Saturday, April 17, 2021

ROBERT FAWCETT'S MUSEUM OF MODERN ART

Even a boring spot illustration of a postal clerk can become an exciting trip through an abstract art exhibition when the illustrator is Robert Fawcett. 


Take a closer look.  Back before micron pens and Photoshop became the illustrators' tools of choice, Fawcett was wrestling pictures out of bold, lusty marks such as these.





There are 2,437,152 artists drawing hair at this very moment, but how many have the guts to open the subject to this kind of experimentation?



Even a row of rubber stamps becomes a small act of anarchy.


All of this took place when illustration was still primarily a visual, rather than a conceptual enterprise.  Today we've traded many of Fawcett's artistic strengths for a different set of virtues, but it would be a big mistake  to forget what such potent vigorous drawing brings to even the most commonplace subjects.



47 comments:

Nathan Burney said...

Great post, as always. Can you expand a bit on that last paragraph? What did you mean by a "conceptual" enterprise, and what are some of the different virtues we've switched to?

David Apatoff said...

Nathan Burney-- The trend toward "conceptual" illustration began in the late 1960s as photography and television began to crowd out the historical markets for traditional illustration involving more literal representations. (see History of Illustration by Doyle, Grove and Sherman for a discussion of these trends.) Some claimed that conceptual or "idea" illustration was the next evolutionary stage, making pictures more relevant and thought provoking. Others claimed conceptual art was merely a safe refuge where beleaguered illustrators might still make a nice couple of bucks without worrying too much about being displaced by photography.

I revere some conceptual artists, such as Saul Steinberg. The problem is, as the concept took greater priority its visual form began to wither. Much of conceptual art turned out to be mere diagrams of ideas, employing a thin, monotonous line and flat colors, with none of the disruption or violence or imagination seen here. Compare the anemic line of a rapidograph or a micron pen with the furious explosion of marks from Fawcett and it will tell you all you need to know about the trajectory of illustration. Perhaps even more important, many of the "concepts" that allegedly justified abandoning these rich visual qualities turned out to be nothing more than bald and simplistic versions of the concepts that were always buried in more representational art.

Anonymous said...

Conceptual art doesn't have a likeness or a narrative like old fashioned pictures, it uses symbols and graphics to show an idea.

JSL

chris bennett said...

Anonymous, define for yourself what you mean by 'conceptual', 'likeness', 'old fashioned', 'symbol', 'graphic' and 'idea' and you will see how non-sensical your statement is.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kev ferrara said...

That Fawcett's loose and agitated penmanship had absolutely no effect on the overall poetic power of the image demonstrates the utter superficiality of such penmanship as a stand alone artistic value. He applied it indiscriminately because that's the only way it can be applied.

Robert Cosgrove said...

I'm afraid I have nothing very profound to contribute to this discussion. I can only say, I just love Fawcett.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- You've set an interesting challenge for anonymous. The term "conceptual art" has been characterized dozens of different ways by commenters over the life of this blog, even if we exclude the profanity. One of my favorites, and I forget who coined it, was "post-visual" art. There's a more objective summary of some of the definitions on wikipedia but I've seen other definitions popping up in various art related industries. For example, "conceptual artist" has been used as a business title to describe an artist whose job is to imagine alien creatures, fantasy landscapes, magical events-- anything you have to imagine because you don't have a real life version in front of you to paint (no matter how realistic your painting).

My primary objection to what I'll call "conceptual art" for purposes of this post is that it has spawned a philosophy of "I'm-so-smart-I-don't-have-to-draw-well" which justifies sloppy behavior and threatens to inundate modern illustration. In my experience, 95% of the artists who hide behind the term "conceptual" aren't smart enough to justify their bad draftsmanship. A few years ago in an interview with Steve Heller, I tried to state my position as offensively as possible:
"My bias is that artists who elect to work in a visual medium should respect the challenges of form-creating work. Otherwise, why not become a writer instead? I love conceptual illustration—there’s no bigger fan of Saul Steinberg, Milton Glaser or Seymour Chwast. But the great conceptual illustrators were part owl, part songbird. As the concept became increasingly important, the visual form began to wither. Today, “concept artist” Richard Prince can neither draw nor paint well, but he’ll take someone else’s illustration and reframe it with a copy of the published work. He claims his conceptual contribution is to “redefine the concepts of authorship, ownership and aura.” Where I come from, that’s neither an owl nor a songbird, that’s a buzzard. Recently the trees seem to be full of them."

Kev Ferrara-- this has echoes of our previous discussions about the poetic unity you cherish. I don't know how much "poetic power of the image" you expect to find in a spot illustration of a postal clerk or an ad for dishwashing detergent. Whatever the weakness of the subject matter, I admire Fawcett's ability to summon up
a remarkable range of marks
with tools that range from bamboo stick to dry brush to thumb print, marks that have all the legitimacy of an abstract graphic art image by Motherwell, Kline or Dubuffet. It's also important that Fawcett is able to take what you call superficially agitated marks and combine them into a tightly rendered final product. At the quantum level these buzzing subatomic particles of design may seem to you unrelated to the final image yet Fawcett, who spent years slavishly mastering old fashioned drawing techniques at the Slade School, ended up with completed traditional renderings that few 20th century illustrators could surpass.

David Apatoff said...

Robert Cosgrove-- "I just love Fawcett" is profound enough in my book. Fawcett was never a crowd-pleaser; the cover illustration assignments all went to artists like Whitcomb and Parker who could paint pretty girls and happy children. But the other artists recognized what he was doing, and he was widely known as "the illustrator's illustrator."

kev ferrara said...

I agree that Fawcett had drawing chops. He did some nice drawings, both black n' white and colored. And even some great compositions.

Whatever the weakness of the subject matter.

There's no such thing as weak subject matter. There are only weak imaginations.

There are countless great pictures of people waiting, watching, walking, sleeping, sitting, thinking, listening, or reading.

marks that have all the legitimacy of an abstract graphic art image by Motherwell, Kline or Dubuffet.

Not sure how incidental mark-making (noodling) equates or compares with full compositional designs. I'm also not understanding by what authority or principle the 'legitimacy' of certain marks is conferred or established in contradistinction to other marks by you?

It would seem to me that in the context of an ostensibly meaningful picture, the meaning of the marks with respect to the meaning of the picture would matter most vis a vis 'legitimacy'. Of course, the problem is that the picture is vacuous in meaning. And the marks can't really help that. Electrified banality remains banal.

It's also important that Fawcett is able to take what you call superficially agitated marks and combine them into a tightly rendered final product.

This kind of work was taken over by the clip art firms because anybody half-trained, with serviceable photoreference and a balopticon, could fake-'sketch' usable advertising 'art'.

Matthew Adams said...

Fawcett always manages to make drawing look fun, playful, exploritory, but with a real economy of mark making. I can almost imagine him on the phone to a client, and already doodling the finished image as he discusses it with them.

And that balding head is beautiful.

Matthew Adams said...

A fake-'sketch' (a fair description of a lot of the advertising art at the time) and a Fawcett drawing are worlds apart though.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- If it's true that "There's no such thing as weak subject matter. There are only weak imaginations," then it must be Sargent's weak imagination that caused him to eschew society portraits and Sorolla's weak imagination that caused him to cling to paintings of sunlight and water rather than painting car ads.

But to the extent we believe that form can transcend content-- that Seurat can turn people standing around a park into a magical, shimmering scene or Mort Drucker can turn a borscht belt parody of a third rate TV sit com into a lovely piece of pen and ink work-- Fawcett should be your friend in your argument. The mark-making you call "incidental" is the very thing that transforms a mundane assignment into an image that crackles.

Perhaps another comparison would be useful. An unhealthy amount of the pen and ink work of Franklin Booth or Frank Frazetta is a monotonous, repetitive line with little individual variety or creativity. If Franklin Booth had a rapidograph or a micron pen it would've transformed his life. Those two artists succeed in wooing us with their dramatic choices of subject matter, but if you compare their labored cross hatching or overworked shading lines with the variety and dynamism of Fawcett's lines (see the Dorne portrait I suggested above) Booth and Frazetta come off looking like they are on automatic pilot. For all of their adventuresome subjects, Fawcett was the true adventurer of the pen and brush.

Matthew Adams-- I certainly agree with your point about advertising art at the time. Leonard Starr, who was no slouch, told me of the time he visited Fawcett in his studio and watched as Fawcett drew a bottle of beer with condensation. Starr said that experience convinced him he'd never make it as an illustrator and that he should become a cartoonist instead.

kev ferrara said...

It must be Sargent's weak imagination that caused him to eschew society portraits and Sorolla's weak imagination that caused him to cling to paintings of sunlight and water rather than painting car ads.

Curious argument.

The Formal Portrait is not a "subject." Each sitter is a unique subject. And each sitter is interpreted through a unique expressive conception; which is the true subject of the portrait when done well.

Sargent never stopped painting portraits, never stopped painting people from life. Obviously there's a kind of formulaic demand on society painters which can be stifling. Yet, again, each personage is still unique; a unique challenge each time out to find the essential nature and bring it out and make it a compositional idea. The imaginative greatness of Sargent was that he was able to, time and again, create brilliant and inventive formal portraits, full of suggestive life, within the narrow confines of the business.

Regarding Sorolla... you seem to have transposed the argument through a tilted lens. You've commingled the idea of preference for a certain subject type or genre (even painting milieu) with the idea of the inherent "weakness" of a particular subject. Not the same thing at all. Frankly, I would pay a lot of money to see a Sorolla car ad. My guess is, it would knock our socks off.

The mark-making you call "incidental" is the very thing that transforms a mundane assignment into an image that crackles.

It is the imaginative idea that transforms a seemingly "mundane" assignment into "an image that crackles." Not the method of rendering. Otherwise a weak typographic treatment would suddenly become wonderful if made into a glowing neon sign.

An unhealthy amount of the pen and ink work of Franklin Booth or Frank Frazetta is a monotonous, repetitive line with little individual variety or creativity.

That's obviously not true. It's just subtle and meaningful. However if you want to believe in the modernist value of superficial sensations to attract attention, I can't stop you.

Anyway, putting down this Franklin Booth for its technique is such a bizarre self-own that I'll leave the argument here.

chris bennett said...

David,

I think the main reason the idea of ‘conceptual art’ is so slippery a fish to catch is because the term is something of an oxymoron, which also clues us in to why it is, in essence, aesthetically sterile. Art is a language-product of the human mind that in order to touch the senses and communicate its meaning requires comprehensive use of implication to do so. Art is implicit in its nature, and this is true of the relations between its smallest building blocks (the marks themselves) right up to the orchestration of the whole. The moment any element becomes explicit (conceptualized) it appeals to the intellect alone and thus the arousal of our intuiting senses stops, and with it the ability to communicate art. 'Concept art', because of its explicit nature, will only communicate ideas born out of cliché and trope disruption. In other words agitprop in a ball gown.

Wes said...

Fascinating discussion.

Is there a good standard resource that discusses the various significations or meanings of lines in art? (I mean, apart from this great blog.) This area is unknown to the amateur artist until some art teacher or expert points out that a particular line in a work is cartoony or otherwise too boundary marking, etc. The amateur often doesn't see the significance of lines -- stylistically, etc. And how does the objective nature of the line affect our subjective response?

Here, we have Fawcett definitely doing some interesting work with line, and it does seem to enhance the overall look and idea of the work, but how? Am I responding to the squiggles and looseness as an intent of the line, or as an effect of the line -- in me? If it was not all loose and squiggles, what would the picture convey differently? How would it increase or decrease its ability to convey whatever it is trying to convey?

It seems the subject/viewer is more important here than the object, as for example, the Booth picture , while impressive, does seem overwrought with (albeit beautiful) line, and is a bit anxiety producing in me (which is ironic in a scene intending as reposeful). And while I generally dislike the cartoony style of the old Nancy comic, with heavy line, I like the old Sad Sack drawings and love Seth's graphics, the latter with a very heavy line. What determines the effect and whether one likes it or not?

I read somewhere that initially, Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel figures were considered a hoot, because they were too cartoony (with outlines). Is that true? Was there a concept of "cartoony" during his time?

Is the Fawcett just using a sketching effect or is something more going on with line here? The Mandarin word “chih” means “fine and delicate lines” with the added meaning of “the quality of being interesting to look at”. Fawcett would seem to at least meet this second criteria (which might be a low standard). Is he to be admired for chih, or condemned for agitation?

kev ferrara said...

Wes,

There's a slight disambiguation problem here because 'line' is very akin to edge. Except in the decorative aspect of line, its use in rendering tone and texture, or the drawing of individual strands, lines are abstractions of edges. Or sometimes symbols of edges.

Edge quality and it's linear analog 'sensitivity of line' were huge concerns in Art teaching for who knows how long. The tandem were certainly hot topics leading out of the 19th century into the Golden Age of Illustration.

Andrew Loomis in Creative Illustration gave seven primary functions of line
1. To convey its own intrinsic beauty.
2. To divide or limit an area or space.
3. To delineate a thought or symbol.
4. To define form by edge or contour.
5. To catch and direct the eye over a given course.
6. To produce a grey or tonal gradation.
7. To create design or arrangement.

To me, 2 and 4 are essentially the same. And 1 and 7 are essentially the same. And he's left out drawing texture and encoding/suggesting texture and sculptural volume in an outline, rendering strands, and pushing or drawing the eye (as opposed to catching or directing it) And I'm sure that's an incomplete list.

Most well known for teaching about the use of line to encode haptic information was Kimon Niccolaides. (The Natural Way to Draw)

Harvey Dunn's An Evening in the Classroom contains discussions about encoding edge information, which is an analog of what can be done with outline encoding.

The idea of encoding aesthetic-emotion on the surface of the picture, rather than sublimating it beneath realism, has its origins in Romanticism, Impressionism, Imagism, and Post-Impressionism. Many illustrators around the turn of the century created highly expressionistic works where the surfaces were full of vibration caused by 'broken' rendering, agitated and virtuosic brush or penwork, or other methods of creating an exciting and active surface: Albert B. Wenzell,, Howard Chandler Christy, Arthur I. Keller, Henry Reuterdahl, Joseph Clement Coll, George Harding,, John LaGatta.

Surface expression only came to be an end in itself with Expressionism, which is essentially the same thing as Cartooning, but more expensive to purchase.

It was only later in the illustration field, maybe starting in the 1940s, that illustrators would essentially copy or trace photographic reference using 'agitated' brush and penwork to simulate that the work was done, in some sense, all prima from direct observation of life.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "It is the imaginative idea that transforms a seemingly "mundane" assignment into "an image that crackles." Not the method of rendering."

Congratulations, you've joined the ranks of conceptual artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Tracey Emin and Richard Prince. They all agree, "it's my imaginative idea that's important, not my rendering." I'm sure they'll all be warmed by your support.

Kev Ferrara also wrote: "That's obviously not true. It's just subtle and meaningful."

Perhaps I'm not being clear. My point is that Frazetta, when he succumbs to this temptation, will use 30 virtually identical fine lines to show the curvature of a leg, or the shading of a face, rather than use a single line that is more descriptive because it varies in width and texture. I suspect Frazetta picked up this bad habit from his childhood admiration of Hal Foster, who never let a single well-considered line suffice where ten additional lines might fit. Frazetta will use 500 virtually identical fine lines to show hair or 1,000 virtually identical fine lines to show smoke from an explosion. I admire his ability to draw fine lines, but 95% of the labor in those lines required no imagination or judgment. There's no prioritization or judgment or economy. It's more a matter of "I can be thinking of baseball while I draw all these little lines, one right next to the other, and don't they look grand when I'm done? In my book, that's not "subtle" OR "meaningful."

The cumulative effect of Booth's excessive lines looked grand too, I'm not denying that. But most of his tiny parallel lines were as imaginative or perceptive as cross hatching (or in later years, zip a tone). It was a way of laying in tone rather than describing form. Like with Frazetta, they are a genuine technical feat but many of the great illustrators known for their draftsmanship (for example, Fawcett, Sickles, Briggs) would say that's not the best use of an artist's time.

chris bennett-- Yes, but on the other hand, haven't we seen conceptual elements that aren't "explicit," and that appeal not just to the intellect? I always use Saul Steinberg, the conceptual artist I probably admire the most, as my test when trying to draw such distinctions. Yes, the concept dominates and yes, he comes right out and uses words, or symbols with literal meanings. Yet, there is a whole lot of mystery in what he does, a whole lot that's left implicit, along with lovely watercolor puddles and designs that "touch the senses." Where does Steinberg's kind of conceptual art fit into your view?

David Apatoff said...

Wes-- You've opened one of my favorite topics, the quality of line, but I'm not sure how to engage with this sophisticated audience in the comment section of this blog. It would take lots of examples for people to argue over. Maybe that should be my next post.

Perhaps the best way to start to respond is by suggesting that the difference in line affects the character of the drawing and the impression of the viewer. Hal Foster, especially in his later decades, would reliably map every feature with the same line. He would outline those lips, top and bottom, rather than simply drawing a line for the shadow under the lower lip. He would draw each of those eyelashes. He would draw the links in that chain mail. I'm not saying those lines were wrong, but they gave his drawing a leaden feel, as contrasted with an artist who was sensitive to the range of possible solutions, and who might skip the lightest lines altogether at the top of the scale, and come in with guts, confidence and a thick rough brush at the low end of the scale. Artists who can frolic and look spontaneous with a light line (as Frazetta did in his quick sketches) create a feeling of playfulness that permeates the image for the viewer. Perhaps I can offer some examples of the range of effects in my next post.

kev ferrara said...

Congratulations, you've joined the ranks of conceptual artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Tracey Emin and Richard Prince. They all agree, "it's my imaginative idea that's important, not my rendering." I'm sure they'll all be warmed by your support.

Please recall the meaning of the word Image when you use "Imagination" and "Imaginative".

This is in contradistinction to the way Postmodernism might use the word. Postmodernist 'teaching' of course screws up the meanings of words as it tries to justify its nonsense through bafflegab.

kev ferrara said...

Frazetta will use 500 virtually identical fine lines to show hair or 1,000 virtually identical fine lines to show smoke from an explosion.

Frazetta did those when he was like 22 years old, when he was just learning.

Given that fact, do you believe that basing your argument on those particular works is in good faith?

kev ferrara said...

The cumulative effect of Booth's excessive lines looked grand too, I'm not denying that. But most of his tiny parallel lines were as imaginative or perceptive as cross hatching (or in later years, zip a tone). It was a way of laying in tone rather than describing form.

Firstly, that's incorrect. And reductionist. What he's doing is aesthetically very complex. He's creating not only air and action effects, but also some ultra rare synaesthetic effects as well. He wasn't just pretending to be an engraver as when he began. Respectfully, I think you need more study, and possibly more instruction, on the matter.

Secondly, in painting, special forms are subservient to local forms, and local forms are subservient to general forms and the space between forms. All of which are subservient to the total picture and its effect(s). Booth is indeed a "Painter with a Pen."

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "Frazetta did those when he was like 22 years old, when he was just learning. Given that fact, do you believe that basing your argument on those particular works is in good faith?"

Yes I do. First, because that period in Frazetta's career is frequently touted by Frazetta fans as proof of his "genius." Second because I already linked and referred to later drawings, such as the overworked picture of Tarzan carrying the woman off into the trees. Third because the period of Ghost Rider and Buster Crabbe is only 3 years away from Frazetta's Weird Science Fantasy #29 cover (which is what I had in mind when I said Frazetta would use 30 lines to show the curvature of a leg). Fourth, because Frazetta's bad habit continued for another dozen years, into his Canaveral plates and well into his prime. I don't know if the names of these drawings mean anything, but if you can find the Canaveral drawing that fans have labeled "Lord of the Savage Jungle," it's a prime example of the weakness I'm trying to describe. The Canaveral plate with the big alligator is another. (This exercise of trying to describe examples just convinces me I was correct in my response to Wes; I really need to put up some examples for people to react to, rather than attempting to do this with words.)

I should repeat, as I've said many times, that I think Frazetta was brilliant, and I love a lot of his work. It may sound like I'm being negative when I'm contrasted with the people who worship him as a god, but I'm merely trying to bring the same discriminating eye to Frazetta that I try to apply to everyone else.

kev ferrara said...

Frazetta's Weird Science Fantasy #29 cover (which is what I had in mind when I said Frazetta would use 30 lines to show the curvature of a leg)

I would explain the aesthetics of what Frazetta's doing with his linework in WSF #29, by way of demonstrating (at least to everybody else, if not you) why it is perfectly legitimate as technique. (Although, who would need such an argument when simply looking and feeling will suffice.) But I think such arguments are beside the point.

The truth is at a least part of the issue here is you have an idée fixe about just how many lines are allowed for ink rendering, or what kind of lines are proper - regardless of the aesthetic purpose of those lines - and you're going to assert that taste as some kind of Iron Law every time the subject comes up.

Not quite sure where this dogma comes from. Maybe at some point somebody told you 'less is more' and that too-reductive statement turned into your visual religion. Maybe you grew up looking at certain illustrations and now they have nostalgic appeal to you, or they've embedded themselves in your taste/sensibilities down to the brainstem. Such that even meaningless edginess in rendering is fine and "legitimate" so long as it conforms to the minimalist prescription, era, or the style you like.

It may sound like I'm being negative when I'm contrasted with the people who worship him as a god, but I'm merely trying to bring the same discriminating eye to Frazetta that I try to apply to everyone else.

I'm fascinated that his name came up here at all. Completely out of the blue, as far as I can tell. Which, I think, only goes to show that re: your antipathy toward Frazetta and his fans - there's something much deeper at play than mere taste. Otherwise the resentment wouldn't keep welling up within you and expressing itself almost at random.

That will be $220 for the session. Same time next week?

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I'm very concerned that my dependence on your psychiatric services is going to place my name on a "red flag law" list in gun control states. Is it OK if I pay with Venmo like Matt Gaetz and label it "tuition"?

I think the reason Frazetta comes up a lot in my exchanges with you is that I want to use benchmarks that I know you'll recognize and respect. So for example, if you say that Fawcett's line is "superficially agitated" and I want to discuss the worth of an active line, one with varying widths and textures, I could just as easily refer you to Virgil Finlay or Norman Lindsay or Bernie Wrightson, but why not go directly to an artist whose line work you already know so well? As predicted, you recognized all my references right away.

It's clear Frazetta knew the value of a lively line but in his weaker, lazier (and as you add, "younger") moments he spent a lot of time showing off his evenly spaced uniform lines. My point was solely to contrast that kind of line with Fawcett's "agitated" lines.

What childhood trauma led me to prefer a lively line to a dull, repetitive line? Hard to say. Yes, I admit I believe that simplicity and economy are generally virtues in art, but not always. Yes, I suspect that some artists believe they are safer drawing lots of little lines than one big one. (Murray Tinkelman, for example). They think they can escape accountability by blurring their artistic choices with three or four or ten lines where one would suffice. Yes, I suspect that some artists (ahem) like to show off their hand/eye coordination; I agree that the control necessary to make such lines is something to brag about, but I don't think it's the highest pursuit of an artist. Finally,any artist who requires 172 lines to capture the folds created in a blouse stretched across a 1950s bullet bra has something on his mind besides art.

Perhaps the least subjective explanation for my personal taste comes down to basic math, what economists call diminishing marginal utility: with each additional fine line that replicates the previous fine line, the artist requires a little less thought or judgment (and adds less value to the picture).

Anyway, this is clearly no way to discuss the quality of lines, unless of course they are lines of prose. Let me put up some pictures of lines for you to insult in my next post.



Jean said...

Off topic, but what the hell happened to the colors in the artwork reproduced in this article ? --

https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2021/03/our-favorite-covers/

Someone seems to have gone a little crazy with the Hue/Saturation in Photoshop. Ugh.

kev ferrara said...

I think the reason Frazetta comes up a lot in my exchanges with you is that I want to use benchmarks that I know you'll recognize and respect.

I think you know that I recognize and respect thousands of different pen and ink artists.

Normally my diagnosis of Fawcett's "active lines" here as superficial and often meaningless in their randomness would be met with arguments against those "accusations" on the merits (or lack thereof.)

One would expect responses like: "No, the 'random' agitations are actually meaningful because of X and not at all random because of Y" Or "I don't care if the line quality is random or its application superficial, I like the energetic effect it causes. And that is enough." To that latter tack you could have added a riff on Wes' point, "Imagine how boring the picture would be if the rendering was done straight?!"

(But, of course, that bit of honesty would quickly second my diagnosis.)

Anyway, point being, you elected to deflect; to attack rather than defend. And the target just happened to be the usual. Which, call me crazy, looks to me like you took my diagnosis of Fawcett's lines as 'insults against your guy' which required a response in kind against 'my guy'. What is this, a Brooklyn playground in 1954?

They think they can ESCAPE ACCOUNTABILITY by blurring their artistic choices with three or four or ten lines where one would suffice.

Respectfully, this is not a great analysis of what Frazetta is doing. Or most other great ink artists who use feathered strokes. Some artists care about textural differences and turning form in particular ways. As well, some appreciate that there's a world of compositional and expressive effects out there to be pursued outside of conventional rendering, outlining per se, or randomly 'energizing lines'. So this is not really a case where diminishing marginal utility applies.

It is true that a great technician will now and again flex muscles for the sheer pleasure of it. I rarely find these objectionable, unless its the only thing on the plate.

Let me put up some pictures of lines for you to insult in my next post.

As always, I look forward to all your posts, and not just for the art.

(Regarding politics, let's not - this day - once more open up the Gaetz of Hell.)

Wes said...

Well, I certainly have learned alot about "lines".

Thanks for the insights.

al mcluckie said...

Frazetta commented on his Famous Funnies/Buck Rogers cover , " I could criticize some of it for being overdone , what the hell . I was just a kid " . David and Kev , have you ever held the original in your hands ? I've never seen a repro that did it justice . I'm not sure if he reassessed it and used some whiteout to eliminate some of the cracks in the rocks , before turning it in , if it would have been an improvement . And I can't imagine another illustrator - Fawcett Fuchs you name them , that if they saw it , would want to try to top it with a version of their own . With whatever his faults were , he was unique .

chris bennett said...

David wrote:

Yes, but on the other hand, haven't we seen conceptual elements that aren't "explicit," and that appeal not just to the intellect? I always use Saul Steinberg, the conceptual artist I probably admire the most, as my test when trying to draw such distinctions. Yes, the concept dominates and yes, he comes right out and uses words, or symbols with literal meanings. Yet, there is a whole lot of mystery in what he does, a whole lot that's left implicit, along with lovely watercolor puddles and designs that "touch the senses." Where does Steinberg's kind of conceptual art fit into your view?

Anything and everything can be implicit of many things. To those not shackled by pathological literal mindedness a fingernail clipping on the floor can imply many stories as to how it might have got there. Even a mote of dust floating in the air, if we wish, can set us off on a whole journey of speculation.

But I am making a distinction between implications authored into a work as a means to communicate directed aesthetic meaning relevant to the subject as opposed to an object placed on display in a fine art context whose purpose, and thereby justification, is to encourage as much generalized wool-gathering in the audience as possible.

Thus I can stand in front of a diamond-encrusted skull and spin endless silk out of my arse about beauty being only skin deep, diamonds are forever, the richest corpse in the cemetery, the simulacra of make-up, you can't take it with you, beauty is only skin deep, diamonds were this girl's best friend, all that glisters in not old, the emperor's clothes, attractiveness as armour... These implications drifting through my mind are dependent on my imagination and temperamental associations and not constructively directed by the work itself. The implications generated must be towards meaningful purpose for the work to be eligible as a art.

If I have missed your point, do you have a Saul Steinberg drawing in mind?

chris bennett said...

PS:
This is why I said "art is implicit in its nature". To be a little more comprehensive; the language that constitutes art is implicit in its nature.
The things of the world are explicit in nature, their implicitness depends on us, but in the case of a work of art it is the author.

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

David wrote
"Even a row of rubber stamps becomes a small act of anarchy."

I like that statement because after Fawcett did the heavy lifting of creating the space for the scene, keeping all the parts in proportion and in proper perspective, why not relax and have a little fun with your mark making. It really shows one that the larger issues of drawing are much more demanding then the details and how dependent the details are upon the larger forms that precede them.

The only thing about zooming in on the handling of the ink is it makes the drawing look much more like a doodle then it does in the larger context of the the picture itself where the marks general hold to the surface planes of the forms.

As far as Franklin Booth and Hal Foster, don't you think their pictures where meant to be scrutinized by readers who hadn't experience the visual overload of the modern world. I can certainly see someone examining their pictures in all their detail on a lazy summer afternoon. Their pictures seem to invite the viewer to come up close and really examine them, to spend some time with them looking into all the nooks and grannies so to speak. In comparison the Fawcett picture feels a tad more rush, a little more in a hurry. He seems to know his viewer is not going to give his illustration the same kind of attention.

Chris thanks for the Ian McGilchrist links. I haven't order the book but I've really enjoyed listening to him on youtube.

Unknown said...

Edmund Sullivan's book "Line", written 100 years a go, is still good.

"Pen Drawing Techniques" by Henry Pitz has intelligent discussion of line quality and many examples by a good range of artists.

Other good books for examples are "Line Drawing for Reproduction" by Ashley Havinden and Joseph Pennell's big book "Pen Drawing" (there's an excellent Dover Books reprint of a late edition of this).

Every illustrator handles the relation between realism, handwriting and ornament in his or her own way.

Don Cox

Wes said...

Thanks, Don! Much apprecicated.

chris bennett said...

Tom,

I'm so glad you enjoyed listening to Iain McGilchrist. There is new book of his soon to be published called 'The Matter with Matter' and no doubt there will be lots of podcast interviews with him when that happens.

Tom said...

As far as the power of line, I would read Euclid!:) Western art relates the position, and direction of line to parallel lines, which is to say to the orientation of a flat plane.;)

Tom said...

Now that sounds good Chris!

kev ferrara said...

As far as the power of line, I would read Euclid!:) Western art relates the position, and direction of line to parallel lines, which is to say to the orientation of a flat plane.;)

:)

I don't take cues from queues; I'm drawn to some lines but quite sniffy about others. I prefer crowquil's to crow's feet, ocean liners to lining pockets, and pick-up lines to put-downs, but I'm telling you straight; non-euclidian lines are without parallel!

Sean Farrell said...

David,
I would like to offer a different opinion on this Robert Fawcett drawing which has some very sophisticated stuff going on in it. The wavy lines in the hair are echoed in the hanging papers on our left and immediately behind the head on the right. Each unites the hard perspective graphically to the surface while accentuating the depth and positioning of each in space.

The crooked edges above the closet door are doing the same with the marks in the shadows behind the sleeve and the edges (left of the resting elbow) in the foreground where a curve then meets a vertical edge of the countertop that moves up to the figure behind the bars and the hand coming through the bars. To the right of the curve and the vertical is a receding space with a broken edge of shadow and distinctions between the three adds space.

The pattern of the shirt is echoed in the safety deposit boxes on the far wall outside the window but also in the bars themselves intersecting with lines on the far wall uniting three different planes in space through similar patterns. The two men, one ominous and in shadow is reciprocated as if in a mirror by the straight guy on our side of the window who looks slightly apprehensive.

Something is going on with the space that's also interesting. We are driving into space from left to right along perspective lines, but we’re also being driven in the opposite direction directly into space from the foreground man through the window of bars to and behind the man in shadow. The string of hanging rubber stamps with their variations are helping obscure the man in shadow along with the hanging paper. Placing a finger over the hanging rubber stamps renders the looming man in shadow too imposing.

The oversized head of the man behind the window and the awkwardly large upper arm of the foreground man suggests this is not a tracing. Tensegrity is evident in the forces (graphically and spacially) as it was in the Fawcett with the discerning art director a few years back.
Sean

Tom said...

Well said Sean. That what I was driving at, setting up the whole scene is what takes the real effort.

I found the arm of the foreground man awkward too. It bothered me immediately. I could not decide if it was the value contrast between the guy's right forearm or how it lacks the sense of volume that exists in the rest of the picture. It just feels out of sorts. Maybe if Fawcett had exposed the arm's forearm, it might give the whole arm more visual depth while creating an easier transition to the forearm and the hand holding the envelope. But maybe he did it deliberately to direct the eye to the exchange of the envelope, as it is very jarring and eye catching.

Kev wrote "...non-euclidian lines are without parallel!"

That's what I've heard, not that I know anything about non-Euclidean space/geometry. But I wasn't saying lines are parallel, I was saying to draw a specific line in space it is easier to draw when the line is related to a flat plane, oriented horizontally, vertically or to a profile plane. You may have to use all three when drawing the branch of a tree or the direction of it's cast shadow.:) Or really any line you draw. Your Andrew Loomis example of the functions of line was nice but before a line can "function," in Loomis terms one must determine the line's position and direction in the picture's space. The more you know where your line is and where it is going the more you will understand what it wants to describe or express.

Sean Farrell said...

Tom,
I agree with the specific things you said about setting up a picture.

Regarding the picture plane, every object has a plum line and is defined by perspective which uses a horizon line, so everything has a vertical and corresponding horizontal. In that sense they’re unavoidable. Some artists use them consciously and others sense them but they’re present even if an artist isn’t overly concerned with them.

I was always humbled by a guy I worked with who found so many uses for verticals and horizontals in buildings, trees, figures but also as devices of force.

Don’t know what to make of the liberty with the arm but it isn’t landing in its socket. Fawcett’s use of pattern, edges and differences to create and unify space are things that can be learned from painters or teachers, but certain things I’m sure he learned as they emerged through his own drawing. Mainly I felt the drawing was worth a closer look and I’m glad you did too.
Sean

kev ferrara said...

The more you know where your line is and where it is going the more you will understand what it wants to describe or express.

All true.

But I wasn't saying lines are parallel...

Sorry, that whole post of mine was puns on the various meanings of the word "line." I didn't mean any of it literally. I thought you were joking by referencing Euclid.

kev ferrara said...

I would like to offer a different opinion on this Robert Fawcett drawing

Those are good observations Sean.

I didn't mean to assert that this particular piece was traced, btw. When I talked of tracing, I meant that many working in the scratchy realist line style of the period (and after) were, in fact, simply tracing and then using agitated lines to energize the drawing. I worked in an ad studio that had accumulated years and years of clip art done in that exact style.

Anyway, it looks more to me like Fawcett relied on a particular piece of reference for the picture. Mainly because in comparing it to the Fawcetts I've saved on my hard drive, it is a very unsophisticated work both narratively and spatially and even in drawing. That it was only a vignette/spot illo only adds to the belief that it was not imagined and executed in the same way as his best work. Even with the relationships you pointed out, there really isn't all the much going on.

In terms of drawing, there is nowhere near this much sloppiness of line in his best work. That the shoulder 'looks weird' and, for example, the glasses of the enshadowed character are all cockeyed... yet the picture is obviously full of accuracy at the figural level... that's also the kind of thing you'd get from rushed purposely-'agitated' work that is highly reliant on reference. When working from a photo, the general or contextual accuracy will concretize the vagueness and supercede minor drawing errors. So the minor drawing bits are sacrificed to the agitated tone, and it doesn't really hurt the picture because the context is pre-ordained and accurate.

Contrast that with Henry Pitz, mentioned earlier, who often used the sloppy scratchy/edgy linear style without using reference, and the results were his most dire efforts.



David Apatoff said...

Don Cox-- Thanks for the recommendations, any book simply titled "Line" sounds like my kind of book, and I've ordered it. I have Sullivan's book on The Art of Illustration and enjoyed it.

Sean Farrell, Tom and Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for an interesting discussion. Sean, I appreciate your careful eye on this, which pointed out some things I hadn't noted. Whether an illustration uses photo reference or not is of secondary interest to me, but my surmise is that Fawcett used photo reference for the counter with the bars and clutter, and perhaps the man behind the bars, but superimposed / improvised much of the man in front. His left upper arm is too long, his head is too small, and his right arm comes into view at an impossible angle. If a photograph contributes one thing, it's usually getting proportions like that correct. Fawcett drew from the model once a week until the end of his life, and I wouldn't be surprised if he'd said, "I know what an upper arm looks like" and winged it.

I agree with Kev that this is far from Fawcett's most careful or ambitious illustration, but I'd also distinguish between being sloppy about the dimensions of some of the limbs and caring about the overall image (and the range of "agitated" marks he was making). This was drawn in an era when plenty of illustrators were already taking liberties with the relative proportions of limbs, and Fawcett's interest late in his career was never winning the trophy for Most Meticulous Anatomy. One of the things that endears Fawcett to me is that even when he is drawing a commercial spot of a paunchy little nobody sitting at a desk he still goes to town with inventive marks.

Nathan Burney said...

Thanks to everyone for such an informative discussion, I've learned a lot!

Robert Cook said...

"Frazetta commented on his Famous Funnies/Buck Rogers cover, ' I could criticize some of it for being overdone , what the hell. I was just a kid.' David and Kev , have you ever held the original in your hands? I've never seen a repro that did it justice."

I haven't held it in my hands, but I did see it framed and displayed on the on the wall at the Society of Illustrators in NYC a couple of years ago. It is, indeed, quite lovely. However, Frazetta did get better later. Contra David, though, I think Frazetta's pen and brush drawings of Tarzan for Canaveral Press are among his most powerful drawings, and I think, on balance, his drawings are better than his paintings. He sometimes used bravura (i.e. flashy) brushwork to obscure careless drawing or minimally rendered areas in his paintings. He couldn't get away with this in his drawings.