Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Most Mind-Blowing Images I Have Seen in My Life: Part I


What you see before you is the cover of Petar Meseldzija's Book, The Legend of Steel Bashaw. It is one of the most exceptional paintings I have seen in my lifetime.

Like many of you, I first saw this image in Spectrum 9 where it dropped a nuclear bomb on my brain. Never before had I seen an image that so clearly articulated every feeling that I had ever hoped to communicate in art. And never had I seen one executed with such earth-shattering beauty. It was flawless, riveting, and the more I looked at it, the more and more I was drawn into it.

 Now you will say, "Justin, calm down, it's just a picture. It's a dude, and he's on a horse. You're getting carried away." But this is more than a dude on a horse. It is a diatribe against mediocrity and an air raid call to the pursuit of excellence in art. When I saw this painting it gave me the same desire it has given many other artists who see Petar's work, it made me want to change everything.

Not only did it instill in me a fervent desire to learn how to paint, but to make images that were worth meditating on, and not disposable imagery destined to be lost in the vast sea of imagery we exist in.

 For a long time I had believed that it was essentially hopeless. The attention span for visuals shrinks as digital photography and digital displays increase and lead to a greater proliferation of imagery. In this new digital world the best images are those that are the most simple and the most brief. People are conditioned away from lingering for very long on a single image in the marketplace. There are so many other ideas out there, so many other things to consider that it becomes almost morally wrong to create something that demands a person dwell on it exclusively, instead of moving directly on to the next idea. Meditating on a single idea becomes an anathema. Even movies find that in order to keep up with the shrinking attention span, they must make scene changes faster and faster to keep audience interest. But in the pursuit of communicating a quantity of ideas we seem to lose the ability to meditate on the quality of a single idea.

 This image was one I got lost in and never quite made it back out of. It defied the technology-perscribed cultural direction that I sensed was to be the inevitable demise of narrative illustration. After seeing this image I knew that I wanted to make images that were mediations on ideas, and not just flashcards of them.

 On top of being a artistic philosophical turning point for me, it was also a technical one. If you haven't already noticed, this painting is a city-crushing, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla of technical achievement. It is first extremely precise, with profoundest care taken in the focal points, such as the horses thrusting hoof, which focuses the action there for a brief moment as the eye moves through the composition. And then in the areas that are not meant to fight with the focal points, such as the body of the tree and the rocks beneath, there is an elegance and economy of brushstrokes that show a care in execution that borders on perfection. These subtleties are gorgeous upon examination but slip passively into the background when any of the focal points are examined. One might perhaps think that the success of this painting is the result of chance, that these are not mortar bombardments of awesome-ness but are rather just a few lucky strokes, the result some secret medium that he mixes on the panel before applying the paint.

 The truth is more devastating.

I had a chance to visit Petar in 2009, and while there he took the time to show me some of his drawings. I had always considered myself to have a passable drawing ability and felt that I knew a thing or 2 about the craft. I was a professional after all.

 When he pulled out his preliminary drawings that he did for his paintings, I saw the greatest drawings I had ever seen in my life and I blacked out. And while I was blacked out, I had a vision. It was Judgement Day, and I was giving an accounting of myself before the angels and saints. My art was being brought out and passed around. I learned that it was to be compared against Petar's art, which someone had decided was to be the standard by which all drawings from the era were to be judged. The saints and angels wore grim, unimpressed expressions as they shuffled through my pages of scribblings. Then they started watching the recordings from my life of me playing video games instead of working on my drawings and I woke in a panic.
I smelled coffee. (Petar makes a turkish coffee so strong that the mere smell of it would wake a hibernating bear who was frozen in a block of ice under 40 feet of snow and who had just taken 12 Ambiens and was listening to Blue Danube by Strauss.) He handed me a cup and asked if I was OK. 

As we looked through the rest of his drawings I realized that his paintings are not just the result of an excellence in the ability to apply paint, but that they are also the result of rigorous practice in drawing and extremely meticulous planning in the draft stages where he seeks to resolve the visual problems in his image. I realized that Petar is a genius. I felt like I was looking at the blueprints for the invasion of Normandy. While I could not expect to ever be so flawless in my approach I realized that if I was serious about this I would have to take drawing to an entirely new level that I had never even considered before.

 If you have not already, check out his book, The Legend of Steel Bashaw from Flesk. In the back are included some of the drawings for the project. If they don't nuke your brain, they will certainly knock your socks off. It is one of the most valuable books for the practicing artist to come out in years. Check out the rest of his work on his website here and his new blog here.

33 comments:

  1. I know it is silly and frankly a bit demeaning to try to define an artist by using other artists that his work reminds you of, but this is like Frazetta, The Hildebrandt brothers and Paul Bonner all rolled into one. Bonner is another one of those artists that doesn't conform to the philosophy of simple, quick-read images. I think he and Petar are two of the absolutely best artists alive on this planet right now.

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  2. And he set up a table in the showcase right next to mine... which I guess wasn't such a bad thing because his area was packed the whole time. Sometimes you see the drawing lose a bit of energy when it's translated to paint... not with him.

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  3. Justin, I couldn't agree more! Peter is such a great role model for me too.
    I've just got the US edition of "The Legend of Steel Bashaw", and I alredy had serbian one for some time. This book with its "Making of" section is so invaluable to every art student. I've learned more about drawing from Petar's sketches (from his book „Source of imagination“), than from years at art school.

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  4. @Justin: Thanks for sharing. Petar is indeed a master, his draftsmanship is reminiscent of something more classic, like da Vinci... or Dürer.

    @Davidstill: The other day I was showing my girlfriend some of Paul Bonner pieces in comparison to some of the artists here on this blog and we both came to the same conclusion. Paul Bonner's work has to be investigated to see the forms, which either intentionally executed or not, in art school we are taught to pull the eye to the focal points with clarity, but clearly Bonner is able to hold us in with the richness of detail and brings me to question conventional "rules" of art.

    -Joey

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  5. Great post, Justin!

    I'm a huge fan of Petar. He sent some work to me on disc, for a book that me and Aly fell were working on, and I remember sitting for ages, dumbstruck by his brush strokes, zooming in and zooming out like a loon. I'd love to see one of his paintings 'in the flesh'. His work is incredible and you do a fantastic job of describing his talents here.

    I LOVE your 'judgement day' paragraph... That's so bang on!

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  6. Amazing.

    And an amazing review Justin, free from irony and posturing.

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  7. I died a little bit inside when I saw his word in the IlluxCon Showcase. Stellar!! And I hesitated just a few minutes too long to pick up the book. Damned indecision!

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  8. My table was on the other side of Petar's table from Allen up there. He was one of the warmest and modest painters I have met. His work was just absolutely gorgeous and it amazed me that he was confused that so many people knew his work work and loved it. I think he said something to me like "I didn't realize anyone in the U.S. knew and liked my work." D'OH.

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  9. I must have been right behind Jon in line for the book, but Volkan was kind enough to let me flip through his copy. I felt the same way when I saw Donato's work as a teenager- It's almost like falling in love with a person, involving many of the same fluttery-heart symptoms. So many qualities of Petar's work are what we strive for as artists, and just think how lucky we all are that there's talent of this high level in our generation to look up to!

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  10. I shall now find a hole and crawl inside. Hopefully one unoccupied by that beastie in that amazing painting. And the penciling is gorgeous!

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  11. The Legend of Steel Bashaw 10 (the one that loks like Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" but with demons) was at the SoI for the Spectrum Exhibit and I remember Steve Belledin, Randy Gallegos and Myself starring at it for what seems like forever. There is a small part in the upper right-hand corner that almost made our heads explode. The helmet of the armored demon looked like it was painted really thickly and Petar took great care to make sure that he turned the form. But then he carved into it with his pallete knife to reveal the dark under-painting and create the cool plate metal feel. To this day I'm amazed by the simplicity and the confidence it took to make those little strokes. And I wish that one day I'll have the same skills.

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  12. Nice post, Justin.
    You're a good writer, and way too modest.

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  13. I do see his influence in your work. I wonder what it is within us that causes that almost electric reaction to some artist's work and not to others. Probably not much different to how we respond to music or other forms of expression. Though I've only seen Petar's work in books, I know a few people who have seen his work in person and have been awed by what you have described. Great article, Justin. Your judgement day vision made me smile.
    (BTW: just ordered the book)

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  14. Awesome! I'm so glad I got to meet Petar at Illuxcon. Super nice! I was lucky enough to see that piece in person at the 1st Spectrum Show in NY. Blew me away! I've been a huge fan ever since. Thanks for posting! It was great meeting you Justin and seeing your beautiful work as well.

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  15. Can anyone suggest where i might be able to purchase a copy of his sketchbook? the website is in a different language and he was obviously sold out at illuxcon... i'm dying to pick one up!

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  16. Excellent post Justin. Unfortunately, I missed out on the book as well. But will snatch it up for sure.

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  17. i known Petar's paintings and illustrations since i was 8-9 years old. my friend father was very close friend with Petar, and every time i went to his house to play, 70% of the time i was starring at the walls full of posters and illustrations done by Petar.
    And if somebody said to me that one day i will get to meet one of my greatest role models, and share my illustrations in the same book with him, i would say: "GET THE F OUT OF HERE"!!!

    Well im saying it now "GET THE F OUT OF HEREEEEEE"!!! :)

    Ggreat post Justin, Petar Meseldzija is a GENIOUS and truly ONE OF A KIND!!!

    Vanja

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  18. Vanja, if he remembers you mention my name.

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  19. @ Anonymous- you can purchase The Legend of Steel Bashaw on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Legend-Steel-Bashaw-Petar-Meseldzija/dp/193386530X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290010345&sr=8-1

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  20. Petar had one of his paintings behind his table at Illuxcon. I was lucky enough to grab a book, and spent a good deal of time over two days staring at that painting. Revelatory. Depressing and inspiring at the same time.

    I've been told that next year he will be one of the featured speakers at Illuxcon. I'll be there.

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  21. Petar Meseldžija started a blog recently. In his blog you will find contemplative and technical insights into his work and art in general. You can check out the first blog post here: http://petarmeseldzija.blogspot.com/

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  22. Great post Justin. I love Petar's work. I look forward to seeing his work in person.

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  23. Amazing write-up, Justin. Your explanation of “the ability to meditate on the quality of a single idea” is insightful and intriguing. I had the pleasure to visit Petar earlier this year. I spent much of my time staring at length at his paintings and drawings, while losing myself in their beauty. I can relate to the feelings you expressed.

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  25. Ordered the book right after reading this afew weeks ago. AMAZING TALENT!!! (As are you Justin -you ARE too modest) But I'm TOTALLY KICKING MYSELF for not knowing/meeting Petar at Illuxcon this year!! ARGH!!! I was standing right across from his table talking to Mark and my friend Veronica & never turned around to notice him!! (AH!!) Hopefully next year he'll return so I can worship the ground he walks on... lol Seriously, his work is mind-blowingly gorgeous and inspiring WOW~!!!

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  26. Justin, you ripped a laugh out with your description of judgment day - it resonates with me - all too true. I think the more you commit to your work the more you uncover and fear your short comings. It's not so much about how others view us as much as it is how beat up we get from our own inner voice. The torture of falling short of perfection.

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  27. I am also fan of this kind of pictures.!

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  28. That is what you call paint well used.

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  29. A great post, enjoyed reading as to what ever has been shared, well done....

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