a variety of New York-based publications. The majority of his work during this period was for men's adventure magazines for which he painted many scenes of World War II battles, jungle perils, and crime, as well as cheesecake portraits of beautiful women. Famous Mon-sters of Filmland magazine, created by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman, premiered in 1958 and was aimed at young readers who were then discovering the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s on television. The mag-azine's covers were usually eye-catching close-ups of horror movie characters. Gogos' first horror cover of Famous Mon-sters of Filmland #9 in 1960 featuring an impressionistic portrait of Vincent Price from House of Usher painted in shades of red, yellow and green. Over the next two decades, Gogos created almost fifty covers for Famous Monsters, many of which have become iconic images of that period. Gogos also provided cover art for several other magazines including Creepy, Eerie, Spaceman, Wildest Westerns and The Spirit.

The Sand People from Star Wars was largely Gogos' own creation.

Possibly the ugliest and most
truly frightening character
Gogos ever created--The
Hideous Sun Demon, 1959.
Basil Gogos' Famous Monsters cover art has featured most of the classic horror characters--The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, King Kong, Godzilla and The Creature from the Black Lagoon and popular horror actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. Gogos often cap-tured his subjects in an array of vivid colors using a technique in which the artist imagined the character bathed in colors from multiple light sources. He enjoyed painting monsters more than most of his more conventional assign-ments because of the freedom he was given and because of the challenge of painting such unusual characters which he endeavored to portray as both fright-ening and sympathetic.

Basil Gogos' pencil portrait of the most
beautiful witch to even grace a TV screen
--Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha

TV's funniest monster, Herman
Munster, (Fred Gwynn),
Basil Gogos.