Monday, November 7, 2011

An ArtFULL Weekend

Yesterday (Sunday, November 6th) was a pretty GREAT day, I gotta say. Not only was it the anniversary of the day Adam and I started our relationship 6 years ago, but it was also my grandmother's birthday, a day of setting the clocks back, AND a beautiful day for a trip to Amherst and Northampton!

Adam and I drove up/over to the Western Mass with my sister Brittany and her boyfriend Matt, and met up with our friend Bonnie at The Eric Carle Picture Book Museum. As always, we had our fun in the book shop but the highlight of the museum was hands down the showcase of Barbara McClintock's amazingly beautiful pen and ink drawings from 1988's now out of print The Heartaches of a French Cat.

One of the most affecting aspects of the showcase was seeing five different color variations of the spread shown below. Each of the iterations' color and value differed greatly and impacted the readability of the scene. The final artwork was clearly an improvement over the first four approaches. And although I don't have the others versions to show you, it's worth mentioning just to serve as a reminder that it's unrealistic to assume that even highly experienced and skilled illustrators get everything right in the first pass. Time for revisions, tweaking, and experimenting needs to be allotted. Practice definitely makes perfect. 

Also on exhibit was the work of Jules Feiffer. It was nice to see some of his earlier work on display including those from The Phantom Tollbooth. I'm finding it difficult to say many good things about the entire show simply because I'm rather torn about it. I get that the success of his work hinges on capturing the simplicity of the gesture. I get that there is an energetic immediacy to the way his drawings are created. I get that it must take a lot of control to appear so loose. And I like that.

That being said, I just can't seem to embrace some of his later work. His black ink line work is still going strong but his color is generally messy, ugly, and sometimes right out of the tube. The value in his black and white paintings is muddy. I feel like I'm missing some key element to appreciating his work. 

I honestly respect every human being's right to create whatever art they please, in whatever manner they please. Art rules are arbitrary and can be broken successfully any time. But what I don't quite grasp is why we revere certain pieces of art or their creators. Why we put some artwork on pedestals. Everyone likes what they like, and I'm all for that. I know what I like, though I can't always articulate WHY I like what I like. But if, on occasion, I also know what I don't like, I hope that doesn't make me a terrible person or a disrespectful artist or worse---a shallow, ignorant art critic. Because really, who am I to judge? I'm no one. I know nothing. 

I must also remind myself that I am subjectively evaluating these images out of context. I have not read all of Jules Feiffer's books and thus don't have the story to affect my encounter with the artwork alone. 

But all I keep thinking in the dark corner of my mind is that realistically, if I or any one of my classmates at RISD had brought in a final illustration that looked like this, I doubt it would have made it through the critique unscathed. And yet here it is, nicely framed and hanging on a wall in a museum, making me feel bad for not seeing the genius of it. 

Ok. On to the next part of the day! 
The Opening Reception for R. Michelson's 22nd Annual Children's Illustration in Northampton.

We were all very excited to see work by some of our favorite illustrators, and we were not disappointed.  Highlights for me included seeing the beautiful oil paintings of  Kadir Nelson and Rebecca Guay in person. 

Kadir Nelson's technique and skill is eye popping, and seeing it reproduced in his books is nothing compared to seeing the actual paintings. Oil paint just glows right of the paper. Both his bold, bright colors and more subtle, limited paletts are beautiful, as is his thin to thick application of the paint. His use of lights and darks and profile/silhouetted shapes are very effective in creating interesting compostions. 

Rebecca Guay's work is beautiful and elegant and romantic. I love the looseness of her pencil drawing that peeks through the final layers of paint. I love the glow of her whites and her color palette--particularly her use of turquoise/blues/greens. Her stylization of faces is also one of my favorite things about her. Her people are always beautiful or handsome. She is perfectly suited for the types of stories and books and art she is hired to create---there is drama, grace, fantasy, magic, mythic and fable-like qualities to all that she does.  And what she does, she does very well.

A few images from her graphic novel collaboration with Jane Yolen were on display and were some of my favorites from the evening.

My favorite piece from the entire day had to be her large oil painting of Cupid and Psyche. Photos simply can't do it justice. GORGEOUS. 

Both Rebecca and Kadir's work really makes me itch to use oil paint. In my opinion I find it easier to handle than acrylic, and there's no doubt about the richness and blend-ability of the medium. Unfortunately the type of work I do is so fast paced I'd never be able to pull it off professionally. I can start painting things in oil just for myself but in in my past experiences I've reacted with swollen throat glands when using it for long periods of time. Hmmm. 

I was hoping to see some original paintings from Tony Diterlizzi on display but was disappointed to find that only a few prints of his were hanging. Sadface! They're still great, but I want to see the real thing.

Luckily there was plenty to see besides! Here are a few snippets of the other pieces I enjoyed:

Tomie dePaola
(this is not the image I wanted to post but I can't find the right one).

Mo Willems

John Bemelmans Marciano 

Wendall Minor

Scott Fischer 

Ron Mazellan

Neil Waldman 
(his hatchet cover was beautiful. Wish I had a shot of just the art.)

Ruth Sanderson

Jon J. Muth

The show was worth the 90 minute drive, and I'm glad we were able to make the trip. I feel very fortunate that such a strong illustration community is relatively close by. It's great to see people of all ages there to support these talented artists, and it was super inspiring to see their work in person. 
ART makes me HAPPY.

Also, I REALLY wish that we lived in Amherst or Northampton. It's such an awesome place! 
Sigh. Maybe someday.....