Friday, August 30, 2013

Ed Valigursky: Illustrating Real and Imaginary Technology

Illustrator Ed Valigursky (1926-2009) originally focused his efforts on science-fiction and other speculative subjects. Eventually he drifted over to depicting aircraft and other real-life technological objects and became one of the best in that business. Unfortunately, I couldn't find many examples of his aviation art on the Internet, so what's displayed below will have to do for now.

My take on aviation art is that there are several approaches to depicting airplanes. One is the "show all the rivets" hard-edge style. I suppose this appeals to the crowd that loves seeing details. The other extreme is what I'll call the "French watercolor" approach where hardly any details are seen, and the details present are inaccurately drawn. My conjecture is that the audience for this is comprised of people who do not like or understand airplanes. Then there is a middle ground where aircraft are portrayed as they might be seen in real life at a glance, with one area in focus, others de-emphasized. A master in this was R.G. Smith who I mentioned here. Valigursky's aviation art fell in the range between the rivets school and Smith, presenting his subjects clearly and with artistic flair.

Below are examples of his aviation art along with science-fiction and other subjects as context.


To set the scene, here is one of his aviation paintings.

Amazing Stories cover - December 1956
"Space Viking" cover - 1963
"The Cosmic Computer" cover - 1964
The two lower covers are examples of his better SciFi work. Sometimes he dashed off cover art with sad results, as can be seen in the topmost cover.

Saga magazine cover - September 1953
Nautilus - for Saga, April 1959
Two illustrations featuring submarines.

"Flying in Flanders" cover
"No Parachute" cover
"Full Circle" cover
P-38s and Messerschmitt
More aviation art. The lower two examples are the kind of Valigursky illustrations I like best. But to nit-pick, the P-38s seem to have 1942-43 vintage U.S. markings, yet the serial number on the tail of the near aircraft has a 1944 fiscal year serial number indicating when its construction was budgeted.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Other Savage Illustrators

Fictional heroes can come and go. A few come and stay. One such hero with staying power is Doc Savage, whose stories were written by "Kenneth Robeson," the pen name of several writers, but predominantly Lester Dent. I previously posted about Doc Savage here.

I would imagine that readers familiar with Doc Savage visualize him in terms of James Bama's depictions such as on the book cover shown above. Bama's first Savage cover appeared in 1964 and was followed by 61 others over the next 30 or so years. Subsequent images of Savage by other artists in other media retained Bama's concept of Savage's appearance.

The original Doc Savage illustrator was Walter Baumhofer who did the cover art for the Doc Savage pulp magazine series from 1933 until he began moving from pulp to "slick" magazines around 1936-37. Background information on Baumhofer can be found here, here and here.

The image above is a typical Baumhofer Doc Savage cover, this for May 1934. Since Savage was described as the "man of bronze" in the stories, referring to his coloration, Baumhofer indulged in a degree of artistic license by introducing violet shaded areas in his paintings to contrast with the bronze hues required by his subject.

For what it's worth, I consider Bama and Baumhofer (and not necessarily in that order where Doc Savage is concerned) as the best of the lot over the first half century of the character's existence. Which implies that other brushes were in the game.

The best of these was Robert G. Harris, a talented illustrator who had little choice but to follow Baumhofer's Doc Savage characterization and style, as can be seen in the two covers above. Biographical links for Harris are here and here.

Quality began to noticeably slide to my eyes when Emery Clarke became the main cover artist. His images are a little less distinct, lacking the punch Baumhofer and Harris delivered.  One source contends that the figure in glasses in the upper image is a self-portrait of the artist.

Last and least among the Savage illustrators I located (and I must have missed some others) was former (almost bomb-throwing) anarchist Modest Stein, whose colorful career is described here. Whereas Baumhofer's images were classy (especially considering their pulp magazine locale) and Bama's were monumental (and not much like the physial description of Savage in the stories), Stein's strike me as little better than smudges in many cases, a step down from Clarke's work.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Edgar Maxence: Symbolism via Women

There are plenty of images of the work of Edgar Maxence (1871-1954) on the Internet, but little information about him. His Wikipedia entry is here, and the French Wikipedia entry is about the same size. One possibly noteworthy fact is that he studied under Gustave Moreau, the noted Symbolist painter.

Maxence painted a good many religious scenes and a number of his other subjects were treated in a similar manner. He was a good draftsman and used other media besides oil. As best I can tell, he painted in a higher key (less darks) by the 1920s and some of his landscape paintings are loosely done. Perhaps because of the war or maybe because he had turned 70, his production seems to have fallen off drastically after 1941.

Although he occasionally depicted men, his subjects were almost always attractive young women.


L'Âme de la Forêt - 1898

Les fleurs du lac - 1900
Note the two ladies glancing at us.  Plus the rare inclusion of male subjects.

La femme à l'orchidée - 1900
Might that be a cigarette in her right hand?  Don't notice any smoke, though.  Must be unlit.

Not a religious painting, and not very Symbolic, so far as I can tell (though I'm ignorant of many symbols, religious or otherwise). But, as noted above, the treatment is similar.

Jeune fille nourrissant des cygnes
Portrait de jeune fille - c.1900
study of a young woman's head
It looks like the same model was used for these three paintings.  A caption I found on the Internet for the middle one stated that the media were watercolor, gouache and pastel.  The lower work clearly incorporates some watercolor.

Serenité - 1912
Le livre de la paix
All three women look like they were derived from the same model.


Le carrefoure de Prigny
This is dated, but I can't quite read it. Might be 1944. But it's freely done and modernist-influenced.

Portrait du femme - 1941
One of his later works. Its style shows a modernist influence in its simplicity, but only slightly.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chrysler 300C: An Unexpected Preview

Some concept cars are intended to test public reaction to various styling ideas.  Others are thinly-disguised versions of cars scheduled for production within the next year or two.  The latter are often easily identifiable and commented upon in car buff magazines.  Readers are left to wonder which features are production-bound and which are camouflage.

It turns out that the show car conceptualizing Chrysler's iconic 2005 300C didn't have a speck of teasing to it.  People at Chrysler probably were mostly interested in exposing the public to a design that would take some getting used to, due the fact that it was a strong break from current Chrysler designs as well as from most other designs on the road.  I certainly thought the 300C was odd-looking when I saw the first photos of it.  Actually, it wasn't until I began seeing 300s on streets and highways that the design began to appeal to me; about a year later, I bought an entry-level 300.

What is odd is that the real disguised "teaser" concept car for the 300C came from Ford, not Chrysler.  Let's take a look.


2003 Chrysler 300C Concept Car 
The concept 300C is virtually identical to the 2005 production version introduced in 2004.

2001 Dodge Super 8 Hemi Concept Car
This concept car from Dodge contains some hints regarding the future Chrysler 300C design.  Those hints include the general brick-shape of the lower body, the fender shape (forget the grooves on the doors) and the wheel housing treatment.  Inclusion of a 1954-vintange General Motors style wraparound windshield is a cute diversion.

2003 Ford 427 Concept Car
This makes one wonder if Ford and Chrysler stylists were hanging out at the same bar in the early 2000s.  In reality, probably not.  That's because Joseph Baker, the 427's designer, was working at Ford's Irvine California studio, whereas I'm pretty sure that the 300C was styled in Detroit.  But aside from the front and rear ends, the two cars closely resemble one another.  Could the Irvine facility staff have included one or two recently hired stylists from Chrysler?

Also posted at Car Style Critic

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Werner von Axster-Heudtlass: Illustration Political, and Not

This is an advertisement for Eagle artistic silks, 1925.

And here is another piece by Werner von Axster-Heudtlass (1898-1949). My German was never good and now it's pretty rusty, but I translate the top slogan as "Hate and Destroy our Enemies" and the bottom one as "Freedom, Justice and Bread (for) our People." The "enemies" are labeled Judaism (in a secular sense, "Jewdom"), Bolshevism, Plutocracy and Capitalism.

I don't have a date for this Hitler Youth poster, but guess from the content that it was created before Hitler assumed power, probably sometime between 1927 and 1933.

What little is known about Axster-Heudtlass can be found here, though I suspect researchers in Germany might have dug out more. The link notes that he and his wife Maria (no dates) probably collaborated on some of the Axster-Heudtlass works.

I recently posted about Ludwig Hohlwein, a top-notch advertising illustrator who also created posters supporting the Nazi regime.  Hohlwein, as I noted in the post, did posters that were supportive in a positive sense and he steered clear of negative subjects.  This was not the case for Axster-Heudtlass who, in the poster above, depicts enemies that are evil serpents that must suffer destruction.

Below are examples of normal commercial art by Axster-Heundtlass along with one more Nazi propaganda piece.

"Merry Germany"

Steinway Pianos

Railway guide cover - 1936

Advertising the port city of Stettin (now in Poland) - 1934

This is another poster or flyer supporting the Nazi regime, probably from 1944-45. It's more difficult to translate than the one above, but goes something like this: "We listen to you, Leader. The future can bring us nothing save victory. [This next phrase is the tricky bit: help me, please, if it needs fixing] And if questioned as to its basis, we state: Because the Lord God gave us the Leader." "Leader" being the reference Hitler bestowed on himself -- Führer in German.

I am not fond of what might be called "political art," the political message almost always draining whatever artistic merit might have been incorporated in the work. Some artists do political art strictly to bring needed income, as if the assignment were just another form of advertising that required illustration. Others are in favor of the cause, as we see above. Axster-Heudtlass did some nice commercial work, but the Nazi pieces are clearly inferior. How much of this artistic damage was his own doing and how much might have been owed to the taste of clients is probably impossible to judge at this late date.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Irving Ramsey Wiles, Portrayer of Women

I measure artists' skill by how well they depict human beings. By this, I do not necessarily mean that such depictions are a measure of artistic greatness. There is more to greatness than how well humans are represented on a canvas or other surfaces, though in many cases I consider it an important factor.

One artist who skillfully portrayed many women was Irving Ramsey Wiles (1861-1948). Internet information on Wiles is pretty sparse. Here is his Wikipedia entry, and Charley Parker posted about him here. At the bottom, Parker mentions a book about Wiles that was forthcoming at the time he wrote the post. I looked it up on Amazon and saw that some of the reader reviews were very negative, mostly because the book apparently was poorly illustrated (few images, and those mostly in black and white).

Luckily for us, the Internet has a nice collection of Wiles' works in color. Here is a selection:


Mrs. Wiles in the Garden

Russian Tea

Afternoon Tea on the Terrace

The Yellow Rose

Lady with blue hat

Portrait of a lady

The Reader

Woman in Blue - 1915

Brown Kimono

Wiles seems to have been a skilled painter, as the images above demonstrate. Greatness is even more subjective to evaluate than skill, so I'll set that aside.  My take is that he was good at the genre he pursued.  Not the very best, but not all that far behind on his better days.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Placing People on Red Backgrounds

Many (most?) of the how-to-paint books I've read at some point deal with color relationships. They show the differing effects on a color of interest when it is juxtaposed to other colors.

An interesting case is the skin color of Caucasians (whites). Although there are variations, so-called white skin is actually a subtle mix of hues that can seem to vary depending upon lighting conditions, presence of fat, bone or blood under the skin, and, of course, neighboring colors. Those books often focus on mixing colors so that the appearance of skin is convincing.

When it comes to neighboring colors, the orange-red-yellow part of the spectrum that happens to match white skin most closely is normally the least aesthetically pleasing range where Caucasian skin is concerned. However, rules are supposedly made to be broken, so some artists will take the risk of using such background hues. This might be done to create a particular mood for a painting or illustration, or it might simply be a means for the artist to test his skill and maybe even show off a bit.

Below are examples of images where red is the background color.


Detroit Auto Show
This is a photograph I found on the Internet of a model posing in front of a Ferrari at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show. It illustrates what painters face. Note how gray the girl's face and body seem with all that Italian Racing Red behind her, not to mention the outfit she's wearing.

Lady in Black (The Red Room) by Irving Ramsey Wiles
Wiles avoids the grey effect by exaggerating the yellow aspect of "white" skin. The use of blacks in the composition helps to isolate the subject from the background red.  (But keep in mind that this image might not reflect the colors of the actual painting, so my analysis might be flawed.)

The Count of Monte Cristo - by Mead Schaeffer
I posted about this illustration here. Schaeffer also uses blacks to isolate the skin color from the background to some degree. Still, in the image above, the Count's skin seems grayed like that of the model in Detroit. But the link contains a photograph I took of the actual illustration, and it can be seen that Schaeffer introduced a greenish tint to the face. Green being the normal color wheel opposite to red, this helps keep the face from being absorbed or neutralized by the red background.