Van Gogh and the Vibrancy of Drawing

Among the team at Nitram Charcoal, the mere mention of painter Vincent van Gogh is sufficient to recall images of brilliant yellow sunflowers, radiating red night cafés or the vibrating cobalt of the night sky. Equally captivating – though less appreciated – are the bevy of Van Gogh’s drawings. Van Gogh was a prolific draftsman, with output ranging from intricate ink studies to quick charcoal sketches. Through these pieces one can sense the same artistic brilliance that resonated through his paintings, yet one can also catch a glimpse of the rigor of his technique. Freed from heavy impasto and intense pigments, van Gogh’s drawings offer a streamlined look at the artist’s true talents and the evolution of his technique over the course of his all-too-brief existence.

van_gogh_self_portraitSelf Portrait, 1887 – Pencil on paper. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

Throughout his artistic career, van Gogh placed particular importance on drawing. This emphasis was probably owed in part to the fact that he was primarily a self-taught artist, and thus sketching was an essential means of study. His insistence on drawing, though, went beyond just the need for technical training; rather, van Gogh espoused a true passion for drawing, sometimes using images when his words failed him. As he wrote to his brother, Theo, in June 1877, “as I sit here I cannot help making a little drawing now and then, like the one I sent you recently.” This brief snippet is testament to the fact that van Gogh’s extensive notes to his brother were dotted with diminutive drafts and sketches. In short, it was as if his drawings kept him company during his otherwise very solitary life away from his family.

van_gogh_garden_of_the_hospitalGarden of the Hospital, Aries, May 1889 – Pencil, reed pen and pend and brush and ink on paper. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

As such, there is an intimacy to be construed from van Gogh’s drawings, as if they are treating the viewer –however momentarily – to a glimpse of his world. They reveal the aspects of the everyday that fascinated him, from the profiles of little girls to the landscapes of his neighborhood. At the same time, they illustrate the early machinations toward some of van Gogh’s most memorable paintings.

man_drawing_van_gogh_charcoalMan Drawing, Feb-June 1886 – Part of Paris Sketchbook – Chalk on paper. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.

They also echo the course of van Gogh’s career, which was tragically plagued with the instability of illness. As his paintings became more eclectic, his drawings became more intricate, as illustrated, for example, in the meticulous details of Garden of the Hospital, Arles. Conjured only a year before van Gogh’s tragic demise in July 1890, this drawing alludes to the stability that rigorous drawing brought to the unstable figure of van Gogh. Art was a central backbone to van Gogh’s existence, and it is through his drawings that one can trace this centrality most clearly.

Nursery on Schenkweg, April-May 1882 – Black chalk, graphite, pen, brush, and ink, heightened with white body color on laid paper watermarked ED & CIE (in a cartouche). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Have you had a chance to view van Gogh’s drawings? What do you find captivating?
Tell us here!

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A Look at the Albertina:
The Art of Collecting

Posted On: September 5, 2016 — Written By:
Category Artists, Artwork, Featured Art, General, The Basics

Jakob Alt Nitram CharcoalJakob Alt, The Palace Duke Albert Alongside the Augustiner Bastion, 1816.

For the art fan, the moment inevitably arises wherein a piece inspires the thought “I wish I could own that.” Depending on the price point, though, that dream is not always realized. For the great families of past generations, however – those with endless wealth buying artists who were, at the time, not yet added to the art historical canon – art was amassed at record paces. While some of these noble houses accumulated paintings and sculptures, others focused their collecting on the art of drawing. Such is the case with Vienna’s Albertina Graphic Art Collection, one of Austria’s star museums. Boasting a collection of more than 60,000 drawings and thousands more prints, the Albertina is renowned still today as one of the finest collections of prints and drawings in the world.

Nitram Charcoal Albrecht DürerAlbrecht Dürer, Young Hare, 1502 – watercolor and body color – Albertina, Vienna.

The story of the collection began with Hapsburg Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen (1738-1822), who started amassing art in the late 18th century. He was spurred on following a gift of hundreds of art pieces by Count Giacomo Durazzo, Genoese ambassador to Vienna, on the occasion of a visit of the Duke and his wife, Maria Christina, to Italy in 1776. The Duke’s marriage to Maria Christina was an important one, as it made him an in-law of Empress Maria Teresa (1717-1720) and thus afforded him access to immense family status. In addition, it afforded the Duke substantial fortune to continue expanding his art collection.

When he was gifted a magnificent palace in the center of Vienna from Emperor Franz II (1768-1836) in 1795, Albert thus took the opportunity to fill the walls with his graphic collection. He continued to build his holdings, as did his heirs. The result was the massive collection the museum now holds.

Nitram Charcoal Leonardo da vinciLeonardo da Vinci, Study for the Last Supper, circa 1495 – pen, ink and silverpoint – Albertina, Vienna

A Viennese architectural landmark since the 18th century, the Albertina palace itself has expanded over time. Albert’s heir, Archduke Albrecht, for example, added an elaborate fountain to the property’s southeastern façade. It has also undergone significant hardships – it was only in the early 21st century, in fact, that the catastrophic bombing damage from World War II was finally repaired. In addition, the museum also now accommodates modern and contemporary art enthusiasts with new exhibition spaces for traveling shows and recently acquired several 20th-century collections on permanent loan. What has stayed the same, though, is the museum’s permanent collection of prints and drawings, which has remained exceptional throughout.

Have you visited the Albertina? What was your favorite piece? Have your own tips for collecting art?

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Master Drawings at the
Art Institute of Chicago

Posted On: August 29, 2016 — Written By:
Category Artists, Artwork, General

When the Art Institute of Chicago received a monumental gift of near 4,000 drawings from the Gurley family in 1922, it established the basis for the massive collection of master drawings that the institution has continued to cultivate over the past 90 years. The museum’s new exhibition, entitled “Master Drawings Unveiled: 25 Years of Major Acquisitions,” which launched on 27 August pays homage to this rich assortment of world-class drawings that span the course of history.

exh_master-drawing_main-1_360hFrançois Boucher, Academic Study of a Reclining Male Nude, c. 1750.
Black and red chalk, heightened with white chalk, on cream laid paper.

What this showcase also reveals, though, is the importance of drawing in the development of artistic techniques. On the one hand, it reveals how artists develop and refine their styles from student to professional studio. On the other hand, these drawings offer a progression of new art movements, as they capture the artist’s thinking process. By reading these images, the viewer can thus get a better understanding of where the big steps forward in art history occurred and how the artists who initiated those steps got started themselves.

exh_master-drawing_main-3_480Gustave Caillebotte. Study for Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877.
Graphite with touches of charcoal on tan, moderately textured handmade laid paper.

Boucher’s Academic Study of a Reclining Male Nude, for example, tells the story of a traditionally trained painter who channeled this expertise into some of the most beloved works of the Rococo period. At the same time, Gustave Caillebotte’s Study for Paris Street; Rainy Day narrates the evolution of one of Impressionism’s most captivating views of the French capital city.

exh_master-drawing_main-4_480Jean Delville. Medusa, 1893.
Colored pencils and wax crayons, with pen and blue ink, brush and gold paint and blue gouache, over graphite, on yellow wove paper.

From Italianate interiors to moving self portraits, the range of images are, for the most part, being shown for the first time since their acquisition by the museum over the course of the past 25 years. As such, they are a sort of untouched time capsule, not only of the Art Institute’s vast holdings, but also of the brilliance of artistic production from the 17th century to the present day.

exh_master-drawing_main-5_360hDame Laura Johnson Knight. Study of a Young Woman, 1926.
Watercolor, pastel, and charcoal on ivory laid paper.

“Master Drawings Unveiled” will remain on view at the Art Institute of Chicago until January 29th, 2017. For more on the exhibition, please visit the Art Institute’s website.

Have you visited the exhibition? Tell us about it!

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Contemporary Charcoals:
Jimmie Arroyo

Posted On: August 16, 2016 — Written By:
Category Artists, Artwork, Charcoal Inspiration, Charcoal Technique, Featured Art, General

Artist Jimmie Arroyo is arguably a contemporary artist with an Old Master’s soul. Channeling some of his most substantial artistic inspiration from the masters of the Renaissance and Baroque eras, Arroyo updates their determined draftsmanship with his modern sense of design, resulting in a body of work that is both complex and compelling. Arroyo graciously took the time to participate in our “Contemporary Charcoals” interview series, which is the feature of this week’s installment. In this interview, Arroyo shares a bit about his inspirations and influences along with some fantastic examples of his work.

For more on Arroyo, please visit his website.

Brenna
Nitram Charcoal (NC): What is the last art show that you saw? What did you take from it?

Jimmie Arroyo (JA): I was very lucky to catch “Van Dyck; The Anatomy of Portraiture” at the Frick, and “Unfinished” at the Met Breuer on the same day. Not too long before that, I was able to see “Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print” in Chicago.

I’ve become a recent fan of Van Dyck. I admire the way he would work realistically but also very abstractly at the same time. Seeing his work up close makes you realize how loosely he applied his paint, but his works nevertheless maintain a highly detailed quality. The “Unfinished” show gave insight as to how the artist worked, through studies and compositions that were never taken to completion. I’m always fascinated by witnessing the artist’s process.

Moth Mouth
NC: What is your favorite collection to visit? What collection/museum in on your visit wish list?
JA: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been my favorite museum for many years.   When I visit, I try to see as much as possible, but sometimes I will concentrate on a specific area for the day: 19th and 20th Century, for example, or European, American, or on a special temporary exhibition. The visit may depend on my mood, if I want to view more colorful pieces, realistic, painterly, or figurative, or a particular style that day.

I would have to say The Hermitage in St. Petersburg would be at the top of my wish list simply because of its size, collection and history.

NC: In your opinion, what sets charcoal apart from other artistic media?

JA: I enjoy the versatility of charcoal, it can be used in many different ways. It comes in the form of pencils, sticks, powders; it can brushed on, rubbed, washed on, erased; it can render thin or thick lines, light to dark. It’s also ready to use when you are, easy to carry around, and just very enjoyable to work with.

Tulip Dream

NC: What is one thing you cannot live without in the studio?

JA: Good lighting. I work in a small space in my apartment and I mostly rely on a ‘daylight’ easel lamp. It’s not perfect, but it has to do for now. I mostly work at night so north light wouldn’t be an option for me, but I used to work with a set of fluorescent bulbs that worked well. Hopefully I can work with something similar in the future.

NC: What is the strangest response you’ve ever received for a piece?

JA: During a show in NYC last May, after walking around looking at my work, a woman came up to me and said that the work left her with a feeling of sadness. I honestly wasn’t sure how to respond – I couldn’t tell if I was insulted or complimented.

Another time, I received a reaction to my work that really moved me. Someone had sent me a direct message on Instagram saying “There is a certain emotion in your imagery that makes me feel a little less alone…truly incredible!” Having someone connect to my work on that level was an amazing feeling.
Silence
NC: If you could buy any one work of art, what would it be, and why?

JA: Soon after the birth of my daughter in 1998, I had almost completely stopped producing any art. In April 2003, I went to see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit at the Metropolitan, and that same night I started drawing again. One piece that stood out was actually a copy of da Vinci’s The Battle of Anghiari by Peter Paul Rubens. I wouldn’t consider it my favorite piece of art, but it had a big influence on my return to artistic production.

Unraveling

NC: What inspires you in the studio?

JA: The first thing that inspires me is the challenge of turning the idea that’s evolving in my head into something real. I am thrilled by the beginning of the process, when it is just my initial idea and a blank canvas before me, and I am spurred on by wondering if it will work, if I will be satisfied when I’m done, and if it will touch someone else. Then I fall for the process of turning my idea into a reality. This phase can move quickly and smoothly; other times it can be tedious and stressful. Reaching the end also causes excitement as a reward and the beginning for a new idea to come to life.

NC: Outside of charcoal, what is a medium with which you’d like to experiment?

JA: I would love to do more painting in oils. I’ve done a few pieces, and although I’ve gotten decent feedback, I don’t feel very confident with it. I want it to feel right, that I have a certain amount of control over it and consistency. I do believe with more experience, I can become more comfortable with oils. I would love to enjoy everything I do, regardless of medium, and have the viewer enjoy it also.

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In Case of Fire… Rock on

Posted On: August 3, 2016 — Written By:
Category General, News, Nitram

nitram-river-img_r2_17The “conflagration” which is what I am now calling the fire at the Nitram factory, had overwhelmed me – psychologically and even physically. I did not feel inspired to paint or draw or even doodle. These sort of events are life changing. I needed a diversion. Something to focus my mind and body on.

Several years ago we had a concrete walk way put in along the side of the house. It is about 35 feet long and about 8 feet wide.

Because that part of the house faces the South, Pat uses this area to grow tomatoes in pots. Big delicious heirloom tomatoes that taste ridiculously good.

Anyways, there is a narrow strip on the opposite side of this walkway. It is about 18 inches wide and it gets very little sun.

At first, I had the landscapers put down plain gravel. A kind of throw away feature that you ignore in lieu of delicious tomato satisfaction ;-).

However, after a while it started to bug me.

One day, I scooped out the gravel and replaced the entire strip with lovely fist sized pink smooth rocks. I selectively gathered these from the nearby beach while doing my twice daily walk with Ollie (our Rat Terrier). I brought them all back in my knapsack. It took several months to complete as I can only carry so much.

It looked good. I had pink rock satisfaction.

Then, the following Spring, I thought it all looked kind of tiresome. The rocks were regular. They looked ho-hum.

William Hazlitt said it well “Though familiarity may not breed contempt, it certainly takes the edge off admiration”.

So I decided that the pink stones were good but, maybe size variety would do the trick – after all, size can matter…

Bigger pink rocks would do the trick. A variety of pink rock sizes will spice up the walk way.

So I scooped up the unsatisfactory pink rocks from the walkway and took them back to their lake front residence. Bigger pink rocks were needed. Larger more substantial big rocks were required. My ambition knew no bounds but, my back did. Some weighed close to 50lbs! Quite the workout, but worth it.

It looked good for a while…

A couple of weeks ago while walking Ollie along the beach and musing on the nature of fire and how unfair it can be, I noticed these beautiful black egg shaped stones. Wow – black granite with varying degrees of white and sparkly specks. These oblong, egg-shaped, ovaloid, oviform and even elliptical little darlings fascinated me. I put a few in my pocket to muse over and went back to the house. Pat wondered if I was happy to see her 😉 I took out a few small pink stones and replaced them with my new found black stones. Wow interesting stuff.

Then it hit me. A pink valley of giant cliffs with a black river running through it. YES! More black stones came up from the beach AND I needed more large pink rocks for my cliffs. Before long it looked like a Japanese “kasansui”. The term comes from an ancient Japanese word which implies that the garden feature should be viewed as symbolic rather than representational. Sounds like painting styles to me. Anyways, I was thrilled with the result.

Now, when I walk by, I feel like a bird flying over the valley. I can hear the water rush through this creation. I continue to find more fascinating black stones and replace the less desirable ones

I strung a bunch of pictures together to give you a sense of the valley. Did you notice the upwelling?

No man can ever live with the same river twice. It’s never the same rock and I continue to be not the same man.

So just Rock On!

~ Jerzy Niedojadlo

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