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Alphonse Mucha: Reprinting a lost Art Nouveau masterpiece 

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 30 March, 2016 by Chandra


Le Pater, Alphonse Mucha’s Masterpiece of Symbolism- A love letter to the close of the 19th century and a message of hope to the future.

We launched a Kickstarter campaign on Easter Sunday to fund the printing of this book, and in less than 48 hours our initial goal was met and surpassed! We are thrilled at the passionate response from art lovers worldwide, and with 13 days left of the campaign we hope to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible. Please help us spread the word by supporting the project with a pre-order and giving it a signal boost if you know others with whom this will resonate.

-Chandra

http://kck.st/1MsQUHr
From the Kickstarter page:

By December 20, 1899, Alphonse Mucha had experienced four years as the most recognizable proponent of Art Nouveau graphics and the most celebrated illustrator in Paris. The massive output of the artist in his first four years in the advertising and decorative world earned much for Mucha’s publisher but very little for the artist himself.

As the end of the century grew near, Alphonse Mucha insisted upon the release of a deeply personal work, and printed 510 copies of what he for the remainder of his life considered his works-on-paper masterpiece, Le Pater.

Decidedly non-denominational, Mucha’s exploration features a female deity protecting humankind and a number of sophisticated occult themes across a series of images of mystical illustrations.

Unlike the advertising art that had dominated Mucha’s output since his “discovery” by Sarah Bernhardt in late 1894, Mucha described this series of images to a New York reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into.” (The Sun newspaper, 5 January, 1900)

Mucha’s previous artworks were lithographed on numerous mediums ranging from paper to silk, in multiple formats; Mucha’s publisher Champenois saw that Mucha was the most printed artist in Paris in the late 1890s. Mucha’s concern, understandably, was likely that the imagery of his spiritual work would be capitalized upon. By 1899, he had earned the right to demand that the Le Pater images would be produced in an edition of only 510 copies, and subsequently saw the plates destroyed- ensuring the work would never be reprinted for mass-market purposes.

The images from Le Pater are mentioned in numerous Mucha books as his masterpieces and are universally acknowledged alongside his massive Slav Epic paintings as his finest work. However, as a result of Mucha’s forced limitation of the publication of this masterwork, the rarity of the lithographs means that most books are limited to mentioning the images in the text and leaving the reader to wonder what these “lost masterpieces” might look like.

The original promotional materials for the Le Pater series name these artworks as of “rare interest and considerable importance”. Over 115 years later, the description continues to ring true.

HOW CAN I HELP MAKE THIS HAPPEN… and SEE THESE ARTWORKS?

If you’d like to see all these artworks in one book, captured in high resolution from the originals… Please support our project and pre-order the book! You’ll also be receiving special Kickstarter-only rewards and helping create the public exhibition of a selection of the original works on paper happen in Los Angeles from July 22nd through August 20th, 2016 – just in time for Mucha’s July 24 birthdate!

Click here to view our Kickstarter campaign: http://kck.st/1MsQUHr

You wanted ’em? We got ’em! Come see the amazing FREAKS!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, San Diego Comic Con, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on 8 April, 2013 by SeanMChase

The days of circuses, carnivals, vaudeville, cabarets, and early cinema have always held a hypnotic sway over me and I’ve been obsessed with them since my childhood.  Of particular interest are the sideshow attractions and freak shows.  The wondrously bizarre, beautiful, and grotesque world of sideshow freaks has been a source of fascination and controversy from the time of their inception in the 19th Century, though circuses themselves date back to ancient Graeco-Roman traditions.  While today we may not have direct access to the theatrical spectacle of circus sideshows, at least not the ones that proliferated in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and which focused on physical abnormalities, we do have certain portals into that world of entertainment that existed in the dark shadows of The Big Top.  Aside from modern sideshow attractions, which focus more on physical performance than physical deformity, there have been numerous films and works of art that have attempted to pay homage or preserve the atmospheric ambiance, the eccentric characters, and unbelievable world of circuses and their inhabitants.  Perhaps the strange allure of the sideshow can be reduced to the simple dynamics of exhibition and exploitation, but then again, most forms of art and expression can.  What is it that makes carnivals and circuses so tantalizingly mysterious to the outside world?

Perhaps the circus is the exaggerated reality that lies just beyond the periphery of our accepted social sphere.  It at once allows us a glimpse into an environment where everything is heightened, pushed to the limit (and sometimes far surpasses it), and while things may be familiar, nothing is really the same as in the lives that we know.  Though it isn’t feasible to escape our frustratingly mundane personal realities and simply “run away to join the circus”, it is possible to seek inspiration and escapism within the world of freaks and carnies.  Taking inspiration from this spectacular world is exactly what Gail Potocki has done.  Begun in 2009, the Freaks portraits series is an ongoing project for Gail, and only a few of her amazing portraits have been revealed and even more have yet to be created.  The brilliant portraits are like a peephole into the circus tents of the past.  Not only do they shine the spotlight on some truly unusual characters, but they also expose their humanity in a way that is both profound and endearing.  Each portrait embraces its subject as an individual, both celebrating their differences and acknowledging their humanity, and all the while doing so in a playfully creative manner that is fitting of Gail’s symbolist style.

The first five "Freaks" paintings by Gail Potocki!

The first five “Freaks” paintings by Gail Potocki!

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Help us ILLUMINATE PARKINSON’S on March 23rd!

Posted in Uncategorized on 14 March, 2013 by Thomas Negovan

ILLUMINATE PARKINSON’S
Final Gallery Showing of works by Allan Amato
March 23, 2013 at 7pm
Century Guild
6150 Washington Blvd. Culver City, CA

All sales on centuryguild.net (when you enter the code MICHAELFOX) through March 23 benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, plus Silent Auction and eBay of Allan Amato artworks.

Some time ago my friend Allan Amato began a project in honor of his good friend Becky who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at an alarmingly young age- the reach of this illness was far greater than he had imagined, and he wanted to share his new awareness with his peers.

Dave McKean for Illuminate Parkinsons

Dave McKean for Illuminate Parkinsons

Allan asked luminaries of the creative world to pose for photographs as part of a campaign “illuminating” the disease, pulling it from the shadows and making people aware of the depth and breadth of its existence.  Fantasy stalwarts Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean- action stars Randy Couture, Thomas Jane, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Danny Trejo- and music icons My Chemical Romance and Al Jourgensen of Ministry are just some of the names who stepped in to help the cause and raised lantern, torches, and other light sources to the cause.

Fairuza Balk for Illuminate Parkinsons

Fairuza Balk for Illuminate Parkinsons

A year and a half later, the show has toured the country and the final stop is at Century Guild’s LA location (Culver City to be exact).  The artworks that toured for the exhibition will be “silent auctioned” with 100% going directly to benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research, and to add to that we’re making a special discount code that will make any purchases made on the Century Guild website direct a portion to the charity as well.

Neil Gaiman for Illuminate Parkinsons

Neil Gaiman for Illuminate Parkinsons

EBAY

Bid online on signed art prints from Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Fairuza Balk, and Gerard Way by clicking here: http://www.ebay.com/sch/323allanamato/m.html

Stephanie Leonidas of MirrorMask and the upcoming Syfy series Defiance

Stephanie Leonidas of MirrorMask and the upcoming Syfy series Defiance

SILENT AUCTION

A (semi) complete listing of the artworks that will be available at the silent auction is listed below- you can write to GALLERY AT CENTURYGUILD DOT NET to place a remote bid.  We expect surprises and last-minute additions at things get unpacked closer to the event so we hope you can be there!

001. Framed Grant Morrison print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

002. Framed Neil Gaiman print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

003. Framed Kevin Smith print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

004. Framed Stephanie Leonidas print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

005. Framed Terry Gilliam print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

006. Framed Fairuza Balk print (red baroque frame, from touring exhibition) (36 x 42, edition 1 of 1)

DONATE BY OTHER PURCHASES

One good turn deserves another, so to thank you for your support of this important cause, we will give anyone purchasing ANYTHING and EVERYTHING on our website 10% off for the entire month of March- and then we will take an additional 20% and make a donation on your behalf to the Michael J. Fox Foundation For Parkinson’s Research.  Take this opportunity to get something nice for yourself- whether it’s a t-shirt, a book, or a museum quality piece of 19th century art- enter the code MICHAELFOX at www.centuryguild.net and see the profits from your purchase going to an important charity.

Follow the event updates on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/509184402472492/

See photos of the artworks as the show is hung by following us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/centuryguild

http://www.michaeljfox.org/

Grant Morrison for Illuminate Parkinsons

Grant Morrison for Illuminate Parkinsons

Randy Couture for Illuminate Parkinsons

Randy Couture for Illuminate Parkinsons

Coming January 12th, 2013… After the Apocalypse!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Century Guild Events, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 8 January, 2013 by SeanMChase

The Mayans were wrong and the world did not end, so we’re celebrating!  Century Guild is proud to present a new show on January 12, 2013, which will feature three very different artists exploring visions of life, death, and the possibilities of what may come after.  The themes and imagery will be rooted in the human psyche and range from the divine to the obscene, from despair to salvation, from paradise to perdition.  We’ll be showcasing very rare artworks by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha, German Expressionist Bruno Goldschmitt, and contemporary artist Richard Friend.  In other words, this will be one hell of a show!

After the Apocalypse... January 12th, 2013 at Century Guild!

After the Apocalypse… January 12th, 2013 at Century Guild!  Featuring the indelible artwork of Mucha, Friend, and Goldschmitt!

 

Alphonse Mucha‘s name should be more than familiar.  He was the single most important figure of the Art Nouveau movement and certainly the most recognized for his outpouring of creativity and his prolific capacity.  His paintings, illustrations, advertisements, postcards, and decorative designs were hugely influential at the turn of the century and are still highly sought after by collectors today.  Aesthetically, the imagery he created with its fine line work, decorative floral elements, and graceful figures of femininity, became the groundwork for Art Nouveau.  Best known for his many commercial works, mainly lithograph posters, postcards, and illustrations, Mucha’s work expanded far beyond that as well.

Frustrated with the fame he achieved almost solely through his commercial endeavors, Mucha declared that it was his aim to produce artwork that was more personal and spiritual.  As a result, Mucha created two series of masterful narrative images, all done in his distinct style, but with greater attention to detail and more thematic intensity.  The latter of these two series was his ambitious and enormous Slovanská epopej (Slavic Epic) inspired by the history and legends of the Slavic people.  This series consisted of twenty large canvases that took him over eighteen years to produce from 1918 to 1928.

However, of equal import both in terms of his artistic development and the shift in his aesthetic to more complex thematic content, and lesser known due to its limited printing of only 510 copies, are his symbolically rich drawings for Le Pater (The Lord’s Prayer) published on December 20, 1899.  Originally printed by F. Champenois and published by Henry Piazza, Le Pater was an elaborately illustrated and illuminated work in which Mucha took each verse of The Lord’s Prayer and created a corresponding illustration to it.  Filled with enigmatic figures and occult motifs, it was described by Mucha in the January 5, 1900 issue of The Sun as “the thing which I have put my soul into”.

"Hallowed Be Thy Name" by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

"Give Us This Our Daily Bread" by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

“Give Us This Our Daily Bread” by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

"Lead Us Not Into Temptation But Deliver Us From Evil" by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

“Lead Us Not Into Temptation But Deliver Us From Evil” by Alphonse Mucha (1899, lithograph).

 

Bruno Goldschmitt was a German Expressionist, who although somewhat obscure today, is probably best known for his printmaking using woodcuts, although he also made tapestries, paintings, and worked in various other mediums.  A friend and associate of Nobel winning German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter Herman Hesse, Goldschmitt was very much of the contemporary school of art stylistically and he incorporated a great number of influences into his aesthetic.  His work is imbued with much of the iconography of Symbolism and the emotional potency of Expressionism, as well as the bold line work and sharp, exaggerated angles of the latter.  But in terms of the themes he expressed, most can be traced back to Germany’s ancient history and medieval European art in general.  Allegorical woodcuts and drawings of classical figures of European myth and legend abound in his work, as do idyllic and somewhat pantheistic scenes of rural countryside activities and seasonal changes, but most fascinating are his dynamic images inspired by the Old Testament.

"The Prophet" by Bruno Goldschmitt (circa 1920, woodcut print).

“The Prophet” by Bruno Goldschmitt (circa 1920, woodcut print).

 

One of the things that I love about Century Guild is how various artists from different eras and movements are all brought together to form a lush collective representing different styles and genres of art.  Not only do we have classic works from the key movements of the 19th and 20th Centuries, but we also get to introduce people to some of the most original, innovative, and moving pieces of contemporary art.  With that in mind, we’re proud to be displaying the work of Richard Friend

"Black Drawing VII: Falling" by Richard Friend (2010, ink on paper).

“Black Drawing VII: Falling” by Richard Friend (2010, ink on paper).

Brimming with imposing shadows, tormented souls, and atmospheric locales, the compositions almost seem caught between recollection and nightmare, and simultaneously function as commentary on societal woes and project the dilemmas of the subconscious, making Richard Friend‘s Black Drawings unforgettable.  The high contrast of the black and white, the intricacies of the line work, and the pervasive images of decaying buildings, crumbling statues, and of human lives lost in torment help to evoke a haunting mood quite unlike anything else.  Spending most of his life as a musician, Richard’s work is understandably endowed with a dark, compelling lyricism that enriches the themes he so adeptly explores.

"A Feast of Saints" by Richard Friend (2010, ink on paper).

“A Feast of Saints” by Richard Friend (2010, ink on paper).

Explaining the inspiration for the above image, “A Feast of Saints” to me,  he said, “The idea is that we as humans are vulnerable, victims to larger things: our own fears; religion; power.  So, the figure is god-like [and represents these things] and then you have man below cowering.  There’s also a maternal element to the piece.”

Striving to create art that would be both deeply personal and original, Friend’s drawings are gripping works that not only express his own ideas and feelings, but are also sure to elicit strong emotional reactions from viewers.   Among Richard’s diverse inspirations and influences are Rembrandt, Goya, Dalí, Saudek, and Giger, so it’s no wonder that his vivid imaginings are so captivating to look at and so difficult to categorize.  He has more than achieved his goal of creating contemporary art that is both personal  and original, he has created something that is transcendent.  Richard described the reactions to his art, saying, “It can almost act like a Rorschach for people.  It’s very interesting to see which pieces appeal to what people.  It surprises me.”

 
Information on the After the Apocalypse opening and exhibition:

AFTER THE APOCALYPSE opens January 12, 2013 with a reception from 6-9pm at Century Guild.
Exhibition continues January 17, 18 & 19 from noon-8pm.

For further information or press photos contact the gallery at 1-800-610-CENTURY or gallery@centuryguild.net.

Century Guild
6150 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

So, is the end nigh?  Far from it, we’re just getting started.

– Sean

If we survive the Apocalypse… MUCHA, GOLDSCHMITT, and FRIEND

Posted in Uncategorized on 25 November, 2012 by Thomas Negovan

Three amazing artists with bizarrely apocalyptic visions. An infinite number of possibilities.

Coming January 12, 2013. Just in case the Mayans were wrong.

Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha

Bruno Goldschmitt

Bruno Goldschmitt

Richard Friend

Richard Friend

 

January 12, 2013: After the Apocaplypse

January 12, 2013: After the Apocaplypse

 

Holiday Sale announced! December 12-24, 2012!

Posted in Uncategorized on 25 November, 2012 by Thomas Negovan

Come see the new gallery!  December 12-24, 2012
6150 Washington Boulevard in Culver City

Noon-10pm daily- to make holiday shopping easy!

Century Guild Holiday Sale

Century Guild Holiday Sale

Jeremy Bastian and His Cursed Pirate Girl Return!

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Century Guild Events, Jeremy Bastian, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 10 November, 2012 by SeanMChase

As you know, Century Guild has relocated its gallery from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, and we are very pleased to announce that our new location will open with a very special book signing with none other than our good friend, Jeremy A. Bastian.  We will be holding a Grand Opening for the new gallery on December 1st, 2012 from 6-9pm.  Jeremy will be there in person to sign books, including advanced copies of his graphic novel, Cursed Pirate Girl, which is being published by Archaia Entertainment.  We will also be displaying exclusive artwork from Cursed Pirate Girl for the first time.

Cursed Pirate Girl: The Collected Edition, Volume 1 (Archaia Publishing, published Dec. 2012)

The ongoing story of Cursed Pirate Girl tells the whimsical tale of a young girl as she sets sail for adventure in search of her missing father, who is one of the legendary Pirate Captains of the mythical Omerta Seas.  On her voyages, both above and below the surface of the ocean, she encounters a series of bizarre, charming, and grotesque characters that leap forth from the page with such vitality and imagination that they rival the fantastical creations of Lewis Carroll, Winsor McCay, and Terry Gilliam.

Jeremy A. Bastian, attending San Diego Comic-Con 2012, stops by the Century Guild booth to meet fans and sign autographs of his work.

At a time when just about everyone seems to be familiar with comic book characters and their worlds, primarily due to the high-end film adaptations of superhero comic books, it has become increasingly rare for comics fans to stumble across anything original.  As Hellboy creator Mike Mignola has said, “It’s all too rare that I see work that is truly original – and I almost never see work THIS original – Jeremy Bastian is a genius.”
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And Then There Were Three: Century Guild Moves To Los Angeles

Posted in Uncategorized on 3 November, 2012 by Thomas Negovan

“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”? “Your Own Special Way”?  Both were nominal hits for Genesis in 1974 and 1976, respectively, and if you recognize either of them, you’re clearly a Prog Rock fan or have spent quality time in my basement with my record collection.  But 1977 was the year when everything changed for Genesis…  And Then There Were Three was a pivotal re-mapping of territory which took the best of their art and tempered it with a commercial agenda, and also marked the most successful lineup of the band- the trio that carried Genesis forward would remain the solid lineup for more than two decades.  I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Peter Gabriel fan, to be certain, but I can say for certain I never would have discovered the genius of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway if Mssrs Rutherford/Banks/Collins hadn’t opened the doors for me with Abacab and a decade of radio hits in the 1980s.

In 1976, “Follow You, Follow Me” was the first hit on ...And Then There Were Three…  and the beginning of their most celebrated era.

Why the Genesis reference?  Because every ending is a beginning.

Century Guild in Chicago has closed its doors.

Century Guild Chicago

Century Guild – Chicago

For thirteen years, we’ve been thrilled to call Chicago home.  From our years as a staple at Chris Kennedy’s fantastic Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fairs to the opulent Winnekta Modernism and other North Shore events, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the top collectors in Chicago in the fields of Art Nouveau, Arts+Crafts, and early Modernism.

We were ahead of our time as dealers in artworks of the Vienna Secession, and while our early displays of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele works on paper were met with many a confused look, over the years we steered many of the abovementioned collectors out of more traditional collecting paths and into Secessionist work.  Thanks to the faith and trust- and good taste- of those collectors, the last few years saw our collective risks rewarded, and our reputation in Chicago was cemented as ahead-of-the-curve curators in the world of Art Collecting.

Our Midwest presence also allowed us to see works which we earmarked in our inventory as top examples enter the extraordinary permanent collections of The Art Institute of Chicago and The Detroit Institute of Art.

Thomas Negovan giving a Detroit Institute of Arts tour on Gustav Klimt and The Vienna Secession:

Thomas Negovan and Stuart Tomc in Chicago, 2009

Thomas Negovan and Stuart Tomc in Chicago, 2009

All that said, we have come over time to realize that with very few exceptions the art that we were most passionate about, most excited about handling, was being shipped to California.  Cabaret artworks, Silent Film posters, rare theater and romantic, occult-themed artworks from the 19th century… these are the things that get our blood racing!

So, as of the day following the Gail Potocki exhibition in Chicago, Melissa, Chandra, and I have moved to Los Angeles to oversee the opening of the new Los Angeles Century Guild gallery.  Our friend Jerry Suqi is managing a pop-up location in Chicago through the end of the year nextdoor to the historic Logan Theater on Milwaukee, and expect to see Stuart and Jack pop up from time to time at both locations as events allow.

Chandra Darling, Thomas Negovan, Melissa Chapel - New York 2011 - Staff of Century Guild - Los Angeles

Chandra Darling, Thomas Negovan, Melissa Chapel – New York 2011 – Staff of Century Guild – Los Angeles

We will continue to curate and deal in 1880-1920 artworks, and will continue to push the envelope of what we feel is exceptional- yes, we will still have Klimt and Schiele, but much like ten years ago when we were encouraging collectors to take a risk on “this Klimt fellow” we are looking forward to devoting more attention specifically to the careers of Gail Potocki and Jeremy Bastian.  We think they’re pretty special, and are certain that you will agree.

The gallery formally opens December 1, 2012 with a book signing by none other than Mister Jeremy Bastian.  Artworks from his book Cursed Pirate Girl will be on display, and in a rare opportunity will be available for sale for one weekend only.

Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl

Jeremy Bastian’s Cursed Pirate Girl

I can’t tell you how excited we are… the space is grand, the ceilings are high, the location is prime.  We’re right in the center hub of the Culver City Arts District, and have amazing exhibitions planned.

We always appreciated when people would travel from out-of-town to attend one of our Chicago exhibitions, and we can say without hesitation that our Los Angeles shows will take it even farther.  Watch our calendar, book your tickets, and we will see you on the West Coast!

CENTURY GUILD

6150 WEST WASHINGTON BOULEVARD

CULVER CITY, CA

DECEMBER 1- DECEMBER 2

Artist will be present to sign special Advance Hardcovers with Limited Edition bookplate.

JEREMY BASTIAN: CURSED PIRATE GIRL

Clinging to Life: An Examination of Gail Potocki’s “The Raft of the Medusa”

Posted in Century Guild Contemporary, Gail Potocki, Uncategorized with tags , , on 18 October, 2012 by SeanMChase

Amongst humans there is an inherent fascination with the sea and with the water from which we once sprang.  Over the years we have come to understand not only the life-giving and life-sustaining necessity of our oceans, but also the primal beauty of them.  Because of water’s inconstancy and ability to adapt to its environment, it has been used as a representation of the human emotional condition, but also as a symbol for the vast cosmos with its many changes and unknowns.  We have imbued water with symbolic importance, as we have observed the connection between the tides and the cycle of the moon, and how those cycles reflect the very changes of human and animal life on Earth.  We have created myths and fables: of seductive water nymphs and sirens who lure sailors to their dooms; of indomitable gods and goddesses who were borne of and ruled over the seas; of heroes whose mightiest weapons were plucked from mystic waters; and of babies sent in rafts either to meet their demise or to seek sanctuary by divine providence in new lands.

The image of the shipwreck has permeated all cultures as a cautionary metaphor for what happens when we drive ourselves too far, ignorant of the many consequences, or when we allow ourselves to be seduced by convenience and comfort rather than rationality.  Where once the shipwreck was a symbol of human failure or death, today, with the advances of technology allowing for mass transportation of passengers and cargo, the shipwreck is frequently a disaster not only for those immediately affected.  It is also a disaster for the environment and for the thousands of different forms of aquatic life that must survive, or do not survive as so often is the case, through the aftermath.  So, it should come as no surprise that there must be a cautious equilibrium between ourselves and the oceans lest we wish to face catastrophe.

“The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen, custom frame).   Taking her title from Théodore Géricault’s 19th Century painting of the same name, Gail Potocki has created another masterpiece of environmental symbolism.  This particular painting is both a lament for the destruction of nature in the past and warning of the inevitable effects should such destruction continue unchecked.

 

The idea that a man-made tragedy can now take a great toll on non-human life as well and wreak havoc upon the environment and ecosystems is the predominant theme in Gail Potocki‘s 2012 painting, “The Raft of the Medusa“.  The painting is a stark work of environmental symbolism that summons up an unforgettable image of a catastrophic shipwreck, which leaves in its wake a fire and plumes of smoke, a slick of oil on the ocean, and various birds and animals desperately clinging onto a woman, who represents all of humankind, for survival.  While the proverbial rats leave the sinking ship and turn the woman’s collar into a makeshift raft, birds doused in thick oil panic and struggle to survive as they flail their wings trying to free themselves from the crude.  The woman, who is garbed in an opulent dress and seemingly oblivious to the destruction and turmoil around her, discards a partially eaten apple with insouciance.  Upon that apple is a sticker with a bar code, a further reminder of humanity’s attempt to control and capitalize upon nature at nature’s expense.  In Gail’s own words, “I’ve often used the apple as a symbol of the Earth.”

Detail from “The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen).  The woman’s hand lets go of the apple from which she has bitten into, letting it fall into the sea.  The apple, which represents the Earth or the environment, has been used as a resource, a mere commodity, harnessed by humankind to suit their purposes and then unlovingly discarded.  Meanwhile, the oil-soaked birds flail in distress around the woman.

Detail from Gail Potocki’s “The Raft of the Medusa” (2012, Oil on linen). Here, we can see the rats as they become dependent upon the woman, clinging to her collar for survival from the wreck which her species was responsible for.  Standing on the back of her collar is a Vacanti mouse.  The Vacanti mouse or “earmouse” as it has commonly been referred, was a SCID mouse (severe combined immunodeficiency), which are frequently used for research in biology.  The Vacanti mouse had bovine cartilage grown under its skin, which then developed into the shape of an ear.  Experimentation on rats and other rodents is yet another example of how humans have benefited from nature and from creatures for our own gain.

 

The title of Gail’s painting is an appropriation of and homage to Théodore Géricault‘s 1819 painting Le Radeau de la Méduse, which was one of his best known works and is a cornerstone of 19th Century French Romantic movement in art.  Géricault’s painting was an ambitious work by which the French artist hoped to secure his place among the great Romantic painters of his day.  Inspired by the 1816 wreck of the naval frigate, the Méduse, off the coast of what is now modern-day Mauritania.  This wreck was attributed primarily to the inexperience and incompetence of its captain, the Viscount Hugues Duroy de Chaumereys.  The ship was poorly navigated and had drifted a hundred miles off of its charted course, which lead to it running aground on a sandbank in West Africa.  The ship carried over 400 people, of which 160 were crew members, but the capacity of the life boats was only 250 people.  Those who could not be afforded room in the lifeboats built a makeshift raft, which was intended to be towed by the lifeboats, but the 147 people upon the raft was too great a number and almost immediately the raft began to take on water, so the raft was cut loose and the people on it left to their own devices.  Within the first day, they had eaten the only food they had and their drinking water was lost amidst an on-board scuffle.  The survivors were driven mad by exposure to the elements and starvation.  Weak, malnourished, and mutinous, they began to turn on each other, eventually resorting to murder and cannibalism.  By the time a rescue crew attempted to save those on the raft, only fifteen of the 147 people were still alive.  The rest had perished by starvation, by sickness, by being consumed as food, or by being thrown into the sea and some of those did so of their own volition.  The resulting press surrounding the tragedy became a scandal and an embarrassment for the French monarchy.

“Le Radeau de la Méduse” by Théodore Géricault (Oil on canvas, 1819).  In selecting the subject matter for what he hoped would be the painting that brought him acclaim, Géricault chose to depict the harrowing moment in which the fifteen survivors of 147 upon the raft see in the distance an approaching vessel sent to rescue them.  Géricault had thought that he could rise to prominence by featuring the wreck of the Méduse and its survivors as his theme, however, the painting became controversial during its 1819 unveiling at the Paris Salon in part due to its aesthetic departure from the serenity of the Neo-Classical, but also due to the sensitive subject matter and the heightened emotional response it elicited.

Gail Potocki‘s painting echoes some of the same themes as Géricault’s, such as the struggle to survive in the wake of disaster and the incompetence and arrogance of mankind.  While Géricault’s painting was inspired by the wreck of the Méduse, Gail took her inspiration from more recent disasters such as the Exxon Valdez in 1989.  The analogy is there and basically the same, but the great difference is that over the years we have better developed our ability to save human lives through safety precautions and rescue efforts, however, so often lessening the devastation wrought upon nature and wildlife isn’t made a priority until it’s too late.

An oil-soaked bird from the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989.

A detail from “The Raft of the Medusa” by Gail Potocki (2012, Oil on linen).  All too true to life, Gail’s meticulously detailed and emotionally wrought depiction of the birds covered in oil is representative of the thousands of birds who have been affected by oil spills and similar man-made calamities.  Through her art, we are allowed to experience their anguish, to empathize with them, and to accept that there must be change.

 

Eventually we must ask ourselves:  What happens when we overestimate our own abilities and underestimate nature?  Any conflict which arises from such a circumstance almost invariably sees a drastic loss in life, though not always human, and yet there are often consequences of horrendous proportions which some of us choose to see while others do not.  We have a responsibility to ensure that the planet we depend on, and that all systems of life depends on, is taken seriously and respected.  Nature is not to be trifled with.  This theme, this reverential treatment of nature has oft been expressed in poetry and the arts, as has the warning for humankind not to let their ambitions outreach their grasp.  Gail’s environmental paintings are a bold, always beautiful yet often unsettling, and essential reminder that we are a part of nature, that our actions do carry with them an effect (be it for good or bad), so there must be an attempt to protect the natural world around us or accept that its demise will also be our own.

– Sean

A Sensual Fantasia from the Mind of Dave McKean: A Review of “Celluloid”

Posted in Dave McKean, San Diego Comic Con, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 23 August, 2012 by SeanMChase

When it comes to the subject of erotica in art and literature, I consider myself to be a person of discerning tastes.  Outside of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the writings of Donatien Alphonse François, le Marquis de Sade, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I have found most explicitly erotic literature to be banal and mechanical.  So often, it merely serves a primal function,  but rarely offers up anything more than titillation or sexual catharsis.

When it comes to art, a great example of this would be the erotic illustrations of  Édouard-Henri Avril, one of the premiere pornographic artists of the late 19th Century, and an artist whose work I admire very much.  However, while Avril’s work is splendid in its timeless appeal and subject matter, what it lacks, what it fails in, is that it’s fairly unimaginative and unexpressive.  The compositions are predictable and the use of color is minimal and overly restrained.  Though his illustrations succeed in providing an iconic visual counterpart to the erotic literature it accompanies, it rarely ever offers provocation of the mind or evocation of the emotions.  In other words, it is simply visual eye candy displaying a wide range of physical experiences without the enrichment of genuine expression.

Yet there is another kind of erotic art that manages to do so much more than this.

Artists such as  Gustave CourbetFélicien RopsGustav Klimt,  and  Egon Schiele  found their own unique way to convey erotic themes and ideas through artwork, and their works, while varying in style and predilection, all display a level of personality and expression that was unsurpassed during their lifetimes.  This was art, not for the sake of arousal, but art for the sake of art and with the power to elicit feelings of passion, desire, loneliness, and introspection.

With the commercial rise of erotica in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, there has been an ever outward-growing spiral of mediums to accommodate those in desire of exploring their carnality and sensuality vicariously through the creations of others.  Today, we have artwork, literature, music, cinema, and countless other media with which to express ourselves, so unsurprisingly human desire has spilt over into all of these areas, although in some areas more than others.

One art form that has been proliferating in the public eye since the late 1930s is comic books and graphic literature.  Strangely, with the exception of lasciviously humorous cartoons and buxom heroines in tight-fitting costumes (or no costumes at all, in some cases), the medium hasn’t explored sensuality as in-depth as other narrative mediums.  Outside of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls, it is difficult to think of one well-known work of erotic graphic literature… until recently.

Last year saw the publication of an exceptional work:  Dave McKean‘s text-less graphic novel, Celluloid.

The cover of “Celluloid”, an erotic graphic novel by Dave McKean.

Celluloid, which was published in 2011 by Delcourt in Europe and by Fantagraphics Books in the United States, is perhaps a different kind of erotica than what people have come to expect.  Firstly, it is a graphic novel, and unlike so many graphic novels, it does not revolve around superheroes, monsters, or crime.  It’s a work of fantasy and like most works of fantasy, it is about a journey, but this book is about a journey inward into the sensuality of the human mind and into the mysteries of human desire.  It is “fantasy” in the purest sense of the word.

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