Category Archives: *Art Reviews

Rockwell (1894 – 1978) and Guo Pei (1967 – )

It’s been a while since I visited any museums and this summer while traveling from Boston to Ithaca, I accidentally found out that the Norman Rockwell Museum was on the way. What a delightful discovery! It was a tiny unassuming white building resting on a scenic site overlooking the Housatonic River Valley. The main exhibition features some of the most famous illustrations and paintings by the renowned artist. All the covers he made for the Saturday Evening Post – from 1916 to 1963, 323 in total – are on display at a lower level. His last studio in Stockbridge was also moved to the museum site in the 80s and guided tours are offered.

The museum also hosts other illustration related exhibitions, and virtual exhibitions on their website.

In a more recent and much shorter trip, I got to see Guo Pei’s Couture Fantasy at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. Guo Pei is a Chinese fashion designer who is very popular among Chinese and Western celebrities. She’s one who designed the spectacular 2015 Rihanna’s Met Gala gown. Many of Guo’s designs feature intricate embroidery and lavish materials. They are quite labor intensive, and some took thousands of hours to make.

Instead of putting all the items in one dedicated area, the museum chose to set some of her works up among their permanent collections, creating some interesting juxtaposition.

From cozy comic daily life to extravagant haute couture, each of these shows is a change of scene from my currently skill focused art practice. They make me think about what art is and what art serves. But most importantly, museums are fun and I am back!

Oil and Watercolor

The way I learned to paint in oil, is to start with an underpainting. It could be a monochromatic value sketch, or a diluted full color draft. Either way, the underpainting would be covered by thicker paints as I progress and hopefully the process took the work to a better place. Once in a while, I just fell in love with the underpainting, and the continuation of the work was saturated with doubts.

This river landscape (a Watts homework) was an example. The one on the left was the underpainting and the one on the right, the final work. I hesitated quite a while after the first draft about whether I should proceed at all. There was a liveliness and richness of color that I loved and didn’t know how to preserve when I added more paint to it. Also got lost was a sense of flatness, something more graphic and watercolor-y. This is not to say the underpainting was a better painting, but it makes me wonder the different directions I could have taken in finishing up this work (if it is not a homework in realistic landscape). Even some of the pencil marks begged to stay!

Moreover, can I achieve a watercolor effect with oil paints? Well, somebody can.

Those men were children once. Julian Meagher, 100 cm x 100 cm. Oil on linen, 2015

That’s Australian artist Julian Meagher, who painted in oil but managed to achieve the transparency and the lucid aesthetics of watercolor. Apart from his website, Amber Creswell Bell’s collection Still Life: Contemporary Painters has a good section on Mr. Meagher’s work. He painted with extremely diluted oil paint, and did not hesitate to use the white of linen canvas instead of white paint. The result is a good combination of precision and fluency.

His works remind me of Giorgio Morandi (1890 – 1964), one of my favorite still life artists (as I mentioned many times before). The technical approach couldn’t be more different. Morandi is opaque and static, while Mr. Meagher is more colorful and vibrant, cleaner and much more scaled up. However, the solitude, the quietness and the thoughtfulness are there.

The more I see good art, the more I am wowed by the range and the potential of the each medium. We are only limited by our skills! (Is this a good thing or a bad thing? :))) )

James Tissot: Fashion & Faith

James Tissot (1836 – 1902) French painter, currently on view at Legion of Honor.

Elaborate details, descriptive brushwork, but not particularly exciting and innovative artistic style.

My favorite painting from the show:

Mrs. Newton with a Parasol – James Tissot, c.1879

The influence of Japanese print is quite clear.

The show includes some of his watercolor illustrations for religious stories, very refreshing.

One side effect of learning life drawing is that whenever I see a realistic figure painting, I can’t help thinking if the proportion makes sense, or if the anatomy is right … Sometimes, it ruins the viewing experience. 😦