Sunday, November 25, 2012

Muddy Colors

I am proud to announce that I have been invited to be a member of the Muddy Colors blog.  This site that shares the work and ideas of some of the industry's best artists and is one of the most insightful blogs on contemporary art today.

My Artist of the Month series will now be posted at this site, and I hope that you all will follow me and the other artists as we discuss our trade, craft and art.

Thank you.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Life Imitating Art: The Post Apocalypse

As millions dig out from the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, and begin to piece their world’s back together again, I am poignantly reminded of so many images that I’ve seen before.  Gas lines, food hoarding, a breakdown of the social order as the infrastructure of society goes out overnight.  As many heroic stories of first responders and life saving deeds are heralded, and the dark and awful stories of crime make it into the headlines, there are a million other stories, the stories of the day to day life that becomes the new Normal after a disaster.

I realized that these stories are the subject of an endless number of tales both contemporary and ancient that have been depicted in art for centuries, from Noah’s Arc, to the Decameron, to Road Warrior.  The stories of how fragile our social network is, and that we all live only one catastrophe away from loosing the fragile web of society that has been woven for millennia.  For most of these stories they were foretelling of some fictional future calamity such as the Second Coming or Nuclear Holocaust.

In the post 9/11 culture the concept of the Post Apocalypse Story was reinvented because we had all just lived through a horrible disaster.  Although 9/11 itself is rarely depicted metaphors for the sudden and horrific attack by an alien or outside force was dealt with in detail as the War on Terror was waged.  2005’s War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise depicted in stark reality the impact of the destruction of our society would have raising issues of survival and responsibility to one’s morality over one’s family.  The award winning and critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica which ran from 2004 until 2008 was another metaphor of all out war and destruction that placed the very fabric of society and morality into the crucible of the post apocalyptic world.

Today another type of post apocalyptic story runs through our culture as our disasters evolve.  Now it is not war or man-made (or alien-made) destruction that is wrought upon society but rather environmental disasters beyond our understanding or our control.  With Katrina in 2005 and the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008 our culture became threatened by mindless forces without reason or agenda.  The fear became not how to fight back, or to win, there was no way to win, the asteroid would not be diverted, the army wasn’t going to save the day, the bomb had already gone off.  Instead the story became how do we survive after?  How do we hold onto what is most important to us individually in a world where the future is unknowable and in the end, there is no safety net.

The popularity of shows like The Walking Dead premiering in 2010 and McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, are poignant commentaries of how we all try to survive in a world where randomness seems to be the only reliable constant in a culture where jobs, homes and whole seaboards can be wiped out without warning.  In the new post apocalyptic drama its not nuclear war or aliens or even zombies that threaten our survival, but  the creeping entropy of chaos that lurches ever closer to those we love.  In these stories we are able to explore what kind of people we want to be, and what kind of people we may become when the veneer of society is stripped away and we are left with the abyss of the unknown looming ahead of us, left to decide what is important.

Thank you


Monday, September 24, 2012

Artist of the Month- H. H. Richardson

The Norman William Public Library
Woodstock, VT.

When I was a young boy I became fascinated with all things medieval.  Knights, heraldry, castles, Renaissance faires, you name it! As a young artist the aesthetic of the middle ages was extremely formative in my stylistic development.   

As an American student however my exposure to medieval art was limited to photographs in books, and relics behind glass in museums, with one very dramatic exception: Romanesque Revival Architecture. 

Steinheim Castle
(abandoned 1953.  restored 1996)
Alfred University. Alfred, NY

I remember discovering the Woodstock Vermont Library (above) as a young man where my family often vacationed.  The distinctively Romanesque Revival stylistic hallmarks of the low round arches with stout pillars,  rustic stone work and high gabled roof immediately put me in a mind that this was medieval.  Rainy afternoons in the library reading Tolkien, I could imagine being in the library at Minas Tirith or Rivendell.  Later, when I went to college at Alfred University I was inspired by the ever present Victorian stone tower of Steinheim Castle that loomed like a Romantic ruin over the campus. (above)

Romanesque Revival was a brief and often overlooked nineteenth century architectural movement that took place between 1870 and 1890 which replicated the European medieval architectural styles of the Romanesque period (1000- 1350).  The heavy, austere and imposing silhouettes of the style did not lend itself to many applications, and this aesthetic was usually limited to armories, libraries and churches while the more popular and decorative Neo-Classical style was used for landmarks like the US Capitol and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  After WWII many Romanesque buildings were torn down for being out-dated, dark and ugly, to make way for new, modern, light, climate-controlled office buildings. Romanesque Revival and other Beaux-Arts Revival styles were disparaged as fancies, appropriate only for theme parks,  their forms having completely trumped their functions. (Does any building in Manhattan need arrow loops and a portcullis?) Ironically, what has saved many of these buildings over the past fifty years has been urban decay.   In cities where development and economic growth was not robust many of these old edifices were left derelict, with no budget for demolition, restoration or replacement.  Subsequently there are few examples of this style to find in their original condition, but when you do it is a real treat.

New York Asylum for the Insane
(National Register of Historic Places 1973. abandoned 1994)
Buffalo, NY
H.H. Richardson

Although Romanesque Revival was adopted in Europe, Americans took a particular liking to the style, and the most influential champion of this movement was the architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886).   In 1870 Richardson completed the New York State Asylum for the Insane in Buffalo.  This towering medieval citadel exuded strength, power, austerity and security.  The Insane Asylum would launch Richardson's career, and make him synonymous with American Romanesque Revival Architecture, creating "The Richardsonian Romanesque Style". 

Trinity Church
Boston, MA
H.H. Richarson 

Woburn Public library
Woburn, MA
H.H. Richardson

Thomas Crane Public Library
Quincy, MA
H.H. Richardson

While Richardson would go on to design many more Romanesque buildings, The Richardsonian Style would inspire hundreds of Victorian architects all over the United States.  The Medieval Revival Movement championed by such artists as Sir Walter Scott, William Morris, Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites who sought to return art and architecture to a more genuine time of art-making, using rustic techniques and styles, and combining exterior design with interior applied arts like ceramics, furniture and textile design.  This Arts-and-Crafts movement was influential up until the turn of the century, and even inspire 20th century architects like Frank Lloyd Wright.  It is ironic that this movement which tried to re-examine genuine artistic themes was later disregarded as inauthentic. Next time you're walking through the city or you pass an old church or university, take a closer look, and you'll probably find the influence of Richardson in the buildings that brought a touch of Medieval Europe to America.

Alexander Hall
Princeton University. Princeton, NJ
W.A. Potter

Union Station Hotel
(restored 1985)
St. Louis, MO
T. Link

 Lovely Lane Methodist Church
(National Register of Historic Places)
Baltimore, MD
S. White

First Presbyterian Church
(partially demolished 1936;  NRHP 1979)
Detroit, MI
G.D. Mason

Old City Hall
Toronto, Canada
E.J. Lennox

Kingbridge Armory
Bronx, NY

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Varus-Where are my Legions?

Anselm Kiefer

As any who have been following my blog know I am a complete history wonk, especially when the history of the world and the history of art collide.  I am always trying to teach students that to understand art you must understand the history behind it.  This September I am reminded of possibly one of the most important events in history and the art inspired by it.

In September 9 ad. the entire three legions of Caeser Augustus' expeditionary force was wiped out by German Tribal Forces in what has come to be known as The Battle of Teutoburg Forest.    Led by general Varus, 20,000 Roman legionnaires were slaughtered and never found.  It is recorded that til the end of his life Augustus would wander the imperial palace muttering "Varus, where are my legions!"

Varus Massacre Scene from "I Claudius" 

 But the history of this battle doesn't end there.  This region would become one of the most fought-over and contested parcels of land in history.  For the next 2000 years hundreds of battles and over a 15 million lives would be lost on this ground only about the size of the State of Massachusetts.

 In 1815 the battle of Waterloo would take place less than 200 miles away between Napoleon's army and Wellington's German allies killing a total of over 30,000 soldiers.

In 1900 a newly unified Greater German Empire under its Kaiser erected a monument on the site of the Teutoburg battle heralding new age of German Nationalism and Teutonic manifest destiny.

By the height of WWI at the Battle of the Argonne Forest and the war of the Western Front would again tear this region apart claiming in some estimates 10 million lives!

Battle of the Ardennes Forest from "Band of Brothers"

Only thirty years later this battered ground would be the site of some of the most bitterly fought over land of WWII, as Hitler's counter offensive in the winter of 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest killing another 50,000 soldiers on both sides.  Some historians have suggested that it was Hitler's strategy to recreate the Battle of Teutoburg Forest and the German victory over a superior invading army that led him to conceive the offensive.

In 1976 when the German artist Alselm Kiefer paints his image "Varus" he is not merely painting a landscape.  He is painting the layers of blood and lives and souls that had died in that forest.  He is painting the hallowed ground where Varus and thousands of ghosts still walk, there names carved into the very forest itself.

When we begin to understand history, we can begin to understand art.

Thank you


Friday, September 7, 2012

Astolpho and the Hippogriff

Ever since childhood I have been fascinated and enchanted by the heraldry and pageantry of medieval costumes.  Studying medieval and gothic romance literature in college only deepened my love for the aesthetic of knighthood.  The epic poem of Orlando Furioso by Ariostos has been a favorite story of mine for over a decade and from time to time I re-engage with the fable for inspiration.  This image illustrates the paladin Astolpho and the magical hippogriff he rides on his various adventures in that story.



Below are a detail and wip image, plus some historical images of the same subject....enjoy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Wargriffin is the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to join in WWI wit her griffin.  A young adult fantasy-adventure novel.  This was a fun story to illustrate trying to capture the bleakness of the western front with the fantasy of dragons and mythical beasts.  I'm attaching my sketch and mock-up cover for the book.



©William O'Connor Studios

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dracopedia Student Art Contest

With the release of Dracopedia:The Great Dragons coming out this month I thought I would celebrate by having an art contest for students. A great opportunity for young artists to get their work seen and win some cool prizes.

Guest Judges are: Lars Grant-West, Dan Dos Santos and Todd Lockwood.

Go to: The Dracopedia Project to join and learn all the details.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

War of the Dragonborn

On May 21st the publisher of the videogame Skyrim filed a trademark request for the word "Dragonborn".

In 2007 I was called out to the Wizards of the Coast D&D offices in Renton Washington to help concept this race and so I feel a particular fondness for the scaly brutes, kind of like a godfather. I remember struggling with the design because it could not have any draconic features (horns, wings, tails, long necks, etc.) and it was looking too much like reptile men.  I finally pulled from more of a cultural context than a visual one.  I thought of a cross between Klingons and the Gorillas from Planet of the Apes, but Dragon-Men!, and the rest drew itself.  I've always liked them, (except for the Boobs.  You try having heated debate  in an office board room on why Dragons don't have breasts, and you realize how surreal this job is.)Also, I conceived that this race would be steeped in ancient tradition and tribal custom.  For that I drew upon an Asian aesthetic to their costuming.  Overlapping scales and plates, with no use of buckles would make them look different and older than the other races.

Both companies have a rightful claim to trademark anything they want.  WotC was there first, but it doesn't possess a trademark, and its likely that Skyrim's trademark will not effect D&D.  If Skyrim's trademark effects D&D then this race will go extinct in 5th Edition. To whoever wins the War of the Dragonborn I wanted to share a few images from their inception during the early development of 4th Edition.  My little dragon babies, they grow up so fast!

Enjoy. (click on images for larger view)

If you have any questions about the concepting of this race, please leave a comment.




Thursday, April 26, 2012

Artist of the Month-Caspar David Friedrich

"The Abbey in the Oakwood"
oil on canvas.
National Gallery , Berlin

A ny one who has been following my Artist of the Month series will notice a trend.  Its something that I didn't notice it until I looked back over my blogs.  A preference for landscapes.  Corot, Keifer, Sloan, Hasui.  I think this is because I so rarely get commissioned to do landscapes and I have a passion for the outdoors, hiking and all things that grow.  When left to my own devices I prefer to paint landscapes either fantasy or plein aire.  This leads me to the master landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich., (1774-1840).

There are so many excellent landscape painters in history, (Gainsborough, Turner, Rembrandt, Vermeer, et al.), but for me it is the Romantic overtones that makes Friedrich's work so powerful.  These are not merely landscapes.  In the tradition of other Romantic artists like Wordsworth, Keats and Beethoven, Friedrich's work does not extol the glory of the church, the greatness of his patrons or the virtuosic talent of the artist, he is illustrating the titanic power of nature and how minuscule we mere mortals are when confronted by it.  Lonely and destitute penitents move like wraiths between the tombstones in the shadows of a once glorious cathedral ravished by the supreme power of Time.   The lattice of windows is mundane in comparison to the shapes of the tree branches. The mightiest ships of the greatest empires are crushed like toys in the ragged jaws of ice flows.  The spires of a church pale in comparison to the Divine beauty of nature's own spires.

Friedrich's compositions at once show us the beauty and devastating power of nature, the complex grace that can be discovered in a simple study of a tree, and our place in this Great Masterpiece.

Enjoy. (click on thumbnails for larger versions)



"A Man and a Woman Contemplating the Moon"
Oil on Canvas.  
National Gallery, Berlin

"Study of a Tree"
Pencil on paper

Listen to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (1801) for a better understanding of Friedrich.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Flight of the Paladin

A brave and stalwart paladin riding his steed into battle against a rampaging fire breathing dragon! The classics are always the most fun.

This recent project made for an excellent example of my process and I thought I would share some of that with you.

For a full, streaming evolution watch the painting unfold on video:

©2012 William O'Connor Studios

Monday, January 16, 2012

Varnishing Day

As we all know the deadline for entries into Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantasy Art is coming up fast. I just got my entries off today. I am a huge fan of this publication, have been in it many times and think it is a showcase of some of the best artists of our generation. That said, there has developed an almost mythological quality to this annual. Artists rushing about frantically trying to get work finished before the deadline, sleeplessly going over what to submit, what to leave out, then waiting with bated breath to see if they got in. Careers have been made in Spectrum. At the same time there are artists who refuse to enter. They feel it is too political, too random to place that much credit upon a small group of subjective jurists.

Whatever side of the fence you fall on, this time of year always reminds me of Varnishing Day. Varnishing Day was the most important day in the artistic calendar of the Academic Salon artist. It was the last day that artists could make final alterations to their work before the Salon would open to the public and the judges would cast their ballots. The entire year for an artist came down to this one show! If you got in and won an award it would make your year in sales and commissions. If you won the Grand Prix it would make your career! The better you did at the show the better your sales, the better your sales the more students you got in your workshops. The more students you got the better your print sales and the better you would do in the show next year, and around and around. This academic salon system became so ingrained in the culture that to be an artist you could not work outside the academies. Famous artists like Manet and Delacroix bristled at the Salon System, but tried to work within it. By the late 19th Century the younger generation of artists had had enough of the politics and began to display their works in alternative shows.

In 1873 a group of Franco-Prussian War veterans and conscientious objectors who had fled to England returned to Paris and were refused entry into the Salon. Being a bunch of twenty-something post grads who didn't know any better they got together, rented some cheap space and put on their own show. That group included Pissaro, Monet and Degas among others. This group sardonically called themselves The Refused, but were ridiculed by the establishment as The Impressionists. (This could be likened to being called The Doodlers, today.)

This revolution of individual artist's freedom to work outside the academy and the academy's standards changes art forever. By the end of the 19th Century the academic salon system had grown so big and political that it could not evolve with modernity, and like the dinosaur it was, went extinct. In 1893 one critic reviewing the art salon at the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago containing the works of such Victorian luminaries as Bouguereau, Leighton and Waterhouse remarked, "This exhibition has done more to set back the advancement of art than any event in the past twenty years."

In 1913 The New York Armory Show would seal the coffin on the Victorian Salon System and give way to the twentieth century modern Gallery System. An exhibition by artists and for artists. You can see by the poster left that the artists are referred to as "guests", this was a private invitational exhibit, not a state funded juried show. Instead of paintings shoehorned together like a patchwork,"salon-style" each painting would be displayed by itself, "gallery-style". Instead of one huge institutional juried show there would be hundreds of little independent private shows run by the artists themselves. Each small "ism" could find its own niche, and its own followers. These would become the model for today's successful trade shows like Comic Con and Illuxcon.

In the 21st Century this evolution has continued. The Gallery System is now under threat by artist-run websites. Today artists do not even need the galleries or publishing houses gathering millions of followers on-line circumventing the exclusivity of the galleries. Today there is a venue for any kind of art you can imagine and you can follow along directly with the artist. Whether this is a better system is arguable. A direct Democracy of Art where page views and followers equates to quality, or is there still a role for the juried show in contemporary art? Check back in a hundred years and I'll tell you how it turned out.

So this week as you put the final touches of varnish on your painting for selection in the Spectrum Show lets all remember how far we've come, and where the future may take us!