(Disclaimer: First attempt to write anything of large scale on two days of cold medication and fever. Please be kind.)
So over MLK weekend a large group of us (artists, art directors and art enthusiasts) pilgrimaged up to Montreal to see the massive Waterhouse retrospective that is showing there until February. I could go on and on about the joy of the train ride up and back with such titans of the industry and inspiring folks as Irene Gallo, Greg Manchess, Kurt Huggins, Zelda Devon and Scott Brundage, the added fun at the Biodome, and the pleasure of sharing this show with so many people I admire- but Irene has done a much better job than I could and taken nicer pictures over at her blog. And her amazing photos here. So I will mostly just show stuff from my sketchbook and talk about a few things that I took away from this retrospective.
Saying this show was inspiring is an understatement. I always liked Waterhouse just fine, but looking at his work up close and seeing what a master storyteller and handler of paint he was humbled me. In his early works especially, his attention to detail and handling of every aspect of narrative from facial expressions to body language to value to color to brush strokes to edges only made it clear how much I have yet to learn. When at his best, not a single aspect of any given piece was thrown away.
Of course, being the portrait lover I am, I spent a lot of time swooning over his faces. Waterhouse knew how to capture an expression that told volumes, and several times I was as entranced with what was going on with the background characters as with the main subjects. Such as the two old men in Mariamne sitting in quiet judgment and whispering amongst themselves.
Here are some more faces. Many from Waterhouse, some from life and one from my head, while trying to illustrate "Dark Light" (thanks for the term Kurt!) at lunch between viewings.
I first saw "The Lady of Shallot" in London in '08. I won't lie- I might have cried a little that first time. But seeing it again after nearly 2 more years of training, and amongst all his other work- it didn't pale one bit. I noticed a hundred more details on the second viewing that just made it that much better a piece to me. The thing that most impressed me this time was, perhaps, realizing that the only thing truly in focus in the piece is her face- and as you move further out from that point, the paint and edges blur more and more. It's very subtle, (not something you can spot in reproductions) but it speaks volumes about the mastery of the painter and the story of this isolated woman he was telling. Of course, I had to try and capture her haunting expression.
Even after spending nearly 6 hours at the exhibit saturday, I went back Sunday for some more. The Magic Circle was another really popular piece at the exhibit. It was one of his simpler works, but that just made the details he included more effective. The dust on her skirt, the hint of fire from the circle, the live ouroboros around her neck and how drinking in all these details meant you didn't even notice the cave of people around a fire in the background until the 4th viewing made this piece especially riveting.
One of the things I think that I most appreciated from this exhibit was the way Waterhouse was never afraid to throw a main figure's face into shadow. The way he could hide features, and still not loose any emotion of the piece really got to me in a good way and is one of his devices (among many) I look forward to trying. It will no doubt be years and years before I can effectively use (or even fully understand) many of the things I appreciated in Waterhouse in my own work, and certainly I will notice all new things should I see any of these pieces again...but I think that is part of the joy of this whole artistic journey.