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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Exploring Old Art in New Settings - The Old Masters Series

While in isolation for the Pandemic, I've taken some time to do a bit of experimental digital art. What originally began as an extended exploration of graffiti and the human body, took a different direction for me when I ran across a series of 16th century drawings of the male bodies.

A few months back I had done an experimental piece that took three 18th century pen and ink drawings of sailing ships, pulling them out of their originals and merging them together in one piece of art. This had been very successful. Most were unaware that they were actually seeing three distinctly different drawings within the piece.

Now I see digital art (at least the form that I practice) as being similar to what a collage artist would do. I am in no way looking to steal someone else's work. But like a collage artist, I am seeking specific elements from individual sources to bring them all together into a new piece of art.

As you can see in the examples below, a completely new work of art emerges from the old.

My original concept was for a great sea battle. I think I can pretty damned close. 

I always try to stay within the bounds of "transformation". In order to use another persons work, the new work must be transformed in a fundamental way from the original. This is the law that allows a collage artist to work without fear of violating copyright. The final work transcends the original in a major way. 

So as I began my current exploratory work, I began with photos taken here in the studio of the various graffiti sets that I built for the 2019 body painting series. They were merely test shots that I used to gauge the art and how I would fit the models into the setting. 

Since I could not have a model in studio right now, I decided to look at photos from the 1800's. This is my "go to" when I am looking for interesting imagery to re-imagine. There is something beautiful to me about taking the photo of someone from several hundred years ago and bringing them back to life within it for a short period of time. 

I ran across this image and found it intriguing. 

My first attempt at merging a graffiti image with this image was satisfactory. I had effectively brought her back to life for a short time within the image.

She fit perfectly in the setting. 

Through her image, it got me looking at vintage 1800's porn. You wouldn't think there was a wide variety of it, but there is.

My second attempt was with this image. 

Yeah I admit I was a bit surprised to see that their was a category of vintage 1800's gay porn, but there it was in all its... umm glory.

After some careful work at extracting the two figures from their background, I ended up with the following image.

I wasn't as happy with this one as I was the first. Part of the problem was the angle of the guy on the right. His leg looks totally out of place. But overall I wasn't unhappy with it either.

Now here is where this long tale merges back with the discussion of the ship piece described above. It is one thing to work with a photograph however old it might be. When I found the image of the two gay men I saw some other images that really intrigued me. These weren't porn. They were charcoal drawings of the male form done by artists between the 12th and 18th century. 

Tampering with other peoples art is something that I don't take lightly. There would have to be more than a fundamental transformation for this to work. But I was intrigued. I also liked the challenge to see what I could do with them. So I began with the following drawing.

We know little about the drawing except that its 16th century and done by an artist witht he first name of Anselm. I tried to trace him but came up blank. But the image intrigued me. It was honest. There was no attempt to make him anything more than who he was.  Again I used one of the test photos of the graffiti enclosure. This is not as easy as just slapping him into the center of the image. Its all about scale an perspective. Some settings first work at all. Finding a match took time and skill because the worst thing you can do is to create an image that looks like its two separate images schlepped together. This was the end result.

I always know I've done it right when someone asks me where I found the model. This is reality blended with surrealism. In the final image there is a combination of both graffiti and abstraction that I think brings the whole image into a whole form. 

This was good. There was that fundamental transformation that is so essential, yet respect for the artists original drawing. 

There was reality and unreality in balance that makes the viewer question what is real and what is not. There were the essential elements of a story in place. The viewer would question the elements of the image and form a story in their mind. And finally there was emotion within the image. This is what I liked about the original drawing the most. There is emotion on that face that makes you question what the model was thinking. That emotion translates into the viewer emotions. 

So what next? I spent awhile looking through the nude drawings from the past 500 years and finally found this piece. 

This was a challenge. I loved the positioning of the body. But there were a lot of aspects that made it difficult to work with. The first was the soft line work that makes it an obvious charcoal drawing. There is no mistaking it. So I took a different direction with this one to make it more of an abstraction with less reality. I wanted to keep as many essential aspects of the original drawing as I could. This was the final image. 

We do know a few things about the artist this time. We know the piece was created in 1687 and we know the artists name was Antoine Coypel. Now could we bring Coypel's nude back to life? 

A definitively different feeling than the previous work. When I got towards the end and I looked it over there was still on thing missing. That one thing ended up being the dragon tattoo. What was missing was a basic element of the story. There needed to be at least one element that the viewer could grab onto to begin telling the story in their own heads. With the absence of most reality and a lot of surrealism, there had to be at least one additional element that helped foster the tale. The dragon was that element and with it the title of the piece which was "The Man With the Dragon Tattoo". Those two things now gave the viewer a place to start the tale. How they form it is up to them. 

When I work with experimental art which is also conceptual in nature I usually create between 3 and 5 pieces before I decide if its worth pursuing further. A lot of times it stops there and I am satisfied to have learned something new about my skills. Other times it becomes a series that I will revisit time and time again. If it gets to that stage then it becomes a series that will continue to grow and evolve for the duration of my life and career. What starts as just a few piece of art eventually turns into a very complex evolving series that says as much about me as an artist as it does about the theme or concept being explored. 

So I wanted one more piece using old sketches before I'd determine where I wanted to take the concept. This was the piece chosen for the final piece. We know little about it except that it was drawn in the mid 1800's. The artist remains anonymous at this time. 

And this became the final piece of art. 

You'll note that there are a lot more fantastical elements to this one and that the posture has changed from standing to laying prone. It took a lot to make this body look real. Part of it was in the smoothing of the form and the attention to the shadows and the other part was in the coloration. He looks alive and slightly bruised now. What the viewer takes from the story is up to them. There are a dozen elements within the piece that an observant eye can catch and tell a tale about. 

In the end it was this image that told me that I needed to explore this concept more in depth. because all of these images taught me something crucial about the human form and how it changes based on the setting around it and how the same exact image can fundamentally change in emotion through it. 

This man is in agony. There was pain in the original charcoal drawing, but there is agony now. There is the crux of a decision being made here that must be made. There are conflicting emotions and angst and pain. 

In a way I almost felt in these images that I was collaborating in a way with the original artists. There were moments of transcendence that can't be explained with typed out words. 

This is what art is all about. We learn from each other and we transcend the previous art without taking away from it. I would not wish to sit down and learn how to forge these pieces. That's not art. Its skill, but its not art. 

There is a lot more here to explore and I plan to do so.

Here are the first three pieces with their titles. Never forget! The title sets the direction of the story! I'll add more work as it becomes available 


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