Rob Dunlavey
September 2010
Con Game
Picture or story? Chicken or egg? Which comes first?
Maybe Mr. Fox is looking for an egg to eat. Maybe this illustrator is a fox looking for an egg of a story. Will he eat it or sit on it and hatch a story? I imagine I would rather illustrate a story than write one. Yet, just look at this! A torrent of pictures has come out of my fingers in the last year and a half and most of them strongly suggest a story. It's just the most bizarre development: all this work (fun and personally very satisfying) and I get to (got to!) write the darn stories to back them up (beginning-middle-end, the all lived happily ever after). Well okay then. I'll do that too!
Cute little foxes have shown up in the Doodleteria lately. I drew this fellow just this morning.
Blame it on the new kitten tearing around the studio (I know, now you're concerned). Or maybe Carl Jung is getting some sort of revenge or possibly trying to be some help to this illustrator in-between what was and what will be (editorial illustration to children's book illustration). I doodle while I discover the awareness (where did I put that??!) to speak as confidentally as I draw. Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words… I could whup Mike Tyson with my eyelashes!
I've been reading fairy tales lately in a small volume curated by Marie-Luise von Franz who worked with the great Swiss psychoanalyst for thirty years. She specialized in the scholarly and symbolic interpretation of classic fairy tales from many cultural traditions. Without skippinga beat, I guess she'd snicker and say that I'd better let this little fox off the leash or else it's time to turn out the lights and hang up my cleats; there aint gonna be no eggs!
A fearless fox carefully disposes of some beautiful but dangerous sparkly thing.

The frogs are merely passengers. The purple alligators are clearly doing too much work. But the foxes seem to be directing the whole universe. I really can't show this work without acknowledging my admiration for similar drawings by Alain Lachartre. You might be able to view some of his work here.

This fox is apprehensive yet ready for anything. So very Zen (not that I would know!)

Thank you, dear reader, for listening/reading this drivel. It's been my little bit of cryptic self-analysis and pep talk for the intricate work of being creative, self-sustaining and successful. Bonne chance M. Renard!
Since I'm working on a few things that I shouldn't make public yet (children's book stuff), you have the privilege to admire some recent doodles. It's your lucky day!
I still love to draw these Crystal Cities

Shhhhhhh, a delicate operation!

Damien Hurst of jewel-encrusted skull fame, that's who.

Whimsical Apotheosis

Drawing in the 'hood
Somehow, it clicked this summer and I started drawing stuff around where I live. I've lived in South Natick since 1992 and I've never yet made it a habit to sketch my environs. Why now? I can think of several reasons: I discovered that I needed to draw real things as a respite from imaginary cars, castles and pointy-headed people, bears and children's book ideas. I also found that the drawing helped discipline my looking into something useful that gave me a sense of calm and accomplishment. Life can be pretty crazy (now more than ever) and focused drawing is exactly what any sensible doctor would proscribe for an illustrator/artist/whatever-person.
Since I'm an early bird, one place I'd frequently end up is at a nearby park by the river. I'd grab a coffee at the Charles River coffee shop and with colored pencils poking out at odd angles from my pockets I'd stalk my prey. At this park there's a low dam across the river and an island just below. Beyond that there's an old stone bridge and the 20-odd miles of river to Boston. Ducks, geese and other animals love the place.
Another fact that help me stay interested in this project (wait, did I say this was a project??) was that I blogged about this obsession over at my other blog. If you go there, you'll see a few more drawings and also find gleanings from my inscrutable thought processes about Nature and Art that somehow didn't seem appropriate for Drawger. Maybe I'm mistaken though.
Geese endlessly preen as they stand on the top of the dam in June.

By July, the water is getting pretty low.

I found that colored pencils worked just great. I use hard and soft ones and I carry a pocket knife to sharpen them.

A partial view of the Pleasant Street bridge. It sustains a lot of rush hour traffic as the settlers in the tony suburbs head off the big city.

I followed this family of ducklings for several months. Not one was lost as far as I know.

More low water views. The mallards scramble up and down the exposed face of the dam and dabble in the algae and slime.

Tropical Storm Earl stops in town and filled the river up again (temporarily) It's flowing too fast for the ducks to forage at the top.

Pretty soon, all this will be a summer memory.

Chris McDonald at Meathaus ran a little blurb about me the other day. Turnabout is fair play. Present company excluded, Meathaus features some absolutely brilliant draftsman, artists, comic book artists, illustrators…just great drawers. Here are a few that I found yesterday:
Sam Vanallemeersch: drawing portfolio

Benoît Guillaume: blog | portfolio

Benoît Guillaume

Ryan Peltier portfolio
Michael Sterckeman blog

who else but Marc Rosenthal!

Alright! Time's up! Get back to work Rob!!
Field Trip Part 2: Picasso-Degas, MassMoCA, etc.
Part 1 of this report is here

I’d been hearing raves about the Picasso-Degas blockbuster at the Clark  (it closes Sept. 12) all summer and I was anxious to see it. Since I was solo on this trip, I was able to indulge my ruminative nature to the fullest as I wandered through the three floors of the exhibit. Overall, it is a very good show with wonderful and rare examples of each artist’s best work. The premise is that Picasso came to Paris eager to consume and was poised to capitalize on any art that interested him. That is the phenomenon of Picasso. Like the Beatles perhaps: right person, right place at the right time. And art and culture have never been the same.
left: Degas "dans la café L'Absinthe" (1875-76) right: Picasso "Portrait of Sebastià Junyer i Vidal, (1903) Which one do you prefer?
I got the feeling that Degas was a brilliant and exacting 19th century artist whose practice was laced with tantalizing threads for future artists to take up. But Picasso, hot on his heels,  was able to meet anything head on and then pirouette and make it his own. Picasso: a relentless ocean wave to Degas' friable sand that is always claimed by the waters. I wouldn’t go so far to characterize Picasso as a “force of Nature”, but he ushered in a new concept of the artist as more than celebrity at a moment in time when it became possible to imagine this evolution of the concept.
Where I think the exhibition’s reasoning waivers is with the many direct comparisons it makes between specific works by each artist. They really never met. Ever. They were however, products of a similar educational process. True, Picasso had a few Degas’ prints and he kept a photograph of Degas in his possession, but it cheapens Picasso to suggest that he had an explicit rivalry  with Degas. I think Picasso’s reasons for doing anything were much more complex than simple rivalry (although he did have rivals and he dealt with them). Rivalry and competition are important motivations but the actual practice of making art allows much more into the process. Unexpected things can happen and that is when one's artistic uniqueness is expressed and they begin to stand out from their mentors and peers.
Left: sketch by Rob Dunlavey
Right: Degas: Combing the Hair (La Coiffure), c. 1896 Oil on canvas, 114.3 x 146.7 cm The National Gallery, London

What might any of this have to do with illustration? First of all, there is the question of influence and the healthy relationship of different generations of artists. Illustration, by its conservative nature, is more aware of this perhaps. In illustration all approaches are valid if there's a place for it in the marketplace (that marketplace is an vigorous and amorphous entity nowadays). So we can stick with Degas and find many workopportunities. Or we can model ourselves after Picasso, consuming many things (think of the internet as a buffet) and in the process making sure to make a brand of ourselves.
These are interesting ideas and this was a fascinating show. It closes in a few days so if you're in the neighborhood, try to see it.
Across town is from the Clark is the Williams College Art Gallery. It has a deep and eclectic collection on display. College museums are wonderful; there is always something unique and unexpected; perhaps, even under-appreciated. I was enchanted by a few things. This large "Portrait of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia" was made by Franz Pourbus the Younger in 1600. I love how her face is framed (as fruit on a platter!) by the starched lace collar. The rest of her garment is similarly massive, sculpted and impossibly exquisite.
Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia: what's in a name?!

Here's a bicycle rider from Benin. I'm trying to remember the caption that went with it. I think (and may be making all this up) that this figure comes from a tradition of statues that enable communication between kings, Gods, whatnot, and other people. If the sculpture was carved today, we'd see the same guy in a Porto-Novo internet café fixing the president's  facebook account. The reason I was interested in this sculpture is my current interest in bicycles and cars and other things that have wheels.
I was smitten with the work of a conteporary Chinese artist, Nie Ou. She was born in 1948 and had initial art training when her parents moved to Bejing. During the subsequent upheaval of the Cultural Revolution she was sent to a farming collective far away from the capital. She returned in 1978 and resumed studies and began her career as a painter. You can find out more here.
"One Rural Morning" by Nei Ou

"The Pleasures of Farming" by Nei Ou
I love the four donkeys visible on the left of the bottom panel.

Lastly, but really, it would require another blog entry (I'll spare both of us!) I stopped in at MassMOCA in North Adams. It's a huge old mill complex that has been turned into a gigantic venue for gigantic art installations --essentially. On the top few floors is a massive and massively popular installation of wall drawings of Sol Lewitt.
There is a bunch more, most of them more subtle than this one. I love staring at this close-up until the seizures begin ;-p

There was a retrospective of the mixed media sculptures of Petah Coyne. I'd never heard of her before but, on reflection, if you like William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens, Victorian funereal displays and taxidermy shops, you might warm up to it pretty quickly. I did. And on further reflection, I'm reminded a little bit of the work of Sam Weber and Yuko Shimuzu (currently on exhibit at the Society of Illustrators in New York), in it's powerful and theatrical examination of the human figure as a vehicle for for story telling. Although the human body is nowhere evident in Petah Coyne's work, she suggests it by scale, subject matter and her choice of materials. Those materials are quite suggestive!
  • "Eguchi's Ghost" made of wire rendered from an entire Airstream trailer
  • "Untitled # 1240 (Black Cloud)"  [pictured above] velvet, silk flowers, chains, taxidermy specimens (geese, ducks)
Other materials include nails and wire coated in black sand used in iron foundries, candle wax, trees, kitsch madonna statues and silk ribbons, a stuffed bobcat and many other evocative art supplies not available at your local store.
I could go on but I need to get some work done! Let me finish by saying that looking at all kinds of art is an artist's job. It enlarges and refocuses the spirit so we can bring our best, poetic selves to even the most well understood and mundane task.
sketchbook page. These were big abstract things made from wire and coated with black sand

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