Monday, January 31, 2011

Artist of the Month-Corot

Art historians have for over a century been writing on the impact and influence of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1876). Leader of the Barbizon School, premiere artist of the Realist Movement, teacher to the young impressionists, and celebrated in his lifetime as one of the greatest painters of his generation. But unlike many of his successors, (Monet, Renoir, Degas, etc.) or his contemporaries, (Manet, Courbet.) Corot is not a house-hold name among the public, and does not usually adorn post cards or coffee cups in the gift shops of major museums, although his work is in almost all of them.

I think the reason for this is that Corot was the anti-artist artist. By the 1880s Victorian Academic painting was "Go-Big or Go-Home" (Gerome, Bouguereau, Alma Tadema, et al.), while the New Modernist art was Avante Garde, ( Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau, PreRaphaelite, Post-Impressionism, etc.) Corot wasn't any of these, he just made beautiful, little, unassuming paintings.

Whenever I visit a museum, there are invariably one or two Corots. These little canvases are like post cards. Many no bigger than your computer screen. Limited palette, no drama, no showmanship of craft or technique. Just flawless and zen-like composition of texture and form. They tend to get over-looked by the gawking tourists with guided head sets who want to see the Van-Gogh or the Monet, or the giant Seurat painting ("Look, Its just like in Ferris Bueller!" )

Next time you're in a museum, seek out the Corot. I promise that you will not be crowded or bothered. His little paintings will draw you in close and you can just stand as long as you like and quietly enjoy a master painter.



©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tropical Winter Landscape

Nothing is more inspirational to the gardener or the painter than a trip to the Botanical Gardens. I'm an avid gardener. Ever since I bought my first house I began landscaping and found it very enjoyable. The thing that surprised me the most was that the vocabulary for the botanical artist and the painter was the same. Texture, form, color, balance, harmony. It was the same thing, but on a much bigger scale, and there was a living quality to the medium that couldn't be predicted. Times of day or year or different weather would make the designs change color and texture, even simply moving through the landscape changes the composition. Ever since, I've loved plants and gardening.

January for the gardener is a boring month. You sift through catalogs and plan out all the work you're going to do in the spring. So today my family and I took our afternoon and wandered through tropical jungles in humid 80 degree weather while outside it is in the single digits tonight. The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx is one of our favorites places to hang out on a cold day. As a painter I think of Monet and Gauguin. I would love to paint in there. A great way to great to break up the monotonous stark grayness of winter.



©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Artist of the Month-John Sloan

100 years ago was a tough time to be an American Artist. The 1913 Armory show had just blown the roof off of traditional art and the blinding light of new modern European stars like Picasso, Duchamp, and Matisse changed 20th C art forever. Academic painting was practically cast aside over night for the new avante garde movement. It would be over 30 years before America would lead the way in the art world and over 75 years before representational art returned to the main stream during the Post Modern Movement.

Into this depression era of art in America one of my favorite movements took place. The American Realism and Ashcan Schools. Artists like Hopper, Wood, Bellows and my favorite, John French Sloan (1871-1951).

Sloan's paintings are fantastic in many ways. Part illustration, part documentary, part sketchbooks of the life he saw around him every day in New York City. Reminiscent of Daumier and Rembrant's sketches they capture the grime and the dirt of the real world outside his apartment window. The faces in the crowds each unique, but indistinguishable, as when glimpsed on a crowded sidewalk or a bustling subway platform. Contrasted against these crowds he illustrates the extreme isolation that exists in the city. A world of towering spires and brick with thousands of windows looking over empty green-lit canyons, or clouds of laundry hanging from tenements. This was the real America, not the glossy, Madison Avenue depiction of America.

Looking beyond his ability to capture this unvarnished reality of life around him Sloan was a master composer. His designs are breathtaking, each framed as if looking out a window or through a doorway. Dramatic abstract designs that I believe influenced many future American painters like Hopper, DeKooning, Motherwell and Still.

Today Sloan, and his contemporaries, are held in higher regard than in the past, but still are overshadowed by the European pre-war modernists. Finding these artists can be challenging, usually displayed in smaller regional museums, but are well worth discovering.



As a keen commentary on how the Victorian artists were lost in the 20th Century art world, Sloan did this parody of the Cubists in the 1913 Armory Show. Sloan participated in the show, but as illustrated by this cartoon, his comprehension of the future of art was far from contemporary, which is a shame because he had a very Modern sensibility.

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Monday, January 17, 2011

Artist of the Month-Tiepolo

One of the oldest influences in my career has been Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Although he is largely overlooked because of his garish rococo murals I regard him as one of the finest draftsmen of his generation. His mixed media sketches are inspiring and look almost like Rodin sculptures reminiscent of Rembrandt and are completely different than his paintings. His sketches have an emotional immediacy that his paintings lack, with a very expressive quality lost in the scale of his mural-sized finished work. What I find most educational is his dramatic compositions. Grouping figures into forms and balancing design with architecture effortlessly.

An artist worth a second look, and under appreciated for his sketches. I've attached a few of my favorites, but explore him for yourself.



"Flight From Egypt"
Chalk, Ink and Wash on paper

"St. Ambrose Addressing St. Augustine"
Pen, Chalk, Ink and wash on paper

"Ecco Homo"
Pen and Ink Wash on paper

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sketchbooks Past and Future

"Sketch-booking" is a vital part of the artist's life. Like many of my peers I sketch and doodle voraciously and almost never go anywhere without my book. Part journal, part diary, part scrapbook, part sketchbook, I realized this month I started my 70th sketchbook in an unbroken continuous line since September 1988 (First semester of art school). All seventy of the hard bound, black covered 8.5x11 books are numbered and dated on their spines and archived. It is actually possible to randomly pick a date and find the volume, open to the page and see what I was working on any day for the past 22 years. I almost only work in pen so every thought and idea is permanently and indelibly archived, not because I think it so important, but I don't want to erase what I was thinking about. I want to save all the unvarnished mistakes.

I was running some numbers. 70 books is about 7000 sheets and 14,000 pages. It works out to a little over 3 books a year, and almost three sketches a day, 365 days a year for over 22 years. This does not include the innumerable preliminary studies, preparatory drawings, reference sketches and actual paintings I've painted which would easily double the output. These seventy sketchbooks are also merely my primary sketchbooks. Over the years I have taken up the habit of starting a new sketch book for any particular long term project that I might be working on, such as a book or concept project, so that those sketches are separate and organized from the others. (For example I filled four sketchbooks for Dracopedia) Also, in the past two years almost all my preliminary work has been done digitally, so my sketch-booking has dwindled substantially.

It has me thinking about why artists sketch. I'm sure the same kind of voluminous output is similar for authors and musicians. I find sketching to be the most rewarding and creative part of my work. 90% of the material is not fit for public consumption, but it is an interesting thread to watch the evolution and changes in an artists life as you look back through them. Doodles, notes, poems, lines from novels, sketches in airports, ticket stubs, phone numbers, art notes, pressed flowers and convention badges. Its very possible that the sketchbooks will tell more about an artist than any painting. Hard to believe that in another 20 years I will have filled 100 books. I've already instructed my wife that once I'm gone to build a pyre and never allow anyone to read them.

Be Well.


©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Painting Inside The Box

As an illustrator the demands of the commercial art client usually fall within a very strict format. Although art directors request originality and creativity, this request is usually couched within fairly rigid guidelines. The format of the illustration, placement of text and graphics, placement of gutters, as well as the demands of the art description combined with style guides and brand aesthetic, not to mention the personal taste of the art director, all challenge the artist to work within a fairly standardized creative box. Its what you do within this box that makes the difference.
So, where does personal expression and artistic individuality allow itself to be explored then? As an artist who was trained in the modernist school, I find my greatest creativity in composing abstract forms. Making interesting designs is one of the most expressive parts of my painting process, and never more than when I'm allowed to work outside the traditional rectangle of illustration. Below Ive included a few examples of my own where I was given a very demanding format in which to compose. Nothing helps me keep my creative juices flowing better than simply changing the shape of the box. It forces you to go back to abstract basics and just concentrate on composing forms. Try it yourself, and see what you come up with.

Be Well.


at top:
"Race to Minas Tirith"
20"x48" oil on panel
©2011 William O'Connor

©2007 Wizards of the Coast

"Flight over Candlekeep"
©2008 Wizards of the Coast

"Winter Elves"
©2009 William O'Connor

©2010 Wizards of the Coast

©2011 William O'Connor Studios