This weekend I saw a show at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA that really knocked my socks off. It was a pleasant surprise- I had never been to the NRM, and I know but a little about the ‘Golden Age’ of American Illustration. I do like NC Wyeth’s pictures and have seen more than a few in the flesh, and have seen many reproductions of Howard Pyle’s work; but I’ve never really gone deep into the stuff: to be honest, strict ‘narrative’ pictures are not my cup of tea.
Personally, I’ve always been more drawn into the pure aesthetic aspects of painting – what does it look like, how is it painted, how do the colors interrelate. But more than that, frankly I find it hard (in what must be a current ‘golden age’ of visual effects in cinema) to focus on narrative in painting – how can you compete with hollywood? No one reads ‘story’ magazines that would necessitate illustrations, and the public has the attention span of gnat; images fly by them on Facebook and Instagram, consuming more visual information in an hour or two than people 40 years ago would have in a year.
In spite of all that, painting is still here- the public again appreciates things that are hand-made, unique, artisanal, and artistic (insert any number of other hip buzzwords here). I believe paintings that are ‘painterly’ have an important significance today- to celebrate with abandon the materials with which something is crafted: to make it clear that the image is not a photograph, is in fact a painting, and is not even trying to play the ‘I can render as well as a photograph’ game. People at times lose sight of the fact that we can keep painting as truth, without attempting to make it relate to the aesthetics of the advent of photography, or the high academic 19th century art that came in its wake.
Because of all these thoughts swirling around in my head these days, I was so happy to find myself surrounded by Harvey Dunn’s work this weekend. Yes, his work is ‘illustrative’ (a term used often in the pejorative by fine artists), but it is also flat-out brilliantly painted, and much of it bizarre experimentations. I found his work unique, and thought I would share closeups of his work here.
An introductory short film on Harvey Dunn by artist James Gurney, compiled from archive footage shot by Frank J. Reilly, a legendary artist and teacher in his own right.
Here are a bunch of close-up details from the show in Stockbridge – all images are cropped, so while these won’t give the best idea of his compositions, you can definitely get a sense of Dunn’s breadth of technique. I found his variety of styles, different applications, thicknesses of paint, unabashed bravura and utter fearlessness stunning.
And here are details from a few of my favorite works by one of Dunn’s highest regarded students, Dean Cornwell.
There is much more to see in the show than this, and the museum itself is pretty amazing- though Rockwell’s studio is not open for visits until spring.
Masters of the Golden Age: Harvey Dunn and His Students runs until March 6, 2016