David Clayton Profiles My Work!

I apologize for the long hiatus in entries. The last few months have been hectic, even by my usual rather stringent standards, while last week I rejoiced in the quiet (if somewhat foggy) arcadia of Acadia National Park off the Maine coast with my family, where I hiked, feasted on large quantities of helpless lobsters, and read most of the late Michael McCarthy's handsomely-illustrated last treatise on ecclesiastical heraldry. In any case, things have quieted down somewhat back at GHQ in Wisconsin and I hope to pop over here more frequently for a quick post now and again.

In any case, this item is about a week overdue, but will be of interest to our readers in any case. David Clayton, who I have written of in these pages before,and who is a talented iconographer and artist of considerable experience, very kindly wrote up a thoughtful article on my own graphic design and illustration work. He comments:
He talks about his art as though its just a hobby on the side, but I find it interesting. He has, in my opinion, a natural sense of composition and his lines flow gracefully and rhythmically. He fills up the space without it being too cluttered. [...]

Although I can say with certainty I like his work, I find it difficult to pigeonhole as well. Clearly, the subject matter reflects his faith, featuring lots of saints (and he has Catholic figures such as Dante there too). [...] it [draws] me in and make me curious about the personality of the person depicted. These seem to me to be just the qualities that are needed in illustrations, which accompany text. I wonder, Matt, do you get any requests in this regard?
I appreciate his compliments, as well as his critique, and I agree from my own perspective, my art is rather hard to pigeonhole. David considers it through the lens of illustration, which delights me, as ultimately I consider myself more of an illustrator than a fine artist--though I also consider Dürer, Harry Clarke, Martin Travers, and Alphonse Mucha, some of my primary influences in style though not always content, to be primarily illustrators as well. David himself comments that:
Much of the quality artwork of the last century has come from illustrators. This point was made to me years ago when I was working as a lowly freelance sub-editor at the The Sunday Times in London. The art critic, Frank Whitford (who was a charming gentleman) always used to include reviews of illustrators’ art exhibitions in his weekly round-up. I can remember him reviewing a show of the work of E.H. Shepherd, for example, the creator of the images of the characters in the Winnie the Pooh books. I asked him why he included so many illustrator’s shows. He said it was because illustrators were, in contrast to most artists nowadays, trained in the skills of drawing and painting and were directing their skills i conformity to an external purpose (rather than self-promotion). Consequently they very often produced the most interesting and original work around
This is something I have found myself--aside from the intrepid handful of traditional painters and artists like David and my other artist friend Anthony Visco, the only true advances in art these days are coming from children's book illustration. (Just as, outside of the classical world, probably the most interesting bit of architecture undertaken in the last twenty years were the computer-animated sets for the second round of Star Wars movies, which almost makes up for the dialogue, plot, acting, and bad theology. Almost.)

As to David's question, I have in the past come close to doing book illustration, but unfortunately the stars have never quite aligned. My work is becoming less and less of a side hobby these days and is now rather in the line of a small subsidiary business, so I hope I will have the opportunity to take on larger projects like this in the future.

I would like to respond, though, to David's comment that he is not sure he could use my work in a devotional or liturgical context, while thinking them well-suited to illustrative work. I do understand what he is getting at, as there is always a tension between the devotional and the decorative, and that balance is hard to achieve. I appreciate that he is nonetheless able to appreciate the illustrative and technical quality of my work in spite of this. I am always still learning. Certainly, ink illustrations cannot be used as decoration in a church, and my style might need some adaptation in that context, but in addition to being illustrative, I do see a devotional function it as well. I hope in time to provide inexpensive prints of my work similar in function though better in quality to the old holy-card style prints, oleagraphs and woodcuts, that hung in people's houses as ensigns of popular piety.

I think part of David's reticence lies in the perceived similarity to the work of Aubrey Beardsley in my own style, which has been remarked on in the past. When someone told me that, I went and looked at some of his designs and actually, with the exception of his use of blocks of black, I didn't find much I liked (his cherubs always look kind of sinister, among many other things). I am also now experimenting with less black backgrounds, for the sake of variety, though I choose them mostly because they help the delicate linework stand out better.

My own style, while definitely strongly influenced by Art Nouveau, derives much more from other artists and illustrators of the same period, as well as, in lesser amounts, medieval and early Renaissance precedents, Liturgical Movement graphics, a little bit of Baroque decorative ornament, and about a dozen other things. (Though more and more, as it all blurs together, it is becoming very hard to tell where I get what from who anymore). But in any case, I do appreciate his comments and his great generosity in writing such a kind, complimentary and thoughtful review of my own work, especially as I am still quite new in this field and lack his own considerable experience! I am still developing and there is much room to grow.

To those of you who may be considering commissioning work, please remember I am always in the market for such projects, and this summer it looks like I will have a good bit of free time to devote to them. I look forward to hearing from you.

1 comment:

Lawrence Klimecki, deacon said...

Hi Matthew,
Congratulations, it was a great article, and I meant to say so last week, but like you, I got tied up in other things.

I always find the fine artist/illustrator argument somewhat silly. Many of the great masterpieces that are reproduced over and over again are biblical illustrations usually commissioned by the Church.

As for liturgical use that's a whole other discussion. But for devotional images in someone's private home or chapel then it will be whatever speaks to them.