Sunday, January 31, 2010

Influencing Comics #8: Jeffrey Brown on Twelve Paintings From The Northern Renaissance

Like most artists I would say that my influences come from everywhere - as a cartoonist it's not just comics that have influenced me, but music and film and poetry. For a while I thought I would be a 'fine artist' in the traditional 'fine artist' sense, and that sensibility is still very much a part of my work, though I suppose it's not always readily apparent. For example, a big part of my education as an artist was studying the paintings the Northern Renaissance (mostly Dutch and Flemish). It'd be hard to point out any visible influence from those paintings in my comics, but they were hugely important in helping me understand what art could be. They still influence my thinking, I suppose, and I still go back to looking at them occasionally. 

1. Hieronymus Bosch - Death and the Miser
Researching this painting was the first time I looked really closely at an artwork and deconstructed it - the imagery, symbols, history, interpretations, the life of the artist... as cool as Bosch's works of surreal an grotesque fantasy are, this painting opened art up to a different level for me. What had previously seemed dry and stiff was suddenly soaked in meanings.

2. Quentin Metsys - The Money Changer and His Wife
I don't know why this painting sticks with me, something about the hands, and the way they're looking at the money, and the way she's turning the page of the book.  It's all very much more subtle and insidious than it first appears. 

3. Jan van Eyck - The Arnolfini Portrait
Every time I see this I think of how vastly different a world we live in now.

4. Albrecht Altdorfer - The Battle Of Alexander
This painting always feels apocalyptic to me. I never even register all the people, just the clouds, and the giant sign hanging in the air. Somehow what was meant to commemorate a great battle instead makes me think about how time rolls on and history is forgotten and the details of all those lives become nothing next to a simple summary of the event. That big sign is pretty cool.

5. Dieric Bouts - The Virgin and Child
One of the great things about the Renaissance was the way children were depicted. They always look way older than they should. If a painting of the Virgin Mary breast feeding is okay - it was even commissioned by the church! - then maybe people who think breast feeding in public is indecent should rethink their stance. 

6. Albrecht Dürer - St. Jerome In His Study
This engraving always made me want to become some sort of ivory tower living mad genius. Of course, you could also look at this and see some weird, crazy guy. He kind of looks like a cartoonist working there, actually. He could be making minicomics.

7. Matthias Grünewald - The Isenheim Altarpiece
Bosch was the master, but lots of the Northern Renaissance painters liked to portray some really weird stuff. Back then, these were works made for display in churches. Today this is the kind of work that gets put in Juxtapoz magazine or something. It's some good, freaky stuff.

8. Hans Holbein the Younger - The Ambassadors
Who doesn't think about death pretty much every day? Just in case you don't, there's the memento mori, a symbol inserted into works as a reminder of our mortality. In this painting, that's not a smudge of paint on the floor, it's a skull. You might have a hard time tipping your computer to see if you're not on a laptop. A good argument for the belief that computers won't replace every form of delivery for visual information.

9. Hugo van der Goes - Fall of Man
This painting is perhaps the creepiest version of the seduction of Eve there is. The satan-salamander guy is just really creepy. Nicely placed flower, though. 

10. Pieter Bruegel - The Peasant Wedding
Bruegel had a whole series of paintings of peasant life, just normal every day kinds of things that was somewhat revolutionary at the time. For me, it was eye opening to begin realizing that there was a way to convey the meaning that can be found in the lives of your average everyman.

11. Robert Campin - TheMérode Altarpiece
This painting is another great example of the need to see art in its intended form. Reproductions in books fail to do it justice, and a jpeg on your computer screen doesn't even do justice to the picture in the book. Seeing it in real life is  a reminder of the importance of experience in art. The details are exquisite and the colors glow... art's not just about information or ideas that are being communicated, but the way in which it's communicated is a hugely important part. Kind of like how sarcasm doesn't really come across in emails.

12. Hans Holbein the Younger - Christ In The Tomb
An absolutely stunning painting, showing that Jesus was human, or that he was only human, depending on what you believe. 

Check out Jeffrey's book, Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU, and Every Girl is the End of the World For Me, comprising the so-called "Girlfriend Trilogy" and its epilogue. More recently his autobiographical work has included Little Things and Funny Misshapen Body. His parody The Incredible Change-Bots, the Ignatz Award-winning I am going to be small and humorous cat book Cat Getting Out Of A Bag all stand out amongst his humor work, while his Sulk series continues to take on a variety of subjects with satire. 
Learn more about Jeffrey Brown at his site