An Essay

The following is an essay written by Lucy Ashworth, an Art Student in Scotland. I was humbled and thrilled by her eloquence. And delighted by her ability to see what so many  others miss about creative influence. 

“Influence is inescapable. Whether the artist is aware of it or not, they constantly pick up inspiration from others, and a good artist uses this as an aid to their own work without copying the original artist. Absorbing and channelling the essence of what and who influences you is what shapes you as an artist and what makes your work unique. Refining the style, technique, or ideas of other artists that you admire and combining it with your own original skills and ideas over the course of your artistic career forms new styles, techniques, and ideas in themselves and is ultimately how art and design continues to progress. This process can be seen when we compare the work of contemporary artist Damian Chávez to that of Gustav Klimt.
1 Damian Chávez, Valerie, 2012
As collectors and admirers of “Art Deco”, Damian Chávez’s parents introduced him to the style in his youth, and this early influence is obvious in his work today. Born in 1976 in Los Angeles, Chávez went on to study art and history in Paris, Florence, Prague, Chicago, and California. His paintings, almost exclusively female portraits and figures, are rich with pattern and colour reminiscent of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, as well as elements of Japonisme composition and detail. Likely the most obvious of his influences is Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt; a leading artist in the progression of Art Nouveau and whose work was also largely inspired by Japonisme. Chávez borrows and stylises many of Klimt’s techniques, signature qualities, and ideas which can be shown when we compare works by the two artists. Looking at ‘Valerie’ (2012) by Chávez beside ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer’ (1907) by Klimt the most immediate similarity is pattern. The irregular repeated rectangle pattern can be found in multiple Klimt paintings and in ‘Valerie’ Chávez enlarges this pattern and uses primary colours, mainly blue tones, instead of Klimt’s lavish gold, black, and white to create an atmosphere of tranquillity and wistfulness with contrasting pops of red and yellow in the shapes to bring his subject forward from the background. Although Chávez leaves the edges unfinished unlike Klimt’s intricate and complete image he creates texture in the background with brushstrokes as if it were rich with detail, and the rectangle pattern can be seen again although 

2 Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907
very subtly through shadows and highlights in the background. Both of the women featured in the paintings have a thoughtful and distant expression, however this is something Chávez continues in the overall atmosphere of the painting whereas “Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter’s character, and even less so with providing location and context” (The Art Story), he was more interested in the way he adorned them with gold and pattern. I think that this borrowing and simplifying of Klimt’s style works well as a modern portrayal of his influence.

 

Klimt’s influence continues to reveal itself in pieces like ‘The Three Graces’ (2010). Klimt was famous for his erotic portrayal of women through pose, composition, and use of colour, qualities that Chávez has taken elements from and used in his own depiction of women. Comparable to Klimt’s ‘Water Serpents II’ (1904), ‘The Three Graces’ shows a group of nude women surrounded by decorative pattern. The trio stand close together and almost wrap around each other, giving a very tactile feeling as all of their hands are visible where they hold onto each other, the fingers spread yet positioned delicately to emphasise their femininity. This positioning of the hands is a recognisable feature of Klimt’s work used to add to the delicate intricacy of his paintings. Another notable similarity are the slim and elongated bodies of the women. In both artist’s work the body type of the subjects are consistently thin, tall, pale women, with small breasts, and most often dark hair. Chávez says of his subject matter: “Using the feminine persona allows me a freedom not attainable by other means” (2015), I think that both Klimt and Chávez use women in their art to create beauty, elegance, and passion in a way that only a female subject can provide, and allows the artist to explore possibilities that they otherwise couldn’t without art. Women are exquisite creatures and so provide a beautiful image but the mystery and confidence that the characters portray creates depth and makes it an engaging piece. Techniques that Klimt has influenced in Chávez’s work are seen in the skin of the women; blue tinged outlining of the bodies, imperfect skin with visible brushstrokes and emphasised, streaky blushing cheeks add to the erotic 

3 Damian Chávez, The Three Graces II, 2010
style of the paintings as it gives a raw and passionate feel. Klimt’s famous heavy use of gold can be found in Chávez’s ‘The Three Graces’ where it creates a feeling of ecstasy and bliss, mirrored in the pose and expressions especially of the woman in the centre. Her closed eyes, open mouth, and hand nearing her face are all gestures frequent in Klimt’s work to convey his character’s pleasure. Chávez utilises all of these features yet his piece differs from ‘Water Serpents II’ as he does not fill the painting with

4 Gustav Klimt, Water Serpents II, 1904
ornament. Instead the background is left empty as the focus is on the women, something difficult to find in Klimt’s rich and detail oriented work.

Although Chávez’s art occasionally appears extremely similar to Klimt’s the two artists differ in vision. Artist and writer Samuel Adoquei suggests in his book ‘Origin of Inspiration’ that all great artists require five attributes: inspiration, passion, talent, skill, and vision. “Vision” is individual, it is what the artist sees and wants to convey in their work, and they typically develop their own aesthetic style through their skill set and techniques to channel this vision. He goes on to say: “Style, when taken literally, can come across like vision, yet style and vision are miles apart. Style is like our signature. Style is the way the artist personally uses his materials. … An artist can therefore imitate another’s style in order to support his vision.”(2013). Though at times Chávez and Klimt’s work may seem similar, their visions are separate as they are two different people existing at entirely different times. Working partly in a way alike that of an artist you admire is influence, but to go so far as to force yourself to work exactly as they did where it is not your own honest and individual feelings, is copying.

 

5 Gustav Klimt, ‘Danaë’, 1907

However, influence may not be as obvious as style or technique. An artist may be inspired also by the ideas of another artist or stories that their work tells. Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Danaë’ (1907) tells the tale from Greek mythology of Danaë, daughter of Acrisius. Locked in a tower by her father, Danaë is visited by Zeus who takes the form of golden rain and she becomes pregnant with his child, Perseus. From its title we can instantly tell that Chávez’s piece ‘Daughters of Jupiter’ (2014) is inspired by ‘Danaë’ as Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of Zeus. This title suggests that the painting is the direct product of ‘Danaë’’s influence, its offspring, or its ‘daughter’ even, as if in Klimt’s painting Danaë becomes pregnant and Chávez’s piece shows her daughters here in the 21st century. Although the story tells that she has a son – Perseus – and not two daughters, Chávez uses female characters as the piece almost represents a modern version of Klimt’s painting. He places the characters nude on a bed just like Danaë, and though their poses are similar to Danaë, when you look closer they seem more tranquil and as if they are resting, whereas Danaë lies curled up in pleasure and arousal. In his painting, Chávez takes inspiration from Klimt’s use of pattern and updates it, he makes it cleaner and simpler by refining the shapes used and turning them into tidier, modern black and white patterns with pops of primary colours. This work is a clear example of an artist having developed their influences through their earlier work and now refining and


7 Damian Chávez, Daughters of Jupiter, 2014

making them their own. Chávez does bring Klimt’s gold into this painting as it symbolises Jupiter/Zeus’s appearance to Danaë as golden rain, although it is more similar to that of Klimt’s piece ‘Judith II’ (1909). He provides solid golden strips at the sides of the piece to reference the original story yet keeping it looking cleaner and more minimal than Klimt’s style.

6 Gustav Klimt, Judith II, 1909
 

For an artwork to be entirely original is impossible. You are influenced by what you see and experience every day and it somehow enters into your work whether you are conscious of it or not, and through Damian Chávez’s work we can see how an artist takes his influence and utilises and develops it as he himself develops as an artist. Gustav Klimt’s influence on Chávez is clear in his subject matter, style, and technique, however Chávez offers a modern and personalised version of these qualities. The way that he updates these attributes is an example of the process that art and design requires to be able to continue, and appropriately addresses use of influence in a way which displays admiration to the original artist.

References

Adoquei, S. (2013). Origin of Inspiration. 2nd ed. New York: Samuel Adoquei, pp.27, 47, 48.

 

Bade, P., Rogoyska, J. and Klimt, G. (2011). Gustav Klimt. New York: Parkstone International, p.144.

 

Chavez, D. (2016). Damian Chávez – Oil VS acrylic versions of “Three Graces”,… | Facebook. [online] Facebook.com. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/DamianChavezArt/photos/a.398720080235948.1073741826.398716586902964/887527311355220/?type=1&theater [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

 

Chavez, D. (2016). Support Damian Chavez creating Traditional fine art : Drawings – Paintings – Art Instruction. [online] Patreon. Available at: https://www.patreon.com/damianchavez?ty=h [Accessed 15 Feb. 2016].

 

Chávez, D. (2014). Damian Chávez. [online] Pictify. Available at: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/user/DamianChavezArt [Accessed 8 Feb. 2016].

 

Chávez, D. (2015). Paintings | Voluptvaria. [online] Voluptuaria.wordpress.com. Available at: https://voluptuaria.wordpress.com/category/paintings/ [Accessed 10 Feb. 2016].

 

Chávez, D. (2016). Bio. [online] DAMIAN CHÁVEZ. Available at: http://www.damianchavez.com/bio.html [Accessed 10 Feb. 2016].

 

Klimt Museum, (n.d.). Judith II (Salome) 1909 Gustav Klimt Painting. [online] Available at: http://www.klimt.com/en/gallery/women/klimt-judith2–salome-1909.ihtml [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].

 

The Art Story, (2012). Gustav Klimt Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. [online] Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-klimt-gustav.htm [Accessed 12 Feb. 2016].

 

Wikipedia, (2016). Jupiter (mythology). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_(mythology) [Accessed 17 Feb. 2016].”

Fondling a breast like it is 1656


The Procuress, 1656, Oil on canvas 56″x51″ by Jan Vermeer.

This is one of my favorite of Vermeer’s works. Many people will pass by this painting seeing it as a nicely done quaint old master painting. Look again.
Some factoids: Vermeer painted it when he was only 24 years old. The guy on the left holding a lute and smiling at the viewer-the musician-is a self portrait.

The old woman dressed in black in the middle is the ‘procuress’. A Procuress is an old fancy word for a ‘Madam’, a female pimp, a business woman involved in the sex trade who arranges prostitutes with clients in a brothel. The younger lady in yellow is a prostitute, her hand outstretched to receive money that the dude in red is about to give her while he is fondling her breast with his other hand.

If you are thirsty, there is a little white wine (something like Liebfrauenmilch). I am pretty sure the lyrics of any songs sung were appropriately bawdy. 
Music and merry company! 

How to use a Sketchbook or Notebook

New sketchbooks or artist notebooks should get a few customizations to embellish, refine and to personalize them …with love. ‘B’ means this is only my second sketchbook ever…..nope 😊not really.

I am a firm believer in keeping separate books for separate things. Comps go in smaller “comp books”. Color studies, spontaneous sketches, pattern design, etc all have their own dedicated books. 

Take copious notes (by hand) and revisit and reorganise them if neccessary…so you can stop outsourcing your memory-and with it-your creative mental muscle.

Here is a “protip” for dealing with your sketch/notebooks: 

(1) Number your pages. You can go odds, evens, Roman numerals, whatever. 

(2) After you customize an area of the outside (ideally on spine) with paint to give you a hint of the contents of your new sketchbook….

(3) Turn to the first blank spread of opposing pages and title both sides on top of page with “INDEX” then carefully title each page on the left with its corresponding page number on the same page towards the right. From top of page down you write – as you go – as you draw, paint, sketch, take notes, or whatever. Give it a short title in your index and you will easily remember what you have placed on each page. Always insert the title and page number *after* you complete a page or series of related pages. You might find it useful to label the top of each page with the title indicating its main content or theme. Using this as the same title in your index reduces confusion. The index does not have to be in sequential page order or alphabetical order. Consider the size and readability of your index and try to be consistent with its form, whatever that form might be. It only matters how useful it is to YOU as a tool. The index page can be extended further than those first two pages depending on how you do it, so reserve at least a few pages for it. You can always work for several pages of related ideas and title the collection as one heading in the index, “Head studies….10-20” for example.

(4) If you write fresh spontaneous notes in pencil on other paper or on index cards or in the blank book itself, you can reorganize them on the same page in your blank book by writing them in ink and erasing the pencil underneath afterwards. This manual task is not only helpful as alluded to elsewhere in this post, but the act of writing and erasing will work the special drawing muscles in your hand and arm. 

Writing an index in your own blank book in clear hand written font will help secure the order and contents in your memory and the tangibility of the exercise will more easily trigger the important mental connections for the long term than any apps or other digital tools. Anybody who says the contrary is trying to BS themselves about looking ‘technicool’ with their device and have clearly mistaken owning a hammer with every problem beginning to look like a nail. Or they are just trying to sell you something.

Do not kid yourself-the evidence is clear that there is no substitute for reading real printed books and for using pen and paper in the deep learning of any subject. Creative knowledge and traditional art skills are continuous with this precept; there is no substitute for drawing things by hand and taking notes. This has taken the centuries old form of the polymath’s sketchbook as a portable laboratory or crucible in which inspiration and ideas collect and take form. 

Digital tools definitely have their place and they are immensely useful in a variety of applications. BUT truthfully, today they are unquestioningly used in ways that the most basic mental tidiness is becoming increasingly valuable in proportion as it becomes more scarce. Scarce. Valuable.

Get a nice blank book and personalize it. Get a smooth comfortable pen (and a mechanical pencil for spontaneous notes). Number the pages. Use a draw/write-as-you-go page index and draw/sketch/plan and take organized notes on whatever constitutes knowledge and wisdom for you in whatever is your chosen art- be it business, fashion design, easel painting, drawing, or even homemaking.