I am not one who usually finds “favorite artists,” whether that be in entertainment, books, or art. I have perhaps only one or two identifiable favorite authors, a handful of actors, and as yet, no artists. So the idea of finding an artist who captured my interest challenged me to find a consistent style that I identified with or found intriguing.
The modern era is filled with artists. A short chapter introducing them in Mark Getlein’s popular Living with Art (2010) barely scratches the surface of its varied landscape. Yet I have found a few talented individuals whose art I particularly enjoy observing, or whose work I may indeed love to hang on my wall.
Sarah Sze presents oddly enchanting sculptural works created from ordinary objects in extraordinary arrangements. Her works are airy, unique, and often breathtaking in scope and detail. Her theme is one of exploration and fantasy: The incidental becomes great, the everyday becomes new and different. She creates dream worlds of dizzying depth and proportion. Her Hidden Relief (2001) caught my attention right away, its surrealism making it hard for me to believe this was indeed something physically real. The peeled walls, perspectival lines, and descending details enchanted me. The revelation of its content – plastic bottle caps, Styrofoam cups, measuring tapes – took nothing away from the intended otherworldly feel infused in the piece. Her other pieces, like Second Means of Egress (Orange) (2004) capture a bold, clean, refreshing simplicity. Her The Art of Losing (2004) is quietly thematic, beautifully textured, and dramatically alive in motion. Her work is indeed fascinating.
You won’t find her work in a gallery, but I consider her still a great artist: Tracy J. Butler is a cartoonist who is not well-known, but whose hobby work on the comic Lackadaisy sparked a flurry of fans and popularity. Her work is an immersive experience, to say the least, with the way the images move into each other, how perspective and lighting play in each panel, how character expression is expertly rendered, and how I would follow it and forget that hers are anthropomorphic characters. Artwork related to her comic holds the same engaging sense of color, mood, contrast, and character. Digitally-painted work like Clockwise (2010) and Reverie (2010) show balance, richness, and a beautiful sense of interpretation in recasting her anthropomorphic characters into human form. Through her illustration work, she aspires to make her viewers think, affect them, and “immerse them with images beyond what words can do.” Through her comic, she explores the Prohibition era and its many and varied characters. She provides humor, joy, and the occasional pathos to her dedicated viewers. Perhaps it is her sepia tones that attract me so much. Nevertheless, I enjoy her work immensely and find it an inspiration in the art and skill of comic drawing, an endeavor I would love to one day pursue.
The last of my choices is self-described “narrative artist” Mort Künstler. My interest in his work first stemmed from his popular subject matter, the American Civil War.
Then I discovered his working style and artistic theme. Künstler does not follow the tradition of modern war artists by dwelling on “blood and guts” (Ted Sutphen, qtd in Musleah). He reveals a terrible war’s more tender side: The legendary soldier “Stonewall” Jackson clutches the hand of a young child whom he has grown to love (Janie Corbin and “Old Jack” ), the same man tends an umbrella over his wife and newborn before his cheering men (Julia ), the legends Robert E. Lee and Jackson pause at a moving church service that symbolizes the faith that upheld each man (The Generals Were Brought to Tears ).
Nor does Künstler content himself with cursory historical investigation for his work. He does his research – thoroughly, patiently, and honestly. He travels to the historic location of his subject to observe the lighting patterns for his painting. He keeps dozens of Civil War artifacts in his studio to copy them firsthand in his work. He reads the latest developments in historical study so that he can portray new perspectives on the war: On learning that J.E.B Stuart had actually accompanied General Lee and Jackson at the famous meeting in May 1863 before the battle of Chancellorsville, he created The Last Council (1990), capturing a moment in history that indeed may never have been revealed before.
I admire Künstler for his faithfulness to history and his choice of theme. He captures history beautifully, realistically, and with a tenderness that defines humankind. I would honestly love to own one of his famed works.
I had started this project quite unsure of its outcome. But now I can name a few artists whose style I can identify, admire, and enjoy. There are many pieces that pique my interest – Don Eddy’s New Shoes for H. (1973-74) and the delirious reality he emphasizes in ordinary life, Anselm Kiefer’s Interior (1981) and the hope for renewal from Hitler’s legacy in his native Germany, Kara Walker’s Darkytown Rebellion (2001) and the social message inherent in the irony of using 18th-century-style paper cutouts to express the sad state of slaveholders.
There are many less-known artists whose work I find breathtaking as well – the post-apocalyptic dream scenes of Daniel Conway’s Her Silent Silhouette (2003) and Broken Dawn (2005), and the themed, light-filled beauty of Wenqing Yan’s 1000 Words (2009). Further dedicated investigation would certainly reveal more fascinating artwork and admirable artists.
For now, though, I am pleased at having pinpointed three artists whose style and work I find personally fulfilling.
Musleah, Rahel. “Applying Brushstrokes to the Civil War.” The New York Times. January 4, 1998. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/01/04/nyregion/applying-brushstrokes-to-the-civil-war.html
Tracy J. Butler
Interview with Tracy J. Butler, 3 May 2010
Profiles of Artwork by Mort Künstler
The General Were Brought to Tears, 1992
Janie Corbin and “Old Jack” 2002
The Last Council, 1990
Other Artwork Profiles
Her Silent Silhouette, Daniel Conway, 2003
Broken Dawn, Daniel Conway, 2005
1000 Words, Wenqing Yan, 2009