Friday, September 28, 2012

Samurai Reincarnation

We wrap up my ink-slinging samurais this week with a quick ode to Sonny Chiba from Kinji Fukasaku's Makai Tensho (1981).  Based on the novel Futaro Yamada, Makai Tensho retells a fantastical version of the story of Shiro Amakusa, wherein the Christian leader renounces God after the massacre following the Shimabara Rebellion and brings back to life a number famous swordsmen to exact his revenge. Romantic folk hero Jubei Yagyu enters the fray to defeat the resurrected samurai and stop the powerful wizard Amakusa.  Considering, how most samurai movies of the 60's and 70's are grounded in an all too gritty, blood-spraying reality, this one's a bit of a shock.  Fukasaku, however, is able to deliver a colorful and atmospheric fantasy tale with some great visuals aided by an iconic performance by Chiba as Jubei.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Blood Spray upon the Snow

The second Japanese print inspired piece comes from a promotional photo of 70's Japanese action staple Meiko Kaji as the vengeful Lady Snowblood (1973).  From a manga series created by Kazuo Koike (who also created Lone Wolf and Cub), Lady Snowblood is the tale of Yuki, a tortured soul born in a woman's prison, who seeks revenge on the underworld figures who raped her mother, and killed her mother's husband and son. Definitely one of the highlights of blood-soaked Japanese cinema of the 70's and an exciting tale of revenge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sword of Doom

As I mentioned, those watercolors on ink a few weeks past were in part inspired by Japanese prints.  So for this week of drawings, I figured I'd break out my ink brushes (some for sumi-e and some not) and do a little wrist action-inking.

The first subject is the glassy-eyed amoral swordsman Ryunosuke Tsukue, played masterfully by Tatsuya Nakadai, making his last stand (...or is it?) in Kihachi Okamoto's 1966 film, The Sword of Doom. Doom has long been one of my favorite samurai films, and trying to capture Nakadai's long distance stare is half the fun.  The movie also features one of the most enigmatic cliffhangers of all time.  Originally meant to be a trilogy adapting one of the Japan's longest novels, only the first film was completed and the film ends mid-swordfight.

While I'm happy with the figures, I got a little too fast and loose with the background and architecture.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Nightmare

This week's final childhood favorite is perhaps the clearest in my memory: Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare (1781).  I first saw it on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts in elementary school.  I recall that we started off with a guided tour of the huge auto industry murals in the foyer by Diego Rivera, before being released into the rest of the museum in a long chain reminiscent of the art museum scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).  I wasn't able to linger in front of it as long as I would have liked that day, but when I returned to the Motor City in high school, I spent quite a fair bit of time staring it down in my frequent trips to the Institute. A large work, it retains much of its power to intimidate and still writhes with a seductive sexual energy.

Henry Fuseli (née Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1741-1825) was a Swiss born artist who did the majority of his professional work in England.  Fuseli's father was a painter who chose his older brother to follow the trade, while Henry was expected to join the clergy (He was ordained in 1761). Largely self-taught, Fuseli fled Switzerland after a political dispute for England where he met the British artist Sir Joshua Reynolds who encouraged him to develop his craft. The greater part of Fuseli's works were often dark visions inspired by literary passages, particularly from Shakespeare.  The Nightmare, one of his few works without literary precedent, startled and frightened viewers on it's initial debut, but has become a popularly reproduced composition for artistic and satirical works, was often used as an illustration in early psychoanalytical discourse, and was considered one of the precursors to the Symbolist movement.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hylas and the Nymphs

Admittedly, I have a hard time placing when I first saw the painting by renowned painter John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). It's one of those art history ironies that Waterhouse is probably one of the most reproduced of the Pre-Raphealites in calendars and book covers, though his work came several decades after the Pre-Rahealite movement had gone out of style.  In any event, if I was to guess, it was in a childhood book on myths and legends that I first came across this lovely work...and to be honest it was a toss up between sketching this one and Waterhouse's Lady of Shallott.

The painting depicts the seduction of Hylas by the nymphs of the spring of Pegae.  Hylas had been chosen by Heracles to join Jason aboard the Argos in pursuit of the Golden Fleece.  When Hylas vanished without a trace, Heracles and the cyclops Polyphemus searched the island for him in vain for days leaving the remaining Argonauts to set sail without them. The abduction of Hylas has been a popular motif in art since classical times.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pollice Verso

I was bit by the nostalgia bug this week and thought I'd revisit some of my earliest inspirations for wanting to draw an paint.

I can't recall whether it was a 4th or 5th grade social studies textbook where I first came across Jean-Léon Gérôme's depiction of gladiatorial combat, Pollice Verso, and I've never forgotten it. Gérôme (1824-1904) was a popular painter of many years whose illustrative style remained similar over his lifetime while his subjects went from the historical to the orientalist.  Pollice Verso, which means "with a turned thumb," is among his best known work and was a consistent influence on the cinema from the silents through the "sword and sandal" epics of the 1960's.  The only problem is that, historically,  no one is for certain which direction the thumb was going to signify death for the fallen: thumb up, down, horizontal, or hidden within the hand.

It's only been a couple of decades later that I finally got to see the painting in person at the first Gérôme retrospective in 40 years which showed at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.  While I appreciate many art historians' dismissal of Gérôme, when standing in front of this work, it's hard not to get swept up in the imagery to the point fo practically feeling the heat, and hearing the roar of the crowd.  There are layers of intricate detail worked into the reflections in the gladiator's helmet and gauntlet that I'd never seen in any reproduction.  So while he may not sit comfortably with everyone among the great Masters, it would be difficult to deny his ability to stir the imagination.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Take It Easy, Fast Life Woman, Cause You Ain't Gon Live Always..."

Sam Lightnin' Hopkins was one of the great Texas bluesmen and often ranked as one of the top guitarists of all time. As Charley Patton was to Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' met blues legend Blind Lemon Jefferson at a Church picnic and soon was accompanying and playing with Jefferson around the region.    Hopkins performed from the 1920's all the way to the 1980's, and was around long enough for his era of blues fade away only to be rediscovered.  In the liner notes for one of his albums, I recall one producer commenting that despite the wide diversity of recordings by Lightnin', it was tough to get him into a studio; however, once a suitable lure was found, Hopkins would lay down tracks for hours.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"I Couldn't Do No Yodelin'...So I Turned to Howlin'."

"A Robert Johnson may have possessed more lyircal insight, a Muddy Waters more dignity, and a B.B. King certainly more technical expertise, but no one could match him for the singular ability to rock the house down to the foundation while simultaneously scaring its patrons out of their wits." -Cub Koda,

Ranked amongst the best of the Chicago bluesmen, Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf, possessed a loud, booming voice that could both rev you up and give you the shivers. The Wolf began his long trek down the music corridors after meeting blues legend Charley Patton who was playing a local juke joint near the Wolf's childhood home.  Patton taught him his first few songs and by the time he was in his 20's he was playing solo shows across the south. After being simultaneously signed to two record labels, he chose Chess and moved up to Chicago where he would lead a successful career that kept him howlin' into the 70's.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Man that Shouted Rock 'N Roll

"The Boss of the Blues", Big Joe Turner, 6' 2" and 300 lbs ,began working Kansas City clubs at the ripe old age of fourteen.  The big blues shouter had a successful run leaping from KC to the NYC scene in a dazzling musical shift from big bands to jump blues and eventually rhythm & blues.  In 1951, he was signed to Atlantic by the Ertegün brothers (it was Ahmet that Curtis Armstrong played in Ray (2004)) and he had a long run of hits on the R&B charts, and though his 1954 single, "Shake, Rattle & Roll," would take a backseat to Bill Haley's cleaned up cover, music lovers seeking out Turner's original turning the big man into a rockstar at 43.  Big Joe was a non-stop performer from the the 1920's until he passed away in the mid-80's.

(There's other videos of Big Joe doing the clean version of the song...but I like Shakin' & Rattlin' a little bit dirtier...Enjoy!)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Off to the Races

The final piece in this series of watercolors on ink creations is in some ways my favorite of all of them.  It's not necessarily the most accomplished. In fact, I would say, in terms of rendering, it's a step down from the last one.  Despite that, I'm quite fond of it.  A few other share my enthusiasm...but it's mostly for the side-boob.  In any event, that brings this particular series of pieces to a close, though it hasn't killed off my desire to pursue the style.  I might, in fact, be working on another one.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

On the Track and Off the Rails

The second attempt at a final piece for this series is perhaps best described by the image illustrated above.  I suppose you could say that the speed and ease with which the first one came together caused a bit of overconfidence in approaching the next one.  I have a photo of the drawing that I did before I began to paint, but have since scrapped the abortive attempt.

This image, the train wreck, was the third and perhaps finest of the entire series. You may not agree, granted, but I feel that this was where the imagery and the style best came together.  For the first time, I've actually wanted to repeat something like this composition as the masters of old often did multiple copies and versions of some of their best work, but haven't quite gotten down how I would do a reinterpretation of the image.  In any event, like the water nymph before, this one also sold.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Water Mediums and Goddesses

At long last, this week, I'll be sharing the final pieces from my watercolor experiment from a recent commission.

I began with this one, and I'm sort of amazed it turned out as well as it did.  It also took far less time than I expected.  Now you have to work quickly (but patiently, ironically enough) with watercolor. However, since I was doing this in glazes and washes with no real direct painting until the very end, it came together far quicker than I expected, especially for not having a hair dryer between layers.  As I may have mentioned, I was looking for something landed somewhere between the Victorian illustrators Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac and late era Japanese prints. This one of this series probably hit closest, though it appears that some Mucha snuck in there for good measure.

I've included the original drawing below for comparison.