Click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Record Art--the Top Ten.

10. Tattoo You--Rolling Stones: 1981. Designer Peter
Corriston won a Grammy award for his stylized portrait.
There was a time, before the advent of cassette tapes and CDs, when the artwork on the cover of a LP record album was a big deal. In my own case, and I'm sure in that of many others, the cover made the difference in buying and not buying the album. Not that the musicians and music tracks weren't important, but, being a visual artist, even almost fifty years ago when some of the top ten album covers I've chosen (below) came out, if the artwork didn't "grab" me, the album remained in the store's sales bin. Today, since the size of that artwork has been reduced again and again due to miniaturization of the media, cover art has come to mean less and less. It's hard to imagine in today's pop culture, an album cover spawning a decades-long conspiracy theory such as that of the Beatles' Abbey Road back in September of 1969.

Hard Rock covers--some of the best, and worst, cover art
ever rendered.
10. Tattoo You--Rolling Stones (top), was the 16th British and 18th American studio album by The Rolling Stones, released in 1981. Designer Peter Corriston won a Grammy award for his stylized portrait that makes the subject look almost reptilian. Regardless, it's a very memorable cover and leaves its mark (pun intended) in your mind.
9. Abraxus, Santana
9. Abraxas--Santana: The cover for their Abraxas album was as creative as the music within its grooves. Artist Mati Klerwein created the piece long before the album was recorded, but there's something so perfect about the pairing.
8. Surfin' Safari, Beach Boys (my favorite group as a teenager).
8. Surfin' Safari--The Beach Boys, was the debut studio album by the American rock band the Beach Boys, released in October, 1962 on Capitol Records. The album peaked at number 32 in its 37-week run on the US charts. The cover of Surfin' Safari with its yellow pickup truck and surfboard, features David Marks (on hood), Dennis Wilson (driver), Mike Love (front roof), Brian Wilson (back roof) and Carl Wilson. The photo was taken by in-house Capitol photographer Ken Veeder, on the beach at Paradise Cove, north of Malibu.
 7. Killers, Iron Maiden, (not my "thing"). However, those who appreciate the music seem to like the art. Personally, I consider it one of the ugliest record covers of all time.
7. Killers--Iron Maiden: Picking one Iron Maiden album cover to put on this list was a tall order but I went with Killers. Maiden mascot Eddie is an iconic character that rock fans immediately recognize and is beloved among metal-heads.
6. Whipped Cream and Other Delights, Herb Alpert
and the Tijuana Brass.
6. Whipped Cream and Other Delights--Herb Alpert: Whipped Cream & Other Delights was a 1965 album by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, released on A&M Records. It was the band's fourth full album and arguably their most popular release. This album saw the band all but abandoning its Mexican-themed music, featuring mostly instrumental arrangements of popular songs, Whipped Cream & Other Delights sold over 6 million copies in the United States and the album cover alone is considered a classic pop culture icon. It featured model Dolores Erickson wearing chiffon and shaving cream. The picture was taken at a time when Erickson was three months pregnant. The album cover was so popular with Alpert fans that, during concerts, when about to play the song Whipped Cream, Alpert would tell the audience, "Sorry, we can't play the cover for you!" The art was parodied by several groups including A&M band Soul Asylum, on their 1989 EP Clam Dip & Other Delights; comedian Pat Cooper on his album Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights; the Frivolous Five on a Herb Alpert tribute album Sour Cream and Other Delights. Incidentally while in the Air Force, I had this album out in plain sight with my other LPs. During an inspection I was asked to put it away. (It was considered too racy for a military barracks at the time.)
5. Elvis Golden Records, Vol. 2, ca. 1961, Elvis Presley
5. 50,000,000 Fans Can't be Wrong--also known as Elvis' Gold Records, Volume 2, was the ninth album by Elvis Presley, issued by RCA Victor in November, 1959. It is a compilation of hit singles released between 1957. "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" was not part of the original title of the album. It was from 1959 through 1961 that RCA Victor added this claim to the newly released "electronically reprocessed stereo" records.
4. Thriller, Michael Jackson
4. Thriller--Michael Jackson: Thriller was the sixth studio album by American singer Michael Jackson, released in November, 1982 by Epic Records. In just over a year, Thriller became—and currently remains—the world's best-selling album, with estimated sales of 65 million copies.
3. Nevermind, Nirvana
3. Nevermind--Nirvana: Nevermind was the second studio album by the American rock band Nirvana, released in September, 1991. The Nevermind album cover shows a naked baby boy, alone underwater with a dollar bill on a fishhook just out of his reach. According to Curt Cobain, he conceived of the idea while watching a television program on water births. He mentioned it to the recording company's art director, Robert Fisher. Fisher found some stock footage of underwater births but they were considered too graphic for a record album. Fisher then sent a photographer to a pool for babies to take pictures. Five shots resulted and the band settled on the image of a four-month-old infant named Spencer Elden, the son of the photographer's friend. However, there was some concern because the baby's penis was visible in the image. The record company prepared an alternate cover without the penis, as they were afraid that it would offend people, but relented when Cobain made it clear that the only compromise he would accept was a sticker covering the penis that would say, "If you're offended by this, you must be a closet pedophile."
Abbey Road, 1969, The Beatles.
2. Abbey Road--Beatles: Abbey Road was the eleventh studio album by the Beatles, released in September 1969, by Apple Records. The recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Though met with lukewarm acceptance at the time, many critics now view the album as the Beatles' best. Some rank it as one of the greatest albums of all time. The album's cover features the four band members walking across a zebra crossing outside Abbey Road Studios and has become one of the most famous and imitated images in the history of recorded music. The front cover design was based on ideas sketched by McCartney, and taken in August, 1969. Photographer, Iain Macmillan, was given only ten minutes to take the photo while standing on a step-ladder with a policeman holding up traffic behind the camera. Macmillan took six photographs, which McCartney later examined with a magnifying glass before deciding which of the shots would be used upon the album sleeve. The Abbey Road photo now graces public service announcements against jaywalking in Calcutta.
And finally, number ONE, perhaps to no one's surprise--
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--The Beatles
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--Without a doubt the most creative album cover art ever conceived, was largely the inspiration of the individual Beatles themselves, with each member of the band suggesting figures to be used in the background. All those famous folks standing with The Beatles were not Photoshopped in (the software didn't exist back then). What you see are cardboard standees that were meticulously built by designer Peter Blake. You can't look at this album cover and not smile from all the nostalgia.
The bottom two images just above reflect last minute changes in the placement of The Beatles as well as certain other figures. Those omitted were Leo Gorcey, an American movie actor (back row); Mahatmas Gandhi (far right); Albert Einstein (to Paul McCartney's left) Bette Davis--as Queen Elizabeth I (obscured by George Harrison's red hat); and Timothy Carey, American film and TV actor on Bette Davis' left, and also obscured by George's hat in the final version. (Each omitted figure is boxed in red above.)

Runners up.

Note: I'll freely admit I've never been a fan of hard rock music; but I've done my best not to let the music prejudice my judgment as to the album artwork.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chris Thunig

No, this is not an ad for 1965 Pontiac Bonneville. Notice
the wheels. Chris Thunig's futuristic vehicle has
mastered the science of levitation.
A car from fifty years ago
inspires the future.
If you've never heard of Chris Thunig, don't worry about it. Up to about four hours ago I never had either. I chose to write about Chris, not because he's a great artist, well-known, rich, or famous, but because he's none of that. Chris lives in the Orange County area of Southern California where he works in the film industry as a visual effects artist, sometimes art director, and digital matte artist for Blizzard Entertainment. An informed guess would suggest he earns in the neighborhood of $75,000 to $100,000 per year. Chris studied to learn his art at the Universität Leipzig in Germany. His professional involvement in producing concept art and visual effects began in 1999 when he went to work as a storyboard and preproduction artist at a Babelsberg Film Studios near Berlin, Germany, (a 3D animation company). As part of a small team he was able to expand his skills in computer animation before getting his first job as a digital matte artist for a French visual effects company in Paris. After spending more than a year on a feature production headed by renowned comic artist and director Enki Bilal, Thunig joined The Moving Picture Company in London.

Matte painting concept art, City of Troy, Chris Thunig

Chris Thunig
Both in London and the U.S. Chris has worked on the special effects for an impressive number of major films including Troy (above), Kingdom of Heaven, Corpse Bride, The Da Vinci Code, Alien vs. Pre-dator, and Sunshine. Of course, Blizzard Entertainment did not make these films, they and their artists such as Chris were simply contracted to do pre-production art to suggest to companies such as Warner Brothers (as in the case of The Da Vinci Code) what various scenes might look like as guidance for the production manager, and in-house set designers, carpenters, special effects designers, storyboard art-ists, and lighting coordinators. Artists such as Chris are conceptual, with a special talent for communicating their vision of the film to others.

I'm not positive, but I'm guessing this piece was done by
Thunig in preparation for The Da Vinci Code. It appears to
depict Leonardo, secretly working in the dead of night studying human anatomy by performing a cadaver dissection. (Such
activities were illegal at the time.) His assistant is probably
a grave digger. 
Fantasy Sci-fi.
An artist working in the motion picture industry is only as good as his or her resume; and is often paid accordingly. That of Chris Thunig includes his current position as 2D Art Director at Bliz-zard Entertainment (producing and coordinating art and artists for video games); Senior Digital Matte Artist/Concept Artist Digital Matte Artist at The Moving Picture Company (London), and Digital Matte Artist at Duran Cinematics (Paris). In his first major motion picture, Immortal, (right) working for Duran, Thunig was just one of eighty other visual effects artists. Today, depending upon the complexity of the project, Thunig often supervises up to one-hundred such concept artist, who not only design visual effects, but are also tasked with figuring out how to create them on film (and on schedule, and on budget).

A futuristic waterfront by Thunig.
For the benefit of any artists interested in a career similar to Thunig's, visual effects artists require some formal education, but not necessarily a college degree, though it's typical for them to earn a bachelor's degree in computer animation or visual effects. Such artists need to be skilled in technical software in order to create designs and showcase their talents to potential employers. As in the case of Chris Thunig, visual effects artists are responsible for creating computer-generated animations and special effects on screens at home and in theaters. Industry-standard software programs include Autodesk Maya, Adobe, and RenderMan. Job growth during the next ten years is anticipated to be around 6% with median salaries around $64,000 per year.

A Chris Thunig digital animation frame.
Visual effects artists usually create imagery working from movie scripts or story outlines. Often writers conceive scenes which are either impractical or impossible to film. That's when the visual effects artists are called in. Nearly all such work is currently done on a computer. According to The Wall Street Journal, this work can include creating animations or fixing up details for television shows, commercials, feature films, and other film media. Visual effects artists often work with tight deadlines due to theatrical release dates and other constraints related to the film industry. The job usually involves following verbal instructions from a client or supervisor which may not allow for the possibility of much personalized input. However, true professionals in this field gain satisfaction in knowing that their work contributes significantly to the completion of a major media project.

A digital matte image by Thunig--a hell of a lot cheaper
than sending a camera crew to Switzerland.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wäinö Aaltonen

Musica, 1926, Waino Aaltonen. The surface-treated metal
plating is in gold over the original carving of teakwood.
I have written from time to time about handicapped artists. I don't do so very often because in many cases, neither the artists nor their art would stand apart from that of their peers were they not handicapped. As much as they might be admired for overcoming some type of physical disability in producing their art, simply highlighting them because of their disability seems to me to be demeaning. Their are exceptions of course. Chuck Close comes to mind; but then his disability came well after he had been a longtime successful artists. Today I came upon a very similar artist who was notable not because of his physical handicap, but in spite of it. He has long been listed as the most important sculptor in the early years of Finland's independence. He died in 1966. His name was Waino Aaltonen.
If you have no teacher, teach yourself.
Born in 1894, at some point in his early childhood, Waino Aaltonen became deaf. I know, a loss of hearing, as compared to other senses or disabilities does not sound all that severe. However in the case of Aaltonen, he decided to become an artist because of his deafness. As a result, the young boy became interested in art. He attended the School of Drawing of the Turku Art Association from the age of sixteen.

Kulosaari, 1948, Waino Aaltonen
Aaltonen spent many of the early years at this school studying painting before deciding he really wanted to be a sculptor. Kulosaari (above) was painted decades later in 1948, but gives us a peak at the artist's early talent as a painter. Aaltonen was mainly self-taught as a sculptor. He learned to carve marble from his relative, Aarre Aaltonen, and later by working as a trainee stone mason in Hirvensalo. Sculptor, Felix Nylund, was a substitute teacher in the art school in Turku for just one semester, but his work was inspiration enough for the young would-be sculptor.

Finland's Parliament is a virtual art museum showcasing
the art of important Finnish artists including that of Aaltonen.
Turun Liljaa,
Wäinö Aaltonen
During the 1920s, Aaltonen went to Italy, which opened his eyes to Cubism and Futurist art. These elements can primarily be seen in his paintings. Later in life, when his career in sculpture began to blossom, Aaltonen made several public sculptures of great national value, including the figures in the House of Parliament during the 1930's (above). The cityscape of Turku is embel-lished with a total of eleven outdoor sculp-tures by the artist. In Runeberg Park stands Turun Lilja (Lily of Turku, right). Below is Paavo Nurmen Patsas (Statue of Paavo Nurmi). Aaltonen was a romantic artist whose paintings and sculptures often were of idea-lized nature and included Cubist features. His portrait pro-duction clearly shows the respect he had for the personalities of the people who modelled for him (above, left).

Aaltonen's bronze statue of Finland's Olympic runner,
Paavo Nurmi, is probably his most famous piece.

Jakuten,  1932, Waino Aaltonen
With the rise of the Republic of Finland, and the First World War, Aaltonen sculpted War Memorials. He soon became a nationalist icon, the exemplar Finn, establishing an exhibition in Stockholm in 1927. His nationalistic sculpture is noted for monumental figures and busts portraying citizens of Finland. The Paavo Nurmi sculpture is just one of many such figures. Besides being noted as a deaf sculptor and national treasure Aaltonen was married four times. His first wife was singer Aino Alisa Pietikäinen from 1920. His second wife was actress Elsa Emilia Ranta-lainen whom he married in 1931. Then in 1942, Aaltonen married wife number three, the owner of Galerie Artek, Elvi Elisabet Hernell. It was a short mar-riage. That same year, he took a fourth wife, a medical doctor, named Marie Elisabeth Maasik from year 1961.
 His son Matti Aaltonen became an architect, who designed the Wäinö Aaltonen museum in Turku, dedicated to preserving his father's paintings and sculptures, both large and small, but also his extensive collection of books, numbering more than 8,000.

Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, Turku, Finland.
Established in 1967, the museum's collection consists of contemporary Finnish art as well as Wäinö Aaltonen's sculptures, paintings, graphics, and drawings. The museum is also responsible for the general art collection of the City of Turku. Wäinö Aaltonen collected an extensive library of approximately 8000 volumes. Besides art, the committed bibliophile was interested in Finnish and foreign fiction and non-fiction. The oldest book of the library is a doctoral thesis from the 16th century, which says much of the uniqueness of the collection and the artist himself.

Waino Aaltonen died in May, 1966.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Painting Shakespeare

 The Plays of William Shakespeare, 1849, Sir John Gilbert
Most people have seen all or parts of a Shakespearean play, probably not on stage, but on TV or perhaps as a movie. However, long before there was TV or the movies...I almost added, long before there was Shakespeare...but certainly less than a century after there was Shakespeare, artists were presenting on canvas and as etched illustrations in books, scenes from some of his plays. The first of these were published about 1709 with the first edition of Shakespeare's collected works. That's only ninety-three years after the playwright died of unknown causes in 1616.

Until recently, Shakespeare appearance was based upon the etching above. Since 2006, most Shakespearean scholars have come to accept the painting at the top by an unknown Jacobean artist as the only authentic portrait of Shakespeare, also the basis of the etching.
Before Pages House.
The Merry Wives of
Windsor, Act I, Scene I.
Robert Smirke, R. A.
The first major effort in creating paintings of Shakespeare’s characters was the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, which operated in London from 1789 to 1805. This major project enlisted artists to interpret scenes from Shakespeare’s plays as well as imagining some of the scenes he described. The choice of characters and moments from the plays are often the most popular on stage: the ghost appearing to Hamlet, Falstaff being bundled into the buck basket. But sometimes the artists responded to Shakespeare’s descriptions of events such as the murder of the princes in Richard III and the horseback entrance into London of Richard II and Bolingbroke. Each of John Boydell's illustrations were based upon a painted image--all 167 of them.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act V, Scene IV. A Forest, Angelica Kauffmann, R. A.--the only woman artist involved
in Boydell's Shakespearean enterprise.

Shakespeare Attended by
Painting and Poetry,
c. 1789, Thomas Banks
William Shakespeare penned some thirty-eight plays, with Henry VI (Part 2) being the first, dating from about 1591. He would have been twenty-seven at the time. Henry VI (Parts 1 and 3 also date from 1591 but were not written in chronological order). As tricky as it is to attach definite dates to Shake-speare's plays, ascertaining even approx-imate dates of paintings and etching by dozens of artists based upon them is near impossible. Boydell's collection of published etchings was put together over a period of ten or twelve years. Many of the artists were among the most outstanding England had to offer. However, many others were not. They were hurriedly commissioned to flesh out the lesser plays and were far below par. Critics took notice. As a result, Boydell's private art museum and publishing effort became insol-vent in 1803.

The lower image by Stothard from around 1800, does
not depict a particular scene but was one of the first
to depict Shakespeare's characters. The upper
image is from the 19th-century.
Macbeth Consulting the
Vision of the Armed Head,
1793, Henry Fuseli
In the years following Shakespeare's death, his literary stature grew, but the popularity of his work declined for most of the 18th-century. Boydell's misguided ef-fort, along with the paintings of artists he employed, such a Sir Joshua Reynold, and Angelica Kauffmann, helped to revive Shakespeare's reputation, not to mention the demand for Shakespearean art. How-ever it mostly through the efforts of the man below, actor/producer/playwright/po-et, David Garrick that Shakespeare's plays and their popularity endured. Be-sides the lead role in Richard III, Garrick also took on Shakespeare's King Lear, and in 1743 added Hamlet to his re-pertoire. Then In 1769, Garrick staged the Shakespeare Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon. It was a major focal point in cementing Shakespeare as England's national poet. The festival involved a number of events held in the town to celebrate (five years too late) 200 years since Shakespeare's birth. Ironically, no Shakespeare plays were performed during the Ju-bilee, and heavy rain forced a Shakespeare Pageant to be called off. The Pageant was later staged at the Drury Lane Theatre under the title, The Jubilee. It proved successful through some 90 performances.

William Hogarth's portrait of David Garrick as Richard III dates from 1745.
Children acting the play scene
from Hamlet, 1863, Charles Hunt

Falstaff in the Laundry Basket,
John Henry Fuseli



Monday, June 26, 2017

Garage Art

Garage door art. Yes, those are portraits.
Over the past several months I've discussed interior design elements for nearly every room in most homes...except one. Perhaps that's because most people hardly consider their garage a "room." Very often, they don't even think of their garage as a place to store their car. Instead, it's a place for storing virtually everything but the car. And alas, it's not often people plan the décor of their storage room. Look below. Which garage "décor" most looks like your own?
You know it's time to clean out the garage when
your neighbors take up a collection
to pay your moving expenses.
As a rule of thumb, it's a good idea to clean out the garage before you even consider redecorating it. As a general rule too, men usually consider the garage as the last vestige of their ruling domestic domain. The strange thing is, we spend tens of thousand of dollars decking out the basement as an opulent "man-cave" while risking life and limb just to wedge their automobile into an overstuffed garage. We consider the garage simply as little more than a place to toss the empty boxes from which came the 70-inch HDTV, stereo, recliner, and wet bar used to outfit the man-café.
Time for a garage sale.
Only if the alpha male is into auto mechanics, woodworking, or antique car restoration does the garage become the center of his world; and even if that's the case, most such men are far more concerned with their vehicle and tools than the décor amidst which they exists. Their reasoning boils down to: "If I straighten up the garage, I won't be able to find anything when I need it." Or: "Why bother? A week from now it'll just need to be cleaned up again."
Hope your neighbors have a sense of humor too.
Once the area is tidy, unleashing ones creative "juices" on a garage begins not in the garage itself, but with the garage door. It's an excellent place to tease the eyes of the neighbors by creating a fool-the-eye painting or applying a graphic similar to those above. As an artist with a modicum of drawing skill and some degree of painting expertise, the possibilities are limited only by good taste. (You wouldn't want the neighbors throwing raw eggs at your version of a nude Mona Lisa perched on the hood of a fake Thunderbird, now would you?)
I'm not sure I'd recommend a white floor in any garage, but
beyond that, any of the above would be an improvement
over the junkyard annex look.
There's no rule that says a garage can't be as attractive as any other room in the house. If there is a rule, it's simply, let the décor follow the room's function (never vice-versa). As eye-catching as it might be, there's no point in trying to decorate a garage like a 1950s malt shop. Men, indulge your personality. If you're obsessive compulsive, go for the neat, clean, minimalist look (upper image). If you're into the antique, there's no reason a garage can't become a sort of museum...up to a point, at least. Above all, exercise your freedom of choice. It's YOUR garage. You can do things with it your wife wouldn't even consider anywhere else in the house. Color your world bright red, or steel blue if you daring.
Call it the Museum of Modern Autos (MoMA).
And finally, as an artist, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that very often garages have "acres" of bare walls (even it they're concrete blocks). Paint them a dull, solid color, then turn your garage into an art gallery. Choose a theme...transportation perhaps, or only cars, old "filling" stations, even abstract expressionism. Fernand Leger would look good in any garage. Below are a couple automotive paintings I still have (reasonably priced) while below them are offerings of other painters with a vehicular bent. (That's "bent," not dent.)
A couple of my more postmodern efforts (acrylics on wood). Both works have about a half-inch of depth.
Garage art, from carscapes, to sexscapes, to landscapes.
This would General Lee be appropriate
for most garages.

Wearable garage art.