Friday, April 26, 2013


Skeptics have long questioned whether Bernini's great sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, is about a purely religious experience:

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) wrote of her dream that an angel thrust his fiery golden spear into her "to pierce my very entrails." When he finally withdrew after much thrusting, her heart was attached. The experience, she reported, was "not bodily, but spiritual."

Bernini's sculpture was commissioned by the Catholic church for the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.  Regardless of Bernini's motives, it certainly attracted the crowds.  For centuries, devout housewives  sat in the church thinking, "I'll have what she's having."

350 years after Bernini, Popes and kings no longer buy art.  They have been replaced by a new commercial class of patrons, fueled by the birth of capitalism and the ascendancy of the modern corporation.  But some things never change.  Whether church or refrigerator manufacturer, they still commission artists to sell their products with promises of ecstasy.

The great illustrator John Gannam had a gift for portraying women ecstatic over a gift of new blankets or sheets

Gannam's series of watercolors for Pacific Sheets was legendary.


Albert Dorne's illustrations lacked Gannam's poetry, but Dorne too tried to illustrate women experiencing the highest form of satisfaction from a product: 

And of course, hundred of anonymous illustrators have depicted women over the years in a state of delirium over new refrigerators, cars, jewelry or laundry detergent.  The formula is the same as Bernini's-- head tilted back, lips parted, toes curled, eyes rolling -- it's just in the service of a different sponsor.

These latter day corybants seem to be in paroxysms before the unholy shrine of Wurlitzer:

As Paul was awestruck by a flash of heavenly light on the road to Damascus, so this gentlemen seems awestruck-- his mouth agape and his eyes bulging-- at the glow from the juke box:

A lot of things have changed in the field of illustration over the centuries, but some things remain immutable.  No matter who the client or what the product, an illustrator who can harness ecstasy in the service of a client will always find work.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


 Here is a drawing with attitude:

This working drawing by Adolph Menzel (1815 - 1905) is an astonishing ballet of hand and eye.  Look at the speed and clarity with which he captures the most telling details of a military coat:

Sharp realism combined with abstract design

These long, sweeping lines show Menzel's confidence:

But mostly I like Menzel's attitude toward this drawing.  Rather than place it on a shelf to be admired, he marks it up with notes as if he were a master carpenter plying his trade.  The notes are part of the artistry of the sketch:

Contrast Menzel's empty coat with this far more famous empty robe series by pop artist Jim Dine:

Dine's "fine art" pictures of empty robes are treated with reverence and sell at auction for over $100,000.  But I have no doubt that Menzel's working sketch is the superior work of art.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


The great T.S. Sullivant (1854–1926) was hilarious from any angle.

For most artists it would be a challenge to draw a recognizable head from this odd angle:

Sullivant goes much further, fearlessly distorting the head with a comical hodge podge of bizarre shapes.  Yet, it is still persuasive.

And look at the liberties Sullivant takes with this sleeping pig, or the unorthodox perspective on the chicken's butt in the air:

In this next drawing, Sullivant doesn't need to show a face; he gives us all the information we need with that wild beard and stooped posture:

Here, we see an elephant who has inadvertently hurt the feelings of the giraffe:

This could be my very favorite drawing of a crying giraffe:

And here we see Sullivant's wicked cave boys tormenting some poor dinosaur:

We can see from the original how Sullivant shaped the dinosaur as he went along, scratching out some of the lines of the head to achieve the structure he wanted:

A stumbling, upside down dinosaur, mid-air and foreshortened-- now that's doing it the hard way!