Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Artist of the Month-Marcel Duchamp

"I don't believe in art. I believe in artists."
M. Duchamp

More than anyone else the face of Modernist hatred seems to be focused primarily on Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). I think this stems from a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding, which is a shame, because his work is so accessible. Personally I love Duchamp. There's nothing to get. Its not about classical mythology or esoteric historical figures. His work is funny, self-deprecating and iconoclastic, qualities that I admire in any artist. Duchamp was the ultimate anti-art-artist. (Banksy and Warhol are amateurs compared to Duchamp). He went up against a centuries-old academy of stuffed shirt authorities with their Victorian salons and Gilded-Age aesthetics and tweaked their handle bar moustaches.

You gotta love Duchamp for the absolute punk he was. At a time of classical ateliers and Ecole de Beau Arts he was the first garage artist. Nothing was sacred to this guy. If it was classical or institutional he laughed at it, turned it upside down, drew a moustache on it and pissed on it. (literally and figuratively.) You don't have to like it. You're not supposed to like it. If you want nice, easy, likable pictures, look at Bouguereau, but if you want art that challenges, look at Duchamp. He was a crazy, Dada-Surreal, Steampunk, Mad-Scientist! The Einstein of the art world. Art became Relative. He wasn't saying that an upside down urinal is art, he is saying that ALL art is upside down urinals. 500 year old traditions of smearing colored mud on canvas with sticks is just as silly and random (or more) as bicycle wheels on stools. There is nothing intrinsically sacred or artistic about paint or marble, but rather the conceptual, creative process of the artist is where the value lies, and he reveals that with humor and sacrilegious glee. He was the first Concept Artist. If inspiring emotion is a prerequisite of art than Duchamp does it in spades. It is a hundred years later and he's still pissing people off. He makes every sophomore painting student scream in red faced wrath, "Its not Art!!" and Marcel just smiles from the grave and sardonically quips, "Exactly." For that alone Duchamp is awesome.



at top:
Bicycle Wheel
1913 mixed media
Museum of Modern Art. New York

1917 porcelain and ink
Tate Gallery. London.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

W.I.P. Dragonward

I have the opportunity to share a work in progress for a book cover that I'm painting. This is a pencil drawing and a grayscale rendering in photoshop to establish my values. The final will be in oil. I hope to share with you when its finished. I'm looking forward to working in oil for a client again. Its a lot slower but I like the process.

Once moving to paint my technique is a process of layers with some alla prima touches. I use glazes to enhance color and tone.




12"x16" oil on paper
©2011 William O'Connor

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Artist of the Month-Lucian Freud

Reflection (Self Portrait)
oil on canvas

I would be remiss if I did not do an Artist of the Month of Lucian Freud (1922-2011), who passed away last month. Called the greatest English master painter since Gainsborough, Freud was by far the most famous and successful painter of the past generation and regarded as the painter laureate of Britain. For a generation every artist who has struggled to do alla prima life studies can thank Freud.

As a student in the 1940's and an emerging career through the 1970's Freud is remarkable for his stalwart resistance to abstract modern painting. Facing contemporary painters like Stella and Rothko in America, Freud painted unabashedly figurative portraits with classical oil techniques. The first response to his work is the surface of his paintings. Having been known to work on his portraits for thousands of hours, the surface of impasto, tonal brushwork is built up in thick layers until the paintings take on an almost sculptural quality bringing dimension and life to his work. The realist and candid compositions of his subjects creates a voyeuristic mood relating the model to the painter and then to the viewer. Looking into Freud's work for me is like looking into art history. I see Courbet and Rembrandt in his brushwork and palette, as well as Manet and Cezanne in his stark presentation of the figure. Freud's work is also reminiscent of some of his contemporaries such as Alice Neel, Chuck Close and Eric Fischl.

Night Portrait
oil on canvas

In the 1980's the advent of Post Modernism and the emergence of figurative art and Neo-Expressionism, made Freud extremely popular. He quickly rose to the top of the art world where his paintings remained big sellers for the rest of his life. In 2008 his 1996 painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (below) set a world record for a sale by a living painter, fetching almost $34 million, and in 2000 was commissioned to paint the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the past decade however, Freud's legacy has been debated. Was Freud a revolutionary painter who reinvented the medium of painting and the subject of portraiture? or was he merely an artist who's popularity exceeded his talent and spawned a thousand copy-cats? Only the perspective of time will tell. This debate always takes place with the death of a great artist who is great during his own lifetime. Picasso and Monet fared well, while others like Gerome and Bouguereau were cast aside. With his passing, Freud's place in the pantheon of the art history canon will be argued and discussed by much more learned academics than me.



Benefits Supervisor Sleeping
oil on canvas

©2011 William O'Connor Studios