I’ve sort of rediscovered the guitar. I say sort of because I never really stopped playing. It’s just that sometime after 1979 it stopped being the center of my life and sometime after 1990 it stopped being a daily activity. But it’s coming back, and one of the reasons is my self education of the blues. I did this little sketch this evening of Leadbelly – real name Huddie Ledbetter – who lived an amazing, if not checkered, life and left behind a treasure of early 20th century blues and folk music. I’ve read somewhere that he supposedly had a repertoire of about 800 songs, many of which he composed himself. The sketch above is from a pretty good photo I found on-line. Wikipedia has a fairly good biography, and the Lomax family’s web site has a fascinating timeline of the careers of Leadbelly and John Lomax, the man who discovered him in a Louisiana penitentiary in the 1930s, and first started to record Leadbelly’s music.
This weekend I’ll be helping to make Halloween costumes for the kids. My preferred medium, for the last six years or so, has been cutting, glueing and painting upholstery foam. You can make just about anything with it. The kids love to design everything – from their costumes to the pumpkins we carve. Halloween’s a great opportunity for rampant free expression and culturally condoned eccentricity.
I’ve always courted obsession. The trick, I think, is finding a way to make your obsessions pay the mortgage, hopefully. Anyway, the older gentleman in center frame was wearing a charcoal-gray suit and bright red socks. It’s impossible not to love that. I found my blue ball point and the back of the church bulletin. Sitting on the other side of my wife was my son, also drawing. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Obsession passed on to another generation.
When I posted my links below to the artists’ bios it made me think once again about Maxfield Parrish. I hadn’t thought about him in years. His paintings always struck me as otherworldly in their beauty and strangely self-contradictory: His draftsmanship is razor-sharp, photo-real – yet the color and atmosphere is ethereally luminous, like nothing you’d ever actually see in this world; his subject matter seems at first to be remarkably monotonous – landscapes, girls on rocks, more rocks, more girls – and yet each picture is fresh, powerful, occasionally shockingly composed and inviting the viewer to walk into it and look around; the figures are classically chaste and tasteful – and yet there’s an undeniable erotic element bubbling just under the surface. The final contradiction is the fact that these opposing ideas don’t clash with each other, but blend in a harmonious symphony on canvass.
His life was equally interesting. He painted what he wanted to paint, and yet was one of the most successful artists in history. He lived to be 96 years old. His last painting, ominously titled Getting Away From It All, was completed when he was 91. I don’t know about you but I’d like to be doing work of that quality when I’m 91. Another contradiction is that he stayed married to his wife for nearly sixty years – yet for most of that time he seems to have spent with his favorite model, Sue Lewin, in his studio – a separate building on the same property. Whether it was innocent or not, it’s still part of that contradictory phenomena surrounding Mr. Parrish. I only recently learned this last bit of irony while flipping through a book, The Make Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin, recently at a bookstore. The Author, Alma Gilbert, has written some great essays you can read here that give a fascinating insight into the life of a successful and brilliant American artist.
I also noticed that I just missed an exhibition of his original oil paintings here in Southern California. That same exhibition has moved to the Telfair Museum of Savannah Georgia until November 27, 2005. So if you’re anywhere near there you can do what I didn’t – go check it out.
Some original antique posters and biographical information at The Parrish House.
Some more reasonably priced posters, and a chance to look at more of his work for free on-line at AllPosters.com.
I was doing a quick Google search of things related to Andrew Loomis a little earlier today when I came upon this site – loaded with biographies of some of the world’s greatest illustrators of the last 125 years:
Some of my personal favorites: Winsor McCay, Heinrich Kley, Harvey Dunn, Franklin Booth, Wally Wood, Joseph Leyendecker, Willy Pogany – both pages, Frank Schoonover, Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, and many many more. These were the guys that knocked the wind out of me as a teen-ager, looking at their work in books at the Richardson Public Library back in Texas. These guys (with the exception of Wally Wood in my list) were superstars of the early days of the last century, back when people read monthly fiction magazines; back when advertising was illustrated not just photographed.
The site is part of Bud Plant’s on-line store. Bud Plant’s booth at the San Diego Comic Con is one of the reasons I go every year. They have a terrific selection of hard-to-find and plain-old-interesting stuff there.
I had my teeth cleaned this morning – so, sitting in the dentist chair, while waiting for new X-rays to be developed I had this nice view of the parking lot below.
Last weekend we put up all the Halloween decorations. The kids love this stuff, very fun. Yesterday we saw The Corpse Bride and The Were-Rabbit all in the same day at the same theater – two stop-motion feature-length movies. I don’t know if that’s a first in motion picture history. And then coming to work this morning it was terrible to learn about the fire at Aardman, where the Were-Rabbit movie was made.
Somewhere in Culver City, California…
I found this little collection of great quotes about drawing and sketching. A couple of my favorites:
“Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is, it will be well worthwhile, and it will do you a world of good.” ~ Cennini.
“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.’ ” ~ Hokusai, The Drawings of Hokosai.
I love Hokusai.
Sunday afternoon sitting on our porch. After I started this I suddenly realized it has a lot in common with my Purple Gate watercolor, even though several years and miles separate them.