Thursday, September 5, 2013

Findings Of The Arsegravy Historical Society.

A couple of months ago I was in my hometown, two thousand or so miles north in Queensland. The humidity up there is the kiss of death on anything made of paper, leaching out all the acids & setting in with rot faster than a Poppy Z Brite story. There's also a legion of tropical creepy crawlies sprung straight out of Temple of Doom who are always hungry for a tasty fix of illustration board or acrylic paint. With that in mind I figured it was time to do some preservation work. So I cleared away the cobwebs, vacuumed up the inches of daddy long legs shit and had a rummage through my old art cupboard. After a while spent dusting and washing away the fungus, it was nice to see a few salvageable bits & pieces floating to the top. Some of them went right back to high school, in the late 80's - surprising given that voracious climate. Here's a bunch I thought were just about worth sharing.

This would've been Year 9 or 10 of high school. I remember regularly trying to shoehorn art into subjects that had no real requirement for it - in English it'd be making a book cover to go with a review, in history spending far too much time on a political cartoon, or in a variety of other classes designing the "title page" (marking the beginning of a new unit of study) would maybe get a little more of my concentration than it should've. I actually did enjoy Biology.. but perhaps not quite as much as drawing a guy with a cross sectioned head.

Growing up I was obsessed with the long-running English TV show "Doctor Who". I'm not sure why I fastened onto it so firmly.. although the combination of its instant-satisfaction gothic pulpiness and the ABC's decade-long policy of hypnotic non-stop reruns probably contributed. I suppose most people have obsessive interests of one kind or another - football, music, cars, shoes, Star Wars.. whatever. This was mine. And it provided an endless supply of exactly what I was always after - subjects to draw.

These little pictures were cassette tape covers, about 10 by 6 centimetres in size. Now I look at them and envy the undiminished eyesight that allowed such tiny work unassisted! This was unintentional good training for an illustrator - making them taught me about concentrating on portions & shapes rather than the image as a whole, as well as layout, colour blending and how interesting it can be to draw with the reference upside down for greater objectivity.. Oh, and the cassette format came as a result of two things - our family's lack of a VCR in the early 80's, and the ABC's simulcasting of television audio on the FM band in regional Queensland. I often tape-recorded TV shows and listened back to them like audiobooks. Friends did this too. As an odd dividend I can occasionally remember large chunks of old-TV dialogue! Certainly feels a long way from the everything-on-demand digital world we're all in now..

There was also a bit of figure sculpting that came as a result of the enthusiasm for Dr Who. I would've been 16 when making this Patrick Troughton.. He'd be about 10 or 12 cm tall. I remember slaving to keep detail while the Modeline synthetic baking clay kept either squashing or crumbling. He's a little chunky, but I think he holds up OK. And photographing him up close really made me want to get back to doing some sculpting..

Now here's a few from Uni days. I did a Bachelor of Visual Arts at James Cook University, with an Illustration major. Recently I learned that Visual Arts studies at JCU, while operating out of a lovely new building, no longer include painting or sculpture. Another victim of "rationalisation" and the market-driven reforms at Australian universities in the last 20 years. I'm doubtful that broad, high-quality education is the winner.

This Gregory Peck was one of a few first-year projects designed to test our ability to reproduce faithfully from a photographic source. This one was a bit too hurried, and I ran out of time to finesse the little details.. A good lesson.

My acrylic and coloured pencil stab at Flagg's stony-faced Uncle Sam. Part of a series of six, metamorphosing from the statue of liberty. Not the greatest, but it was a good chance to - tentatively - test out mixing pencils and airbrush, for the background.

It was 1991, I was 18, and Terminator 2 was everywhere. To the present day me, T2 looks like a loud marketing exercise with fun special effects and some remarkably poor dialogue. To the 1991 me, it was irresistible. This picture was still a lesson - not so much in the fun to be had making an image out of dotting with a Rotring pen (arrg!) - but in not improvising details on the fly. The original photo had been taken from a paused video on our convex-screened cathode tube, and the mechanical details were hazy. I didn't work out an approach to dealing with this in advance, and by improvising as I went, those areas just ended up looking fake. Planning helps.

In 2006 McDonalds were still clearing rainforest in the Amazon to plant soya. I have no idea if they're still up to it, but I don't imagine I'm going to warm to them anytime soon regardless. This was still 1991, and the brief was to make a poster addressing environmental concerns using no more than 3 words to convey it's message. It's a mixed media combo of coloured pencil, airbrushed acrylic and crayons. The Crayolas were used for the soil and plants. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Despite that choice, and some figure-ratio & layout problems (he's on a hill OK?), I'm fond of this one.. Maybe it's the killer clown angle. Or maybe it's just fun to throw poo at a really rubbish company.

On this one the brief was a dummy magazine cover. Silence of the Lambs was a big, disturbing hit at the time, and I jumped at the chance to paint Hopkins wonderfully rumpled face. For the retro-airbrushing fans out there I was using a Paasche VL. Still occasionally use it to this day - really versatile piece of kit, (double action, suction-feed for faster colour switching & capable of very fine lines) and a much simpler, easier to use design than the Badger I recently tried. This was my first attempt at using a lot of hand-held masking to make an airbrushed image, and it probably suffers a bit on close inspection. But I'm still happy with the overall effect - and if the writing looks ever-so-slightly wonky, it's because it was all hand-cut masking, just a scalpel and frisket film. Must've taken ages. I think I've blocked out the trauma.

The madwoman was a last-minute (overnight!) job for our graduation exhibition guide in 93. Solidly into the airbrush years by now, I was experimenting with a spatter-effect, achieved by scratching the inside of an old Paasche tip with a compass to make it spit paint instead of atomise. This did make it prone to accumulating large drops of paint every so often, but regular daps with a cloth meant illustration disaster could be avoided. Just like Trust Your Doctor, she's a combination of loose masking cut from acetate & placed on the surface, and hand-held masks, kept away from the surface to soften the lines. It's a very simple piece, but I still think it was reasonably effective.

Yep, it was the 90's. Clapton was enjoying his resurgent fame as a result of the Unplugged album. I did like it, and yes, I do apologise. In my defence, I could at least tell - even then - that Tears In Heaven was a truly horrible song. Let's pretend I did it as a dedication to his work with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers or Cream and move on.. This was a third year exercise - another test of observation & use of materials - requiring an illustration as similar as possible to it's photographic source. The original photo is by Albert Watson, and I loved it's dramatic light. The surface is a nice smooth Illustration Board and it was painted with a triple 0 brush using Winsor & Newton gouache. I wasn't a huge fan of gouache, but those were the rules for this project - and I wanted to skip the airbrush on this one, just to make sure I could still blend paint by hand! It probably took about 6 weeks on & off - looking at something that closely needed decent breaks for other work. A strange piece this one - I'm very pleased with it's technical side, but I've never felt the urge to hang it. The curse of this exercise is, if successful, you end with an exact copy of someone else's work.

To finish, one last bit of pop-pulp. I was really enjoying Anthony Hopkins face at this time. By 93 he'd been in Coppola's messy, operatic Dracula, doing his entertainingly hammy Van Helsing. He was almost enough to make you forget the travesty of Keanu & Winona. Almost. The frame was salvaged from a building site by my Dad - once the bottom right corner was restored with a bit of the same synthetic baking clay Patrick Troughton was made of, it was good to go. He was painted almost continuously over two and a half days, oil on canvas. I hadn't blended with oils before & couldn't get the effect I wanted quickly enough - the brushes were ditched and out of desperation I dipped cotton balls in the paint to get it the way I'd pictured. Used with the same kind of hand-held acetate masking I'd tried on the madwoman, it came up fine. Doesn't bear intense scrutiny - the stubble's a bit dodgy, as is the cravat/scarf thing - but for a two day quicky, I think he's fun.

That's all for the Arsegravy Ancient History Show N Tell. I do hope you've enjoyed checking out what was under the cobwebs and spider scat. I guess I should also do an update for the Wildlife Art years that came after today's selection - but that's a horror for another day.

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