Thursday, December 4, 2008
Your artistic education began at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, and continued at the Massachusetts College of Art and Boston University. How do American and Chinese approaches to fine art education differ?
While I was there, Chinese schools still followed the Soviet method of art education: basic training in drawing, painting, sculpting, all in European, Classical and realist styles. The system was very uniform and every student painted in a similar style and shared the same views on the art of painting.
When I moved to America I pursued contemporary art, which was quite a new experience. Each student and each professor at the Massachusetts College of Art had his own ideas and his own favorite artists. Using each student’s favorite artists, our professors would guide us through the process of learning to paint. This personalized method opened intellectual and artistic doors for me.
Your early work spanned the spectrum of subject matter from still life to figurative to formal portraiture. What motivates you now to paint Native Americans and the American West?
After graduating I returned to my realist roots, painting primarily illustrations, figurative work and formal commissions in order to make a living. The work was not satisfying, and I longed for another direction, something free and brave that would tell a story. It was around this time that I began visiting the outdoor Wampanoag Indian museum at Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag who worked at the museum were obliging and happy to educate me about their present situation, as well as their history and culture. I was fortunate enough to build friendships with several of these workers, and several agreed to model for me. My first model brought with him not only full historical dress, but a bow and arrow, and more stories and information about the Wampanoag than I could have ever hoped for. My sessions painting this man were like lessons for me, lessons in the history of this country and the present difficulties faced by some of its citizens. I became a passionate advocate for the Wampanoag and Eastern Indians in general, and have never looked back.
You spent several years in field research among American Indian tribes from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains. The subject of several of your earlier works was the people of Tibet. Do you see similarities between the two groups?
As a matter of fact, I do. The Tibetan paintings were created after a trip I took several years ago. While I was there, I was astonished to discover the resemblance between certain Tibetan and Native American customs. One tradition practiced by the Tibetans is almost identical to a Navajo traveling ritual. Before the steady push by Europeans and Americans across the West, most of the Native Americans were, like the Tibetans, nomadic. Their religions seem very similar as well: both are earth-based, nurturing and grateful for the bounty of the earth.
Are you inspired by other painters of American Western subjects?
Oh, very much! So much so, in fact, that I will have to list several favorites for each era of Western art. Before the widespread use of the camera, George Catlin and Karl Bodmer lived almost as anthropologists in the field, documenting the lives and culture of the Plains Indians in their drawings and paintings.
Later on, Charles Marion Russell and Frederic Remington brought Western art to a new artistic level. During the 19th century the life of the average Native American changed drastically, and the works of Remington and Russell make up the majority of historical information we have left about the earlier years. Each man was a skilled historian, and to this day Remington’s work shows how the Native Americans with whom he worked rode and treated their horses.
For contemporary art, it’s got to be Howard Terpning. Howard is so serious about his research, and his passion is so deep that it shows in every aspect of his work. His understanding of the subject gives his paintings a real authenticity and his skill as a painter turns the scenes into fine art. When you look at Howard’s paintings, you see the marriage of passion for Native American culture and a deep knowledge of painting.
Of all your awards and recognitions, which artistic accomplishment has made you proudest?
There are two. In 1998 I won the People’s Choice and Best of Show awards from the American Society of Portrait Artists. The Oil Painters of America also honored me with their Award of Excellence. These two associations are very well-respected and to win recognition from them is a great honor.
Pueblo Street Market, 1920s
We’ve seen two paperback collections of your work by Tianjin People’s Fine Arts Publishing House in China. Do you have any plans to release a more comprehensive collection for your English-speaking audience?
That’s my plan! With luck, in the next two or three years I can put all my recent work together in a book. The Chinese books are much older work with lots of different subjects, but this book would be primarily my American Indian work. As I paint, lately, I think of how what I’m creating will fit in the book: I want to include a variety of scenes, showing all aspects of life from motherhood to hunting.
While touring to promote his exquisite new book Men and Angels, artist James C. Christensen has given his fair share of interviews. The most recent televised interview took place in his Utah studio. You can watch it at Utah station KSL's website here.
Look for James at a gallery near you! In the next month he will be visiting multiple locations in the Salt Lake City area. For more information visit the events page of The Greenwich Workshop website.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
A Parliament of Owls by Scott Gustafson
This past Thursday, as families across the country sat down to hearty meals and gave thanks, five talented artists were rewarded for their exceptional work. The award winners of the second annual SmallWorks North America Exhibition and Sale are now posted on the SmallWorks North America website, where you can view and purchase these terrific original works of art. Congratulations to these and the rest of our Top 40 SmallWorks winners!
Monday, December 1, 2008
Last Saturday I learned one of our local star athletes had accidentally shot himself (late night at a bar, in the leg) with an unregistered hand gun. It was icing on the cake for the 31-year-old’s multi-month, hubris-inspired run at tanking a recently inked $35 million contract to play ball.
I also learned Saturday that a friend of the Workshop’s, Major General David “Davy” M. Jones passed away.
When Jones was 28, he sat in the pilot’s seat of a B-25 on the deck of the carrier Hornet preparing to launch on Doolittle’s raid on Japan. Due to early detection off the Japanese coast, the aircraft would be departing hundreds of miles sooner than planned. They could no longer reach the safe airfields in unoccupied China, as planned. "You knew when you started that we didn't have enough fuel to make it, period. But you couldn't think about that," he said.
A few years later, now the star athlete’s age, he was too was busy rebelling against the authorities (of Stalag Luft III, a German prisoner of war camp) surreptitiously digging the clandestine tunnel “Harry” immortalized in the film The Great Escape. Steve McQueen’s character is based on him. For a great short documentary see The Real Virgil Hilts: A Man Called Jones (Parts 1 , 2 & 3)( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvJD3HUDYj4 )
Jones, who in 1936 was commissioned in the cavalry reserve, went on to become a major figure in numerous Air Force jet development and test programs. He ran a nuclear bomb wing in NATO at the height of the Cold War. He commanded the Air Force Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo program. As he liked to say himself, he went from horses to Mach II.
He cosigned a number of the William S. Phillips’ editions we published depicting the Doolittle Raid. It was during these signings that we met. Into the Arms of the Dragon (above) actually depicts Jones as he bails out of his faltering aircraft over China (which was farther than he believed thought he would get, thanks to a providential tailwind). We painted that image specifically for General Jones. Sadly, when it came time to sign this particular image, he wasn’t well enough to do so. We did get the chance to honor him with the image, though.
My two boys met him at one of these signings, and I hope that one day they will come to appreciate that (though it will probably always mean more to me). Better yet, I hope that they have the opportunity to be inspired by someone of the same caliber (that they too are excited for their children to meet) in the hopes that, one day, this next generation will hold onto the values and achievements that individual represents.