I was going to write this response to Julia Harrison’s post on her art inspirations in the comments but I realized that it was going to be way too long. So I decided to make a post of my own exploring my influences and inspirations.
One of my earliest influences was my father. He did oil painting as a hobby and I grew up with finished and half-finished paintings tucked all around the various houses that we lived in. His subject matter varied greatly, everything from space-scapes of Venus and Mars, to WWII planes, to whales, but I think that his great love was the female figure. And I can’t say I blame him. It has been a life-long fascination for myself as well. I suppose you can say that I grew up in a liberal household and artist nudity was never really something that was seen as scandalous or horrible. Naturally, I was prevented from viewing more pornographic things on the Internet until I was much older but no one ever freaked out about nipples or other nudity.
Alberto Vargas pin-ups are one of the first visuals I can vividly remember and I was always fascinated with the elegance of his lines and composition of his pieces. He also died on the same day that I was born which is one of those weird coincidences. Vargas was renowned for his spectacular use of airbrushing to achieve the realism of his paintings. Which is probably where I get my first inklings of my desire for realism in my work.
My love of the ancient world began when I first discovered a the Minoan Civilisation. I’m not sure if it was from a picture book or from one of the National Geographic magazines that lay scattered around our home, but I was utterly fascinated. The paintings seemed so alive to me. So bright and vivid and passionate. Someone living almost four thousand years ago had painted these images. Some child probably sat at this artist’s feet like I did with my father, watching in delight as the people and bulls and plants seemed to magically appear from the artist’s brush. My deep fascination of the Minoans was something that has never left me to this day.
I was lucky enough, because of some strange class scheduling error, to be able to do art for five years instead of three in my high school. I went through three art teachers during this period. The first was a wonderful woman. A little eccentric, but I think that all the best teachers are. She was the first person who really taught be to see. Not look at, but see. I recall one time when she made us (all three students) lie flat on our backs on the balcony and stare at the branches of a tree that hung over it. For an hour. We did nothing during the entire class but stare at it while she talked. I distinctly remember it being the first time that I could really see blue and yellow in the greens. The first time I really became aware of shadows and the subtle difference between ones with hard lines and diffuse edges. Sadly, we had this amazing woman only for our first year.
The middle teacher I do not recall much of, but the third and last I butted heads with in a massive way. She was very into abstract and modernist art. And we never ever saw eye to eye on anything. Call me a heathen but Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol do absolutely nothing for me. She, however, waxed lyrical about how art was not meant to try to best the camera so realistic styles were nothing but feeble imitation and pathetic. In trying to ‘push the limits’ I shifted to fantasy and mythological art. Frank Frazetta, Brian Froud, Luis Royo, Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo paintings were all printed out and pasted across my journals and even my school notebooks.
At this time I also became mildly interested in comics. I would pick up ones on the cheap at yard sales and became quite enamoured with Jeffrey Scott Campbell’s work, particularly the odd copies I had of Gen 13. This was the point that I started inking. I would print out his pencil work and ink them as best I could. I also discovered graphic novels with both the Sandman Series and Watchman nestling themselves in my brain forever. My last year art project was an acrylic painting of Dr. Manhattan on Mars in contemplation. Needless to say, this did not go over well with my art teacher.
My experiences with art in high school left me somewhat disillusioned with it all. I was under the assumption that it wasn’t possible to ‘make it’ in the art world unless you were doing groundbreaking, and in my opinion, downright weird work. The world of comics was a brief dream that I put away as a childhood fancy and illustration was something that never even pinged on my radar. Some might say that at this point I gave up art, but I prefer to think of it as simply dormant. At university I took Drama and Performance studies with a focus on stage and costume design, so I was still creating and had great fun with that. I enjoy working with my hands so making model sets and huge masks were almost as much fun as drawing. My major though, was in Classical Studies. My childhood interest in mythology and folklore blossomed as I took courses on ancient history, Greek and Latin, and literature. The literature held less sway over me than the real art of the ancient world. We had a tiny, one-room museum in the university and I spent many hours simply gazing at the cast-copy reliefs, Greek vases and pieces of Roman glassware that we had housed there.
Half a year after graduating from university I was on a flight to Japan with the Japanese Exchange and Teaching Programme. It was only supposed to have been for a year or two, but almost ten years and two children later I’m still here. While I was teaching at junior high school I was lucky enough to be able to join the after-school art club and my love of drawing woke once more. For a long time I just messed around with rather random things, trying new subjects (my animals and plants suck) and eventually settled back on the human figure as my main focus. Without any formal training under my belt I began downloading old art books and working sporadically from them. Having children upturned the cart somewhat and I’ve only recently gotten back into art as a focused hobby. During this time I discovered the Art Renewal Center, a brilliant online museum of realist art. Not only do they have a great many works of the old masters but I discovered that there were modern realist artists working quite successfully today. Mind. Blown. My love of the ancient world and realist art came together as I saw the works of artists like Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Edward John Poytner.
The internet has proved an amazing resource for finding amazing artists and resources. I follow so many artists that I’m not sure I could list them here so I’ll add a few of my favourites here. Click on the paintings to go to their home pages.
Wow, what a great post! I love reading about other artists’ journeys. And it’s always interesting to see the similarities between mine and theirs.
As you know, we have quite a few things in common. Realism, an interest in comics, a passionate love of ancient history. I think we have a lot to share with each other. And I have something to thank you for because, while I explore my sci-fi leanings, you keep me aware of my passion for history. I hope to explore it, too, in the coming years.
Here’s to the joy of art!! 🙂
Thanks, Julia. I’m looking forward to seeing more historical works from you, especially if the last one is anything to go by.
Thank you so much for sharing your art inspirations throughout your life! your post is inspiring and inviting to reflect on this for anyone who is being creative. One day i will write it up for myself!