Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Influential Paintings 1

Akseli Gallen-Kallela...taught me that design and detail can coexist.

Greg Manchess

As it has been said, no one is original.

And yet, everyone is. As long as an artist is authentic to their approach, they are original, but it stems from what came before them. Just as thoughts build on the ones that precede them, ideas build until they arrive at the ‘aha!’ moment. No one creates, or paints, in a vacuum. Influence runs deep, from subtle input to outrageous effort. From emulation to imitation.

Over time, I realized I had to understand my influences in order to differentiate what was already me, and what was trying to be me. The authentic me, like the one we all own at our very core, worked its way out by recognizing a kinship with other creatives, other painters.

These are some of the magnificent paintings that profoundly influenced my own painting. They guided me out of the selfish fog. Maybe you feel the same about them, too. Or maybe these will help your authentic self push open, igniting your own methods.

I used to lay these paintings out on my drawing table to help me understand the process I wanted to learn and build, and the process of painting in general. There’s a little bit of me in all of them, and perhaps a little bit of you as well.

This is the start of a new series I’d like to share, based on my personal influences. They come from all areas of the art world.

They speak to me, and I hear myself.

NC Wyeth, The Black Arrow...Nature or not, a powerful use of black.

Edwin Dickinson, The Ruins At Dapne...finished and unfinished--the blend keeps the mind engaged.

David Grove, A Coffin Full of Dreams...use of light and loose paint are compositional aspects.

Mead Schaeffer...composition is story-telling.

Norman Rockwell, Ichabod of the greatest character portraits of all time, for any time.

Frank Duveneck, figure studies...a fresh, deliberate application of paint, masterful in touch, can be frozen in time.

John Twachtman, Arques la Bataille...landscape is character.


  1. I remember seeing that Gallen-Kallela painting in my art history textbook for the first time when I was in college. It blew my mind. Unfortunately, the textbook (and my professor, as I recall) didn't discuss the painting or the artist in any depth. I definitely need to revisit him. Thank you, Greg!

  2. That Gallen-Kallela painting is reprinted in the Time Life Enchanted World books. I had some as a kid, and never realized that it was filled with images from so many great artists. The whole series is filled with all kinds of amazing art.

  3. There's a great book on him, Megan, but it's a foreign import. Has been out for a long time, but you might find a copy. He's on the level of Zorn I think, but least over here in the US.

    Love those Scandinavian artists!

    If you get to NYC before mid May, there's a fantastic Zorn show at the National Academy Museum....oils, etchings, some sculpture, and some of the most amazing watercolors I've ever seen.

  4. On my wanderings in Finland, a lifetime ago, I stumbled across Gallen-Kallelas' paintings - and that was that for me. Especially this one - Lemminkainen,s Mother. It still has the same effect on me, about 35 years later. It is a word used too much, or maybe not enough actually. This is perfect to me. As Greg says "design and detail", plus flawless anatomy, beautiful colours, and a real sense of something very powerful and emotional emanating from the canvas that conveys real depth.
    Definitely an influential painting!

  5. I meant "that's" Tim! sheesh...

    Hey Paul...thanks for the title....forgot to include that! Duh. An amazing painting, huh? Just love everything about it. Incredible how simple that swan shape is in the background.

    I could do a whole series based on outlining figures and using flat shapes and designs mixed with smooth detail just from the inspiration in that one painting. Would be so much fun....

  6. That Gallen-Kallela painting was in the encyclopedia we had in my home when I was a kid. A tiny black and white reproduction, but the composition, the strange mix of the ornamental contour lines and the naturalism in the Mother's expressive face still made a huge impact on that kid that was me. In 2012 I finally saw the original in Paris - the Musée d'Orsay had a Gallen-Kallela-exhibition while I took a drawing class there. That was a memorable moment.

  7. Edwin Dickinson made some crazy drawings and paintings. Great artist.

  8. In Helsinki a few years ago I visited the museum that houses many or all of the Gallen-Kallela series on The Kalevala, from which this painting is taken, including some amazing murals on the walls of the building itself. The Kalevala is the book-length Finnish national epic poem, telling the story of the creation of the world, and the gods and heroes that populated its early history. Just as rich as Greek or Roman mythology, but pretty much unknown outside of Finland. And the sound of the poem is mesmerizing - it's written in "trochaic tetrameter" (like Hiawatha) see Wikipedia..."The Kalevala also follows a loose trochaic tetrameter, though it also has some slight variations to the normal pattern, which cause some people to term it the "Kalevala Metre"."

  9. I tried pasting in one of the two ceiling mural photos I took on that trip, but couldn't. But that image is taken from this painting: which is IMO almost as cool as the Lemminkainen painting.

    1. Slightly different version here:

    2. Donald Duck (Aku Ankka) is big in Finland!

  10. Almost chose that one, too Douglas. LOVE that painting! Thanks for the reminder, and if anyone reading hasn't seen it, it's a beauty and graphically excellent.

  11. "Over time, I realized I had to understand my influences in order to differentiate what was already me, and what was trying to be me. "

    I think I am at this stage, I see a few images that "remind me of something I already know" I think that comes from Marshall Arisman. BUT do you think you could go a little more in depth about this statement? What you you mean by "understanding" your influences? Are you simply picking out the pieces that you love the most out of certain paintings? Or is it something else?

    As always, your posts are my favorite. Thank you so much!

  12. This sounds like the beginning of a new "10 Things" post Jeanne!

    But to answer quickly, we all look at paintings we like, drawn into them for any number of reasons. But pay attention to the paintings you are drawn to that feel 'familiar.' Something about the paint itself, or the subject matter (that's an easy one), or the lighting, or the composition. I've always felt a certain 'kinship' with paintings that are composed the way I compose.

    Wait a minute....the way I compose? What about when it was an early reaction, before I knew how to compose? That's right...there's a tie-in. We respond to things on a familiarity level because as unique as we all are, we share similarities that are passed down.

    There's not much discussion about this in the art world. I plan to talk more and more about it because my research shows that there are links going back and back and back. We are not born in a vacuum, and we don't create in one. There are influences that start before we even realize they are influences, and that builds a recognition of sorts.

    When I first spotted that Duveneck piece above, I thought I had found something strangely familiar. I've paid close attention to that aspect ever since....since I was 19, actually!

    We are drawn to the work that touches the thing inside us that most wants to come out, creatively. You follow that and you will find your approach.

    1. Guess what? You are my hero. Thank you so much! I can't wait for future posts!

  13. Great article. Just a note on that N.C Wyeth painting though, it appears that the contrast is all wonky in the reproduction posted above. I've just been to the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, where the painting from the Black Arrow resides and it's actually a lot more subtle, and not black at all, but a mixture of blues and browns - here's a detail that is a more accurate representation:

    The Brandywine Museum is certainly worth the visit for anyone interested in seeing the works of N.C Wyeth, or Pyle or Schoonover, etc, in person. It's worth it just to see how large N.C Wyeth's paintings are, and to visit his studio.

  14. Please tell me that youre going to keep this up! Its so good and so important. I cant wait to read more from you. I just feel like you know so much and know how to make people listen to what you have to say. This blog is just too cool to be missed. Great stuff, really. Please, PLEASE keep it up!
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