I’m not too fond of “realism”, as so often the subject matter is painted devoid of emotion and focuses instead on technical details that can become superfluous. However, there are a number of painters in the realist movement which have avoided this aesthetic pitfall and created imagery that is at once visually meticulous and emotionally gratifying. Swedish painter Anders Zorn combined the bold brush strokes and introspection of impressionism with the attention to detail and objectivity of realism. What makes him stand out from so many realist painters is that he managed to capture not just the image of his subjects, but also their emotional states and characteristics. For this reason he’s one of my favorite Swedish artists.
Poet. Painter. Illustrator. Translator. There are many labels which could be ascribed to Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I think of him most often as an aesthetic idealist and as the leading figure in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His artwork evokes all the medieval pageantry, love and yearning, and lyricism of a troubadour’s song. Drawing from a small number of beatific models from the Pre-Raphaelite movement, such as Lizzie Siddal, Jane Morris, Alexa Wilding, and Fanny Cornforth, Rossetti created an iconic gallery of ethereal women; some callous and detached, some angelic and graceful, but all stunningly rendered by his skillful hand. Of all the 19th Century artists, he remains among my favorites.
Perhaps the greatest goal of any artist is to present the viewer with a new perspective, or an unusual way of looking at a mundane subject, thus subverting their preconceived notions. Belgian surrealist René Magritte is an undisputed master at this. He utilized simple lines, muted colours, and everyday matter, and then juxtaposed them in absurd fashion to create something extraordinary. Much like contemporaries Dalí and Escher, Magritte sought to challenge established ideas in art about what was real and what is merely illusion. His artwork is at once atmospheric and intellectual. The imagery he created is unmistakably his own and full of quirky oddities which seem quite out of place within their environments… much like people themselves.
A telltale sign of a great artist is when you immediately recognize their work for its aesthetic values and style. Another sign is when their work can be found impacting other mediums of creativity. For these reasons, I consider H.R. Giger to be one of the greatest contemporary artists. His compelling, moody, futuristic visions have been inspiration for films, music videos, comic books, sculpture, and even interior design. Drawing upon European industrial design, the science fiction and horror genres, and his own aesthetic style often referred to as “bio-mechanical”, Giger has created an often unique and always unsettling oeuvre of his own. His artwork is a reminder of the fragility of the human condition as we become more emotionally inert, intellectually mechanical, hyper-sexual, and brutal in our way of living. Many of his works are dark provocations or surrealistic commentaries on eroticism, war, technology, and dehumanization. Some have called his creations monstrous or disgusting, and one could argue this to be true, but they are frighteningly reflective of the modern world in which we live, making them both timeless and beautiful.