Wednesday, December 30, 2020


There are dozens of images waiting in a queue for the honor of being the "End of the Year" on this blog.  However, to sum up a year like 2020, there was only one possible winner: Tom Fluharty's marvelous drawing, which I've shown before in a different context.

As 2020 trundles off into history, leaving potholes in its wake with every step, Fluharty's drawing says it all better than any article, poll or editorial ever could.  One more reason why I end the year loving good pictures even more than I did at the start. 

For those of you who've somehow succeeded in surviving covid 19, political blood feuds, unemployment, Russian hacking, the economic collapse and dysfunctional government, congratulations!  

I'm sure 2021 will be better for us all. Thanks for your participation this year, and here's wishing you a happy, healthy new year.

Friday, December 18, 2020


The war over the relationship between photography and painting has raged for 150 years. 

Philosophers have battled with art critics.  Artists have feuded with other artists.  Photographers have clashed with art directors.  Are the two art forms comparable?  How heavily may a painter rely on photographs? Thousands of pages have nearly exhausted the subject, but one important perspective has been neglected: wives who pose nude for their husbands.

In her 1933 divorce proceedings against illustrator Everett Shinn, Gertrude McManus Shinn explained the difference between painting and photography to Judge Leonard Nickerson:     

I didn’t mind posing for my husband in the nude in his studio, even holding poses for two hours at a stretch.... But when my husband insisted that I also pose in the nude while he brought out a pocket camera I was deeply embarrassed and hurt.

It was altogether unfair and cruel. I simply can’t bear to go on with life if it means living with him.
She then broke down in tears.

This distinction between painting and photography was equally obvious to other wives in the community.  After Gertrude's tearful testimony, wives rallied around her and expressed their opinions in the local press.  They said Gertrude was “absolutely right" and “snapshots are horrid." They believed that unlike photography, painting transformed the facts "underneath the mystery of her clothes" in a way that freed her from shame. 

Professional thinkers may see many shades of gray, but for the wives of Westport it was black and white: 

One of Mrs. Shinn's friends said,

Of course Mrs. Shinn is right. Husbands of pretty women are always so stupid about failing to understand why their wives volunteer to pose in the altogether for artists but won’t allow anyone, even their own husbands, to snapshot them that way. 

She knows that the artist will idealize her, painting out or in as the case may be, such sins of commission or omission as nature perpetrated in her case, so that when the finished canvas is exhibited, there she stands naked and unashamed, in the interest of art, because, all faults being corrected, she sees nothing to be ashamed of. 

The snapshot tells the unvarnished, naked truth, which is simply horrid. How could Mrs. Shinn be sure that her husband, with that dumb, masculine honesty that is the despair of all smart women, would not take out that little picture and show it to a group of devoutly admiring men looking at the painting, and spoil everything?

It's not clear whether Gertrude fully persuaded Judge Nickerson about the aesthetic differences between paintings and photography, but he felt the differences were substantial enough to grant her request for a divorce.

Sunday, December 06, 2020


Many years ago, the famous Chinese artist Huang Erh-Nan would fill his mouth with black ink and paint pictures with his tongue.

Ralph Steadman seems to love black ink only slightly less than Huang Erh Nan.  Over a 60 year career he has splattered great gouts of dense black ink on his pictures, misted ink through an atomizer and scratched it into the surface with technical drawing tools.  He describes this career in his new book, Ralph Steadman: A Life in Ink.  The book contains a cross section of his work as a political cartoonist, a cover artist for album covers and movie posters, a children's book illustrator and perhaps most famously for his collaborations with Hunter S. Thompson.

Self portraits by Steadman in 1965 and 2020

The self-portrait above of Steadman in his covid mask is the only example I could find in the entire book of Steadman being muzzled.  He seems to have started right out of the gate with outspoken, often barbed opinions.



Detail from The Malevolence of War (2001)

When I spoke with Steadman about his career path, his choices seemed as impetuous as one of his ink splatters:

My first job was as an apprentice at an engineering factory in Liverpool. I went once a week to learn technical drawing.  I was drawing straight lines and circles; I was going to do a 5 year apprenticeship but after nine months I had to leave. I couldn't stand it.  My mother was very upset. She didn't know what to do with me.  I eventually ended up working at Woolworth's as a stockroom boy.  My headmaster saw me one day sweeping in front of the store and he looked at me with contempt.  He said, "Look at you.  You had a good job at de Havilland Aircraft Company and what do you do? End up sweeping the streets of Wales." 

Yet, he stumbled across an ad for a correspondence art class and his long career was launched. 

Book cover for Animal Farm


In addition to hundreds of pages of art showing the evolution of Steadman's style, the new book contains photographs from Steadman's life and an interesting interview discussing his philosophy.  

At the end, Steadman lists his personal "Honour Roll" which includes his artistic heroes such as Marcel Duchamp, Terry Gilliam, William Hogarth, Anita Kunz, Ronald Searle and Leonardo da Vinci.

In addition, his honour roll includes Kurt Vonnegut, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Winsor & Newton. 


We are living in a great era for art books.  Art publishers have been scooping up the best work from the top illustrators of the 20th century-- talented artists who led long and productive careers.  Many of their  brilliant images existed only in yellowing, crumbling back issues of magazines.  They are being rescued from obscurity by monographs such as this one, which enable us to look at artists in a fresh light.