Alan Witschonke
Academic stuff
Give the Students Some
Self Portrait #1
In the spirit of the invitation extended to me by Scott Bakal to be on one of the jury panels for the Student Scholarship Competition at the Society of Illustrators this Friday, I thought I’d post some work by one of my favorite students, my son Thomas. Tom is currently a senior at Cooper Union. I’ll be judging college-level work, but since I don’t have many scans of his more recent art, I’ll post some work he did in high school, starting with a self-portrait he did freshman year, circa age 15. In my unbiased opinion, he was good even then. He attended an excellent private high school, Cambridge School of Weston, that is strong academically and in the creative arts. He owes a lot to the talented and dedicated art faculty and great facilities at the school.

Abstract #1 (Part of a series)
There’s not much chance he’ll follow in his dad’s footsteps down the illustration path. He’s more interested in installations, video and performance art. But maybe that’s a good thing. I don’t want him beating me out of any jobs. Despite his leanings toward conceptual and abstract art, he can still draw like hell.
Figure Study
Reclining Nude
Self Portrait #2
Portrait of a Woman
Farewell, Mr. Rauschenberg
Lincoln, 1958
I searched the recent Drawger archives and could not find any articles about the passing, on Monday, of Robert Rauschenberg so I thought I’d post a small tribute to a great artist. The iconic and prolific photographer, printmaker, sculptor and collage artist was one of the seminal figures in Modern Art. In Mark Feeney’s excellent obituary in Wednesday’s Boston Globe, he says, “where Abstract Expressionism brought American art to new heights, Mr. Rauschenberg presented it with new possibilities.” He describes how, despite Rauschenberg’s considerable accomplishments and fame, he was devoid of pretense and enjoyed poking fun at other artists who took themselves too seriously. The most memorable example of this was his piece entitled, “Erased de Kooning Drawing” (1953), which was just what the title suggests. Rauschenberg studied at Black Mountain College in the 1940’s with Josef Albers. Rauschenberg called him “the most important” teacher he ever had, in part because he learned to do “exactly the reverse” of what Albers taught.

Rauschenberg was a huge early influence of mine. I remember when I was in high school, (a long time ago), taking the train into NYC from CT and cruising the Madison Avenue galleries in search of my faves, including Mr. Rauschenberg. I even experimented with his technique of transferring photos to paper by applying silkscreen adhering liquid, (potent stuff), to the paper, placing a magazine photo face down and then rubbing the back of the photo to transfer it.

So let’s raise a glass to Mr. Rauschenberg. “I’m curious”, Rauschenberg said in a 1997 interview. “I’m still discovering things every day.” Amen.
Summer Rental, Number 2, 1960 (it's not upside down!)
Retroactive I, 1964
Booster, 1967
(unknown title), 1972
Pull, 1974
TIME cover, 11/29/76
Hollywood Sphinx, 1991
Art historians get fooled again
The Gunbad-i Kabud tomb tower in Maragha, Iran was built c. 1197 AD.
I read an interesting article in the Boston Globe the other day (2/26 to be precise). I’ve been illustrating a non-fiction children’s book about the Taj Mahal so I’ve been looking at a lot of art from Persia and India, particularly art from the Mughal empire (1526-1746). When the Mughals invaded India and made Agra their capital city, a period of great artistic and intellectual growth occurred. Although the Mughals were Muslim and India was mostly Hindu, they co-existed peacefully. Hindu artisans were brought to the Mughal court and produced some of their finest work. Their work was astonishingly detailed with incredibly fine lines that look like they were done with a quill pen but were actually done with brush. The medium of choice was opaque watercolor.

Anyway, I digress. Getting back to the article, a PhD candidate in Harvard’s Physics Department, Peter Lu, was struck by the beauty of the decorations on an ancient building in Bukhara, Uzbekistan in 2005. He thought the geometric patterns might be related to ones he had written about in his undergraduate thesis at Princeton – that he thought hadn’t been discovered until the 1970s when British physicist Roger Penrose studied them! After poring over pictures of Islamic art and architecture he concluded: “The art, in countries from Iran to Turkey to Uzbekistan, ‘reveals a much greater degree of mathematical sophistication than we had thought.”
There are five essential polygons in the mosaic patterns: The pentagon (1), rhombus (2), hexagon (3), bowtie (4), and decagon (5). Historians believed that the intricate patterns were painstakingly drafted using a compass and straight edge. But it was discovered that by arranging a combination of the five polygons, the same pattern could be easily replicated by keeping only the decorative lines on the tiles.
Given all the suspicions, misunderstandings and mistrust of that region of the world and conjecture about whether or not Iran wants to build nuclear warheads, it’s soothing for the soul to read something positive about their contributions to art and culture. So that’s my art, civics, science and mathematics lesson for this week.
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Witschonke is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!