Sunday, May 06, 2007

Charles Vess Lecture

Charles Vess' lecture at the Society of Illustrators last Wednesday was a great time. The house was packed with an interesting cross section of people -- as Charles said, an interstitial crowd. The lecture was a highly personalized art survey of fantasy painting from the 19th Century up to the present. He titled it "Part Seen, Part Unseen" because it focused on work that does not attempt to dictate every detail but, rather, lets the viewer participate in the picture. Much of the work featured soft edges and what Charles nicely termed "poetic space." He covered many obscure European artists and when he showed more popular artists, like Rackham and Dulac, he found atypical works from them. Clearly he spends a lot of time searching books stores for these examples -- I can't imagine what his library looks like. Every slide was stunning -- I was hearing sighs from the people around me with every image.

Towards the end Charles launched into some of his own work and talked a bit about his process. The way he described the layering of inks made me wonder if his process was closer to glazing in oil painting than it is to watercolor...except for the added pressure of not being able to make corrections. Michael Kaluta mentioned that Charles is a "triumph of doing exactly what he wanted to do" -- rather than bending to more marketable imagery he waited to build an audience for the paintings he wanted to do. (And perhaps skipping a few meals in the early days to do so.) You can see his love of magic and story telling from his work, his influences, and in the way he describes working -- always looking for stories within the picture and making up stories as he paints them.

Charles is also creating some sculpture -- most notably a nineteen foot high fountain for his local theater. He seemed to relish the idea of having artwork out in the open where people could touch and interact with it. He then closed the lecture with a trailer for the Stardust movie. (Charles attended a screening at the TriBeca Film Festival. You can read his report here.)

In closing, Charles thanked the Society for hosting the lecture and called the institution the "womb of illustration." (Later in the week Chuck Pyle would call it the Vatican of illustration.) The annual Student Scholarship exhibit was up -- more on that soon, but it I did get a kick out of overhearing Delia Sherman telling Charles something like, "I can no longer complain that kids aren't taught to draw any more."

Look out for Charles' art book, Drawing Down the Moon, in August from Dark Horse.

Earlier post with some images from the lecture here.

Michael Kaluta and Charles /
Charles talking / Audience / Dinner, at which I had just as much fun as the lecture. (I now have a very long "movies to watch" list.) Around the table: Charles, me, Suzanne Golden, Joel Goss, Michael Kaluta, and Donato Giancola.


Carl V. Anderson said...

It all sounds like a wonderful time. Wish the lecture could/would find its way to the internet so those of us unfortunate enough to live too far away to attend such a magical evening could have a chance to partake.

A Charles Vess art book is none too soon. So glad someone is finally getting around to this.

Tony Shasteen said...

It was definitely a good lecture highlighting a lot of illustrators I had never heard of. I'd love to track down more of their work. Thanks again for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Weeks later, but I still want to add that it was a lovely night all around. And hey- that's my blurry head in that picture!