Saturday, August 29, 2009

FINDING PERSONALITY IN A BRICK

Here is a series of splendid drawings with two things in common:

First, they are all drawings of geometric shapes: buildings comprised of straight lines, flat parallel surfaces and right angles.

Second, despite the fact that each drawing started out as essentially a mechanical drawing, at some key point the artist turned away from the unforgiving laws of perspective, the T square and the triangle, and instead injected the drawing full of character and personality.



The brilliant Bernie Fuchs sketched these buildings in the slums of San Juan. Fuchs seems to have a god-given talent for finding the design in any situation, including this row of squat, ramshackle buildings.



When Rodin drew the massive facade of this building, the shape that interested him the most was not the stone blocks or the massive pillars, but rather the shadow in the doorway. The shadow is insubstantial compared to the weight of the stone structure around it, but it dominates this picture, and enabled Rodin to make a nice, modernistic design.


Cartoonist Jeff MacNelly was a superb draftsman whose understanding of weight, volume and perspective gave his cartoons of buildings and heavy industrial vehicles great credibility. In this typically marvelous example, the geometric shapes of the house have as much humanity as a human face.

In each of these drawings, the artist had to begin with a foundation of traditional knowledge and technical drawing skills, even if those rules were quickly abandoned. Each drawings turned out wonderfully opinionated-- the artists were able to imbue a stone block with character, and portray a brick with personality. But their opinions are far more believable because the artist had mastered how to draw the mechanically correct version.

33 Comments:

Blogger Rob Howard said...

McNelly was a god among draughtsmen.The thing distinguishing the greats is sheer energy. Note how he and Drucker will draw many more objects than most artists will. It's that lack of laziness...a willingness to draw in items that will advance the story.

Note the beautifully drawn hound dog and how, while not neccessary, adds to the overall tone of the message.

The greats were almost athletic in their scope and approach. Art is hard work. They don't make it look easy.

8/31/2009 6:40 AM  
Blogger Diego Fernetti said...

Another cartoonists that make good statements through their "stages" or the rooms where the characters are placed, are Sempé and George Booth.

8/31/2009 9:40 AM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

I don't know how the hell you do it, but you seem to come up with an interesting topic every damn time, David!

Great that you showed MacNelly...I remember loving this stuff awhile ago. I seem to remember Mike Peters also being in that league. So many of those editorial/cartoonists, most using duoshade, produced really beautiful works of art in a venue not usually associated with that.

8/31/2009 10:11 AM  
Blogger Matt Hunter Ross said...

Yeah, nice topic. Back in the day when in art school, it really used to bother me when some highly-celebrated students couldn't draw traditionally for the life of 'em. That, or it just bothered me that I wasn't highly-celebrated... :)

8/31/2009 10:27 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, how do you like the stray dog in the foreground of the Fuchs drawing? (PS-- for years I spelled "draughtsman" the way you do and was accused of being pretentious or even downright unamerican. Some people even had trouble understanding what I meant. So reluctantly I dropped the more elegant English spelling for the more blunt American spelling, "draftsman.")

Diego-- I agree. Booth in particular is a prime example of someone who draws with a naive and homely line (using a leaky BIC pen!) but who underneath understands the rules of mechanical drawing.

Ken-- Thanks! Yeah, I think MacNelly was a huge influence on Peters and a whole generation of editorial cartoonists (just as he in turn learned from Oliphant and Searle). You don't hear his name a lot these days, but he did beautiful work.

Matt, I understand your feeling! It's funny, but no matter how wild or abstract an artist ends up, you can always tell which artists reached that destination through technical competence and which ones took the shortcuts.

8/31/2009 11:07 AM  
Blogger Diego Fernetti said...

Booth uses a leaky BIC pen!!! Go figure, I always admired the way he made those scruffy, crazy dogs... now here's the explanation at last!

8/31/2009 1:08 PM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

greetings....to a favorite writer/teacher/illustrator (when will we see more of you)
re: Rob, how do you like the stray dog in the foreground of the Fuchs drawing?
When I read that, I figured I better go back and click on the image, and wow, what a PERSPECTIVE was opened up! It behooves the readers to not neglect to click for a bigger image! And the little doggie was adorable, I missed it so completely the first time around!

Beth

8/31/2009 2:27 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Rob said it perfectly.

kev

8/31/2009 5:08 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

Fuchs is so overdue for a book collection that it hurts.

"You don't hear his name a lot these days, but he did beautiful work."

MacNelly's work was beautiful.

Sad that so much political cartooning quickly becomes irrelevant, and therefore forgotten.

8/31/2009 5:52 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, how do you like the stray dog in the foreground of the Fuchs drawing? (PS-- for years I spelled "draughtsman" the way you do and was accused of being pretentious or even downright unamerican. Some people even had trouble understanding what I meant. So reluctantly I dropped the more elegant English spelling for the more blunt American spelling, "draftsman.") <<<

I was brung up in an English-speaking (and writing) household until I snuck out and became a 'merican.

I learned reading and writing before I attended school, so I did it the way my Dad did it. Then began my de-education. I guess that I held onto draught as differentiated from what comes through the crack beneath the door and a nice draught of porter.

9/01/2009 1:00 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

""...slums of San Juan. ...row of squat, ramshackle buildings."" --Apparently I should've done more planning before having booked my upcoming vacation.

""Sad that so much political cartooning quickly becomes irrelevant, and therefore forgotten.""

Even sadder is that the Carter stench won't go away!

9/01/2009 2:21 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

"So reluctantly I dropped the more elegant English spelling for the more blunt American spelling, 'draftsman.'"

And now folks can accuse you of ignoring women!

9/01/2009 4:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...great blog and comments,
but hey, Jimmy Carter and the Pell Grant made the way for the Art Education I got!
D.H.

9/01/2009 7:07 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Beth, I'm glad you liked the little doggie too. Looking at many of these pictures in the larger size transforms them, and the sensitive, thoughtful Fuchs drawing is no exception. I'd hope you would know by now that I would never set you up with a bad drawing that wasn't worth the extra look...

Kev, your response gives me hope for the human race. I am going to print it out and sleep with it under my pillow tonight.

Jesse, I agree with you 100% about that Fuchs book.

अर्जुन, Fuchs went to Puerto Rico in 1970. I assume living conditions have improved in the last 39 years (although based on your comment about Carter I can tell you're the kind of guy who has a problem letting go...)

9/01/2009 7:39 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse, I tried the word "draftsperson" because I certainly do mean the concept in a gender neutral way, but the word is just hopelessly clumsy. Our vocabulary is overdue for a conversion that reflects modern reality, but some words are just more stubborn than others. Until we can agree upon a suitable replacement, I hope readers will understand that I use the old word in the new (most inclusive) sense.

9/01/2009 7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

Chairperson, Draughtsperson, Spokesperson etc I thought we were all HUMANS or are we now HUPERSONS.Let's not cripple a beautiful language with PC idiocy.

9/01/2009 8:56 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

No worries, David. I was just joking about the fashions of language.

9/01/2009 4:51 PM  
Blogger LCG said...

This human-woman is not offended by any word, noun, name or position I may hold, that ends in M A N. The "person" suffix is just silly PC stuff. However, I'm very surprised that some ol' battle-ax feminist hasn't brought it to our attention that "person" ends in "son", a slight, yes, - a disparagement, to all us daughters! ;-)

Another wonderful blog, David. Thanks, again, for all the amazing images and commentary you share.

9/01/2009 9:51 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Nice images. Especially love Fuchs drawing. His confidence with such a delicate line. I feel it could go off in any direction but it just sits there conveying information.

9/02/2009 7:27 AM  
Anonymous Jeffkers said...

There's a real love of drawing in the Macnelly piece.Would it have been referenced? I don't know much about him.

9/02/2009 9:14 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Re: a problem letting go...

Like a mirror I accept all and hold on to no-thing, this was merely a reflection upon an observation. Seeing that the Islamist water-boy is still out and about is hardly my not letting go.

Seems I might have to nix my trip to China.
http://tinyurl.com/china-vamp

再见

Not enough people mention Angelo Torres when they bring up Drucker or Jack Davis. He completes the trinity!

9/02/2009 3:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Angelo Torres?? Love his work, but he was not as good as either Drucker or Davis. He was aping Drucker, and was never able to nail the caricatures. Basil Wolverton's caricatures, however, are hilarious and spot on and, to say the least, original. And he also worked for Mad. (Though he never did caricatures, per se, for mad, that I can recall. Just extremely hideous looking people from his imagination.)

9/02/2009 11:22 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

LCG and Chris-- thanks so much, I appreciate it!

Jeffkers-- MacNelly was a terrific talent (plus a great guy even after he won multiple pulitzer prizes). He was not only a superb draughtsman (as Rob notes) but he was an extremely clever editorial cartoonist, one of the very best. I would have devoted a post to his work long ago if I'd had access to any of his originals.

अर्जुन, I'm afraid we disagree on both Carter and Torres. I share Kev's view that Torres was just not in the same league with Davis or Drucker at all.

9/03/2009 3:33 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Dammit Kev your right!

9/03/2009 3:29 PM  
Blogger Giovanni said...

I'm sorry I don't have anything more competent and poignant to say than I always read your blog and that, as an aspiring illustrator, I've found it much more useful than all the art critiques I've read. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate your work.

9/04/2009 2:27 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

David, you display great spokespersonship

9/05/2009 5:00 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Giovanni, there's no better comment than that. Thanks for writing.

9/05/2009 11:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And as usual, an ironical twist in the conversation appears - because I just came to post some criticism :)

I'm Ivan who is too lazy to log in right now. I’d like to say something regarding this conclusion:

>>>Each drawings turned out wonderfully opinionated-- the artists were able to imbue a stone block with character, and portray a brick with personality. But their opinions are far more believable because the artist had mastered how to draw the mechanically correct version.<<<

The question What makes for great artwork? is answered differently by different people; David Apatoff belongs to a group that likes to say: the key is mastering of the basic drawing skills. He, apparently, speaks in reaction to the practice in many art schools that do not systematically teach such skills.

But thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the both said approaches are wanting.

You know why is your stance flawed? Because time and again, I come across this kind of observation (follows slight paraphrase):

>>Today’s young generations have great skills taught at schools, but their work has no ideas, no inspiration; they emanate nothing; they show no emotions.<<

Sometimes its my own thought, but more often it is an observation of older and intelligent people, like Ingmar Bergman.

I don’t have the full answer as to what makes great art, and of course, no one does. I agree with Rob Howard’s first comment though.

Regards, Ivan

9/05/2009 1:14 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, even Ingmar Bergman thinks you're opinion is wrong.

Pull it together, would you?

kev

9/05/2009 2:43 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

I know that he doesn't hew to the opinions of our self-acclaimed social betters and intellectual superiors, but it strikes me that Michael Ramirez is the logical heir to Jeff McNelly.

9/06/2009 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Jack Ruttan said...

I always enjoy giving buildings attitude. Happy or sad, maybe aggressive or shy. That's why I find it hard to draw with a ruler.

9/07/2009 5:35 PM  
Anonymous Preston said...

Great examples. I really enjoy reading your perspectives.

9/08/2009 10:42 PM  
Anonymous Ivan said...

I'd like to clarify myself.

>>>each drawing started out as essentially a mechanical drawing <<<

>>>In each of these drawings, the artist had to begin with a foundation of traditional knowledge and technical drawing skills, even if those rules were quickly abandoned.<<<

This may be true, but it isn't obvious to me. In the drawings of Fuchs and McNelly, no rectangular-looking object comprises more than, say, 40% of the drawing surface. So I'm asking myself: isn’t it possible, even likely, that these two drawings started with a few bold lines to outline the overall composition?

>>>But their opinions are far more believable because the artist had mastered how to draw the mechanically correct version.<<<

It would be equally true to say that the geometric shapes would have been much less believable if the drawings weren’t injected with the artists’ opinions.

I tend to think this isn't a matter of different beliefs, but rather rethoric. The conclusion in the post emphasizes the importance of mechanical drawing. Of course, I’m very well aware that such emphasis can be a natural reaction to biases in the opposite direction (ah, those New York City galleries).

“pull it together”

No. That’s not the intended message of my posts, though of course you’re free to believe what you choose.

9/09/2009 8:09 AM  

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