Hollye and I are watching The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix – this is to her what The man In The High Castle on Amazon Prime is to me – about the coolest thing ever! Sure I like Sean Bean and British detective series with a scandalous hint of horror, not as much as Hollye does though but that’s cool, totally cool, we are all unique perspectives of the universe!
The idea of sewing together body parts and bringing them to life was not invented by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley who not only wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus but lived a life of ‘gothic’ romance and tragedy. The idea of bringing the dead to life as a creation was well underway thousands of years before the Era of Frankenstein.
We know that the Italian Renaissance was the rebirth of the classical art of the ancient Greeks. By a change in philosophy allowed by a middle class of merchants who rose to power and influence – lost understanding of the ancients Greeks was regained including the idea that mankind was a machine that God, an artist, breathed life into.
Emulating God by re-creating the beauty of the human form in art and by repairing the machine in medicine was a way to honor God in many of their eyes – it definitely was to Michelangelo. Drawings of individual body parts for study is a tool for both doctors and artists who work with the figure.
The relationship between artists and physicians during the Renaissance (roughly 1300 to 1600) was symbiotic. Artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, who were interested in exacting the human form in their art, observed physicians at work to learn the layers of muscle and bone structures that formed certain parts of the body. (from here)
I (like millions of people in the past half a millennium) still find fascination in the monumental art work in the Sistine Chapel and the process of how it happened. Going from an idea to a sketch to a finished masterpiece it is probably the most researched and documented art project ever.
We all know that our friend Michelangelo thought the male body was more fascinating that the female one and many, if not most, of his paintings of women started as sketches of his male models. I wonder if the very female face on the Delphic Sibyl was inspired by a person he knew?
We, in the modern world, do not find anything creepy about a sketch book full of unconnected body parts or an anatomy text book – they are just tools.
Using individual sketches (or parts of photographs) to make art is typical practice (remember that our friend Edgar Degas was an early adopter of this method) and with the age of Photoshop we pretty much understand that what we see in media has been manipulated to show it’s best side at the very least – if not a complete fabrication!
Gil Elvgren’s paintings are perhaps the apotheosis of the Pin-Up genre and his works command the highest price amongst collectors today. Like Art Frahm he often painted silly scenes of girls accidentally revealing their underwear, but his jokes are wittier, his brush strokes more expert and his girls more gorgeous. Elvgren apparently claimed that the ideal Pin-Up model had a 15-year-old’s face on a 20-year-old’s body, which is the sort of thing you could say in the 1940s without being thought creepy. That quote may be apocryphal but he did base most of his paintings on the model Myrna Hansen, who started working for him when she was just 13 (chaperoned by her mother, it must be said). (from here)
One thing that I have found in painting is that working directly from photographs can leave the work looking generic (Degas being the major exception it seems) – I mean you can’t deny the success of modern figure painters like Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell – they took what Michelangeo started and added their creativity which is fine, it’s lovely and awesome but in my opinion they fall into the trap that William-Adolphe Bouguereau did – there’s a limit to ‘perfection’ and if you go beyond it then you lose something human about the experience of the art. It can be perfect in every way and still not be ‘good’!
Simply copying where the light and shadow falls is possible but a mere transference of a captured image verbatim into to paint on a canvas isn’t enough – that’s why The Impressionists blew away the realist painters and now those former ‘top of charts’ artists are barely remembered at all except for art nerds like me.
You have to skew your viewpoint and add your personality to the art to make it more than a just a copy – you have to breathe life into it! It has to be you, be infused with your consciousness – you can’t just scientifically make great art in a lab – you cannot be outside of it!
Painting directly from your imagination with no references allows a freedom and flexibility that makes it more fun! Sure, you may not reach the level of anatomical accuracy that Michelangelo did but why would you want to when you can surprise yourself with something that is unique and equally interesting to look at?
I suggest to allow your mind to piece together the bits and pieces of things that are stored away then trust that your hand will put the paint where it needs to be.
Hey, I know Vincent van Gogh was the ‘good one’ and has a special place in our hearts but I’m way more into the painting theories of Paul Gauguin.
Rather than painting a naturalistic representation of observed reality, Paul Gauguin and his followers at Pont Aven aimed to create art that combined (or synthesised) the subject-matter with the artist’s feelings about the subject and the aesthetic concerns of line, colour and form. As Maurice Denis observed in 1890:
It is well to remember that a picture before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or some anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order. (from here)
We all synthesize reality from the memories and expectations that we have about what we experience – we are all basically Dr. Frankenstein trying to breathe life into a bunch of separate parts we join together in some sense of order – so let’s own it and celebrate it!
My love Hollye is writing a novel in serialized form with a Frankenstein theme on her blog and you can catch up with this really well written and readable novella by starting here! https://hollyebgreen.com/2018/07/29/novella-frankensister-chapter-1-fiction/
My friend Jeff makes the best monster art on the planet right now! Support a cool indy artist by finding his art and buying a whole bunch of it (it’s everywhere – search Ebay!)