Your Favorite Artist and Why

by Josh Hanagarne on May 31, 2011

I dated a couple of art history majors and was always out of my depth when it came to talking art. I mean the kind of art that hangs on walls and gets displayed in galleries. I could throttle just about anyone in a serious literature discussion, or so I told myself, but when it came to staring at a painting or a sculpture and trying to explain why it did or didn’t move me, I was beyond clumsy.

But I do know who my favorite artist is, I’m just not sure why.

The first time I saw Ralph Steadman’s work was when a sibling gave me a copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, illustrated by Steadman.

animal farm steadman

A Ralph Steadman illustration from Animal Farm

I looked at it and I saw something that spoke to me enough to keep me turning all of the pages just to look at the pictures. I keep coming back to it and still don’t know how to describe exactly what appeals to me. I’m not even sure that “appeals” is the correct word. I actually find most Ralph Steadman art highly unsettling.

Compelled is probably more accurate, or at least, if I catch a glimpse of his books on my shelf, I can’t help but take it down and look at it.

Regardless, I’ve chased down as many of his illustrated books (he has also authored many of his own) as I can find. My favorites so far:

  • Animal Farm
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass
  • The Curse of Lono by Hunter S. Thompson
  • Gonzo: The Art
  • Treasure Island

And the more I write, the more I realize that I am incapable of giving you any sort of Ralph Steadman Appreciation course, because I just don’t have the words to say here’s why you should or should not appreciate it.

Maybe that’s what makes great art, although I’m sure each of those art history majors I was wooing with a vengeance could have given you an interminable, polysyllabic avalanche of technical and historical reasons for why I was feeling what I was feeling.

One other quick note on Steadman: he illustrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and occasionally went out with Thomson on writing assignments. In The Great Shark Hunt there is a hilarious essay about them attending the Kentucky Derby. They wind up in a bar fight after Steadman agrees to do some caricatures of the bar’s inhabitants.

Michael Sowa

I can speak a bit more eloquently about Sowa’s work, but I’m not going to try. Instead, I’ll just show you the print that I have framed in our living room. It makes me feel good every time I see it. Maybe the words don’t matter.

micheal sowa pig

A pig jumping off a dock into a pond by Michael Sowa.

So, how about you? Don’t limit yourself to a medium. Do you have a favorite artist? Can you explain why he or she is your favorite?

Josh

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Spencer May 31, 2011 at 10:55 am

I read recently a quote by, I believe it was Cezanne, which said that the most important thing about art is the part that cannot be explained. Or something to that effect. Don’t hold me to that, either the exactness of the quote, or that it was Cezanne who said it. But I agree with the idea. Take your pig painting above, for example. You could take a zillion photographs of pigs leaping from docks, and never get anything that even remotely inspired the sentiments conveyed by the above. I can’t explain why either, it’s just the way it is. Like you, I am no art history buff, and there are, no doubt, people that could explain the phenomenon more eloquently than I. But photography will never replace painting, and I think that’s a good thing.

Speaking of, there has been some talk recently about how Photoshop is affecting the integrity of photography, particularly photo journalism. Because, as I am sure you are aware, you can do a whole lot of tweaking with Photoshop and other similar software. It LOOKS “real,” but it’s not (which, of course, could lead into a philosophical discussion on what “reality” is, and how any photograph only captures a version of a single moment in time from a single perspective, so why does a little tweaking matter?) Is there a line between art and photography? If so, what is it? Why?

I don’t have a favorite artist, but that’s because I don’t spend a lot of time with the visual arts. I like them, just don’t have a favorite.

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Michelle May 31, 2011 at 11:57 am

I have two favorite artists. I happened upon Steve Hanks work a few years ago, I can’t remember how, and fell in love: https://www.artifactsgallery.com/art.asp?!=A&ID=640 That’s freakin’ watercolor! I’m amazed when anyone can do anything with watercolors, nevertheless with that much realism. But moreso, I love the vitality of his paintings. They have so much life and passion to them.

My other favorite artist is David Hubbard. Talk about realism! He does mostly pencil and sculpture: http://artscuttlebutt.com/index.php?do=/gloriousmane/photo/
But I must confess, the reason I like his artwork so much, is because he’s my uncle. That doesn’t make his work any less spectacular though.

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Gustavo June 1, 2011 at 10:02 am

Wow, Michelle. These watercolors are truly amazing. Thanks for the info.

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Eric | Eden Journal May 31, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I think I can explain. You seem to have a pig fetish. That’s the only conclusion I can come to based on the limited information in the form of the two pictures you shared.

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Josh Hanagarne May 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

You might be on to something. I suspect that your toothsome snout and trotters are why I keep letting you guest post over here. Oink!

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Sarah May 31, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Speaking of realism…my favorite artist right now is one I just learned about, Rod Chase. http://www.rodchase.com/ I’ve never seen a painting been this awed at how realistic it is. As an amateur photographer and painter, when I look at his paintings I really know just how hard it is to do what he does and just feel endless amounts of admiration for it. In fact, I’m insanely jealous!

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Heather May 31, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I’m one of those sleazeballs who digs pin-up art by Oliva de Berardinis and Gil Elvgren. I can’t get overly snotty about art, especially as soome who LOVES the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh (The Silver Cloud Room comes HIGHLY recommended) and all those Lichtensteins. I’m also a fan of Mapplethorpe. But that’s just me.

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Rhamantus June 1, 2011 at 1:06 am

I’m no art expert, but I do love art, especially modern art (not to be confused with post-modern art, which mostly seems to consist of upside down urinals and fur-covered teacups). My favorite artist is Wassily Kandinsky, who was a pioneer in abstract expressionism in the early 20th century. None of this is why I love his paintings, though. I just… love the colors and the shapes. They evoke strong emotions in me, despite most of them not having recognizable shapes. Like you, I can’t precisely explain the appeal.
I love that second piece, by the way. There’s a lot of joy and whimsy in it.

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Josh Hanagarne June 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

Rhamanthus, a couple of years ago went to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and was very, very confused. I walked into a room and saw a piece of rope on the wall. The plaque next to it said “rope on wall.”

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Rhamantus June 1, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Yeaaah… it’s things like that that can give experimentalist/avant garde art a really bad name. I also really hate this one artist whose name I can’t recall… she did a bunch of tacky and ridiculous stunts, like putting up a bunch of umbrellas along a highway, and called it art. It’s irritating.

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Gustavo June 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

You play the guitar so, even if you (maybe) can’t read a symphony, no one can tell YOU what good music is or what should be consider bad. Sometimes it tells a story or evokes a feeling, and sometimes you can’t explain why you like a particular song or piece. You just know you like it.

Same thing with graphic arts: someone could tell you how brilliant is to use this or that technique in some cases, but and the end of the day nobody should tell you what is good art.

Like with wines and books, there are always people who use messy concepts which make you suspect that they are only intended to make them look/feel good.

I have some favorite artist but they are too many: Chagall, Kandinsky, Escher, Monet, Renoir, Markes, Dali…

Have you seen the art of H.R.Giger? You’ll find some crazy heavy metal guitars there.

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Josh Hanagarne June 1, 2011 at 11:54 am

I have seen a lot of Giger. That fellow certainly does his own thing, doesn’t he?

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Will June 4, 2011 at 7:37 am

Nothing fancy here, as i am appreciative of the classics but i’m more of a pop-art kinda guy.

My favorite artist is my best friend since 1st grade, James Comey.

Beyond that, the flash art of New Life Tattoo [Champagne, IL] founder Jeromey “Tilt” McCullough, Coop, Monet, and Davinci.

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Kosmo @ The Soap Boxers June 4, 2011 at 9:46 am

Rockwell :)

My favorite is Bottom of the 6th (or The Three Umpires). I’m a HUGE baseball fan, and the painting says a lot. I saw a print on the wall of one of my company’s offices on a business trip years ago, and commented to a friend that I should grab it off the wall. Later, she gave me a framed print my my birthday. Very cool.

Here’s a good image of it @ Amazon -> http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00544PWLE/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=thecasobs-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217153&creative=399701&creativeASIN=B00544PWLE )

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mhmoore June 16, 2011 at 9:22 am

I totally agree that I can never say why I like a person’s art, I just do. My favorite contemporary artist is Sarah Marie Lacy (http://smlacyart.com/ ) I own an original drawing entitled Daffodils and a print of Ballet Shoes. The other contemporary artist I like is W.C.Winters (http://ncwinters.com/) He makes me laugh, not giggle, but deep tearful belly laughs (I’m talking his comic strips here. I keep them on my ‘puter for those days when things just suck.
I enjoy John Tenniel and his work in Alice in Wonderland is something I have owned many times, in several formats and enjoyed since I was very young. Another artist I favor is Frida Kahlo. Her paintings touch a part of me I never knew existed. We all feel pain, in one form or another, but Frida takes you into pain in a depth that is hard to forget and you wonder that she was able to function at all.
I have seen Monet, Renoir, Van Goh, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci. The best museum I ever went to was the John and Mabel Ringling museum in Sarasota, Florida. All the masters, and a circus museum to boot, sometimes we just get lucky to find treasures like these; and sometimes we get lucky to live at a time when so much is available to so many, thank you WWW.

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