Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's contagious!

"No man is an island entire of itself", so let me take some time to talk about my influences. I compiled an influence map, and I will leave it as a puzzle to find out who is who.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema left The Netherlands for Victorian England, where he rose to great fame as one of the foremost Pre-Raphaelites. I am a sucker for draperies, marble and classical settings, and love to ponder about the stories this man is telling in paint.

Walt Disney had the gift of gathering, inspiring, moving and directing a team of great artists around him, an effort which leaves its traces until the present day. I think I appreciate him most as a storyteller, who singlemindedly told us stories which still enchant the crowds. When the world almost succumbed in an economical crisis, heading straight towards another catastrophe, Disney dared to dream about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a classic which is still popular, not just as another well-told fairy tale, but also as mandatory literature for generations of animation students.

Gil Elvgren may be the mystery guest here: why to include a pin up artist here? His illustrations of pretty and naughty usually do not fit the modern definition of 'pretty' and 'naughty', but I really admire the craftsmanship by which he celebrates the female form, in a sense that seems to be missing from so many tits and asses that are supposed to adorn the modern media. Also, it is this same nostalgic feeling which attracts me to Norman Rockwell, that I also feel in Elvgren.

André Franquin became famous as the creator of Gaston Lagaffe, but he has also done a terrific job taking over Spirou and Fantasio from Jijé, adding the Marsupilami to the Spirou universe. I love his loose style of drawing, as well as his fantastic sense of humour. He intrigues me most because of his depressions, which kept him from being productive for so many years. It is his "Idées Noires' where the dichotomy between his hilarious sense of humour and the darkest depressions surfaces. I think Franquin is one of the most prominent members of Jijé's Marcinelle School, which once filled the bulk of the Spirou magazine Peyo's Smurfs, Morris' Lucky Luke, Roba's Boule and Bill, Wasterlain's Docteur Poche, and many other. Spirou, or Robbedoes as it is called in The Netherlands, was the comic magazine I bought every week as a kid.

Quinton Hoover is appreciated because of his Art Deco flavored designs for Magic: the Gathering, a game I was involved in around the nineties. I think it was his art that gave me this wowiwannabeeabletodothis feeling. He may not have risen to the status of his colleagues mentioned here, but his Vesuvan Doppelganger will always remain a good memory for me.

Roger Leloup once worked in Hergé's studio, on backgrounds, vehicles and aircraft, but he became well known as the creator of Yoko Tsuno, Japanese electronic engineer who is fond of detective stories, time travelling and technology. His background still shows, as his scenery and vehicles are well-researched and convincing, while his characters are, generally, weak. The design of the heroine got more and more refined throughout the decades, while most other characters look awkward. While I love the earlier stories, the later stories are more and more contorted. He is still on my list of favourites, because of his earlier work.

J.C. Leyendecker is, I think, the only artist here I only know by his initials. He mostly known because of his fashion illustrations and magazine covers, featuring gayish young men. I love his work because of the bold sculpting, both of faces and costume, and his way of efficiently filling the background with what seem to be casual strokes of a palette knife.

Alphonse Mucha, and with him the whole Jugendstil, or Art Nouveau, movement, enchants me with his swirly organic lines in flowers, female hairs and seemingly translucent paintings. I have always been a fan, but when I saw his exposition in Rotterdam, I was completely sold.

Anton Pieck has been reviled as kitsch for half a century, but is more and more appreciated as an artist. His oevre of illustrations and designs reflects a child-like mind that dreamed of good old days, fairy tales and Dickens style nostalgia. What is usually considered 'typically Anton Pieck' is not special to me, but I love his illustration of the Arabian Nights and fairy tales, and I am totally in love with his woodblock prints. It is hard to believe that this man has been a highschool drawing teacher most of his life, who illustrated and designs only in his free hours. His designs for the Dutch fairytale park the Efteling has placed him in the top of Dutch concept artists until the very present day.

Rien Poortvliet is special to me because of his sheer craftsmanship. Knowing that the man was self-taught makes me feel jealous. He once admitted that he really could not draw so well: when he had trouble drawing the big wheel of an old wagon, he was eager to hide his shortcomings by adding a character right in front of it. I believe I could live with such handicaps. His work on animals, gnomes and Dutch folklore is precious: it breathes a true love for God and His creation.

Norman Rockwell did many covers and illustrations that, for me, breathe the spirit of the fifties. That is a little odd, since in this period I had not even entered the design phase. I think I love this stuff so much because in my early youth, a lot of illustrations from the fifties were still around. Strong storytelling work, solid craftsmanship: I love it.

Rembrandt van Rijn. Can I say more?

Gustav Tengren is one of the least famous artists in my influence map. He did do a lot of backgrounds for Disney features like Snow White and Pinocchio, which backed up the American way of storytelling with a classic European look.

Marten Toonder founded the first major Dutch animation studio, which played a major role in raising generations of animators, cartoonists and illustrators. You still read it in interviews with the past generation: "Yes, I worked for the Toonder Studios." Toonder became most famous through his creations Oliver B. Bumble and Tom Puss, and a wealth of remarkable, colourful and recognizable characters around them, as well as his additions to the Dutch language. This year is the Toonder Year in The Netherlands, and a promising Toonder biography by Wim Hazeu will see the light. I cannot wait.

Willy Vandersteen is the creator of Suske and Wiske, or Bob and Bobette in English. Virtuose stories, with a dab history and magic, Antwerp dialect, and a somewhat messy loose drawing style. Until not so long ago, I kept buying each new book, until the quality dropped far below zero. I have always loved the original stories, liked the newer stories and more stylized designs of his successor Paul Geerts, while I could not care less about the modern studio work. Suske, Wiske, Tante Sidonia, Lambik, Jerom, Krimson, Schanulleke, Sus Antigoon, Professor Barabas en Theofiel Boemerang will always have a special place in my heart.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


I must have been 6 years old when my mother brought me to the dentist for the first time. At this point, the man leaves his drills and needles at home, it is just to get used to The Mood.

The only thing I remember, is that I went into a somewhat sterile looking, smelling and sounding environment, in the company of my brother and sisters who seemed to be already used to The Mood, as they were all nervous. And there were goldfishes.

On each and every subsequent visit to the dentist, my mother showed me a pond that could be seen from the waiting room: "Look! They have goldfishes! That's nice, isn't it!" And with each visit, I got more and more used to The Mood.

Forty years later, I have grown into and gotten over a panical fear for The Mood. I am wearing dentures now, and have learnt to relax into The Mood. One thing has never changed: whenever I see a goldfish, I think of the dentist.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I had the pleasure to learn that today's model is a good friend of my teacher in 'Acting and Improvisation' from three years ago. It triggered the memory of a good story told by a guest teacher in that class, David, a specialist in mask play.

He had spent some time in Italy with a famous master of Commedia del'Arte masks. I forgot the master's name, but I still remember that whenever David referred to his master, he seemed to take a fresh breath and said 'Maestro' with a face that showed nothing less than the deepest respect.

When the Maestro had asked him what he wanted to learn, he had expressed his ambition to create a series of masks about the Seven Cardinal Sins. The Maestro looked at him in disbelief: "You want to do seven masks... in three months?" He picked one: gluttony.

He spent the next three months sculpting, working and reworking his mask. And when he took a closer look at the finished mask, he saw a familiar face. It was the face of his father, a man who had always loved to wine and dine...